The indie darling of last year, Beasts of the Southern Wild, has bagged prizes at Sundance and Cannes and is up for four Oscars. The film’s young star, Quvenzhané Wallis, has, at aged just 9, made history by being the youngest best actress Oscar nominee ever. The film is also nominated for best picture, best director, and best adapted screenplay. Extremely impressive for a debut feature for both director and writers, especially considering the use of non-professional talent.
Beasts is released on DVD and blu-ray this week. We were lucky enough to catch up with the author of the original stage play and co-writer, alongside director Benh Zeitlin, of the screen adaptation, Lucy Alibar, to discuss the transformation of her apocalyptic, coming-of-age story from stage to screen…
Flickfeast: Hi Lucy, thanks for taking the time to talk to me and congratulations for Beasts of the Southern Wild, a truly beautiful film
Lucy Alibar: Thank you, I’m so happy about it.
FF: From working multiple jobs to support your writing, to being nominated for an Oscar, what a difference a year makes.
LA: It does, it does. It feels like, in a way, it feels the same, we’re all together again, we’re all making new friends, getting the movie out there. Some of the landscape has changed but it really feels very grassroots…. It’s not even at that point anymore, but just going to these QAs and talking about the movie is so important to us.
FF: It seems like a very close group of people you’ve got working on the film, it seems like a real family.
LA: Oh absolutely, Quvenzhané (Wallis who plays Hushpuppy) is always talking about us being her brothers and sisters, I feel like they are all my brothers and you know a little more like Quvenzhané is my daughter, although I don’t mind being her sister. You know. It’s a great group, I love these guys so much. I know they would do anything for me, they’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs. It’s just a great way to spend a year.
FF: How does the film compare to your original play (Juicy and Delicious), that it was adapted from?
LA: Well it was a lot different, it really did feel like a whole new project. Writing this film was like creating a whole new world. Really expanding on these characters and making them much more three dimensional than the play was. And really making it about Louisiana. It was a mythical version of Louisiana, but I felt like I learnt so much about it, it’s an incredible place. I’m just so lucky to have spent so much time down there. I can’t wait to go back.
FF: And of course the character changed between the play and the film. It is a much younger character (Hushpuppy), was the writing process different because of that?
LA: It was, I mean I never expected who we found to be so young but Quvenzhané was such a revelation, it made complete sense that she would be Hushpuppy. She is very sophisticated that, even at that age, she could speak most of the text with no problems. We really just made it fit her and did a lot of improv with her and rewrote accordingly and I think she phrased it beautifully.
FF: Beasts is a highly original film and it’s done fantastically well. Are you under any pressure to repeat its success?
LA: I don’t know if anyone who is making a project ever feels that sort of pressure. I think that when you’re in it you’re really making it the best that you can… and that’s what I worry about, doing my very best.
FF: You’ve been quoted before as saying it’s a very personal film, a lot of the father/daughter relationship reflecting much of your own. Did much of the characteristics of Hushpuppy come from yourself and your own experiences?
LA: Yes, very much. I think so. Certainly the relationship with Wink (Dwight Henry) and his character, I really put a lot of my own father into that. But also just working with Dwight and Quvenzhané it really did form a lot of that. Not only do I not have children but nobody involved in the project has children, so Benh (Zeitlin – director) would take the script to Dwight in the bakery to rehearse and if Dwight thought that wasn’t how a father would behave we’d go back and change it or talk to him about it. It really was a collaborative effort.
FF: The rumours are that you are working with Guillermo del Toro on Universal’s “The Secret Garden” adaptation. Are you able to discuss that?
LA: Of course. I haven’t started it yet. We’re waiting until I’m in one place for more than a few more days so we’re waiting until after the awards season. I’m so excited to work with him. I’ve loved his movies for so long. I think he is such a brilliant, unique, wildly imaginative man and I cannot wait to start this project with him.
FF: Can you tell me about anything else you’re working on?
LA: I’m adapting another play for Escape Artists about a bunch of little Brownie scouts. It’s a comedy, I’m really excited about it.
FF: Sounds great, and you’re a big horror fan aren’t you. Can we look forward to seeing any horrors penned by you in the future?
LA: Oh my god I would love that so much. I don’t know that I could. I would certainly love to do that but I’m more of watching them and reading them. I’ve read everything Stephen King’s ever written, he’d probably be really freaked out to hear that because he’s written a lot of things. But I’ve read all of it. At this point I’m more of a very grateful audience than a creator.
FF: I personally would like to see “Odysseus and the Giant Dog” (a very early creation of Lucy’s) make it to film. Is there any chance of that?
LA: Oh that would be hilarious, that would be great. Yeah, let’s do it.
FF: What sort of advice would you give aspiring screenwriters?
LA: I would say write everything you can and work with your friends. Write everyday and do everything you can even if it feels like too much. You can always say no later. I think there comes a point in your career where you have to say no, but to start you really have to say yes to everything and do everything.
FF: Finally, you’re up against some stiff competition for the Oscar, but with such love for Beasts, you must fancy your chances?
LA: Well I don’t think about it that way, but I definitely think that being in an awards with Tony Kushner (Lincoln) and being in a category with Tony Kushner is such an incredible, huge honour. I look at my name next to his and it just makes me smile and laugh. It’s unbelievable. So that’s my win, to me. It’s just being there.
FF: I bet. Thank you so much. Good luck with the Oscar.
LA: Thanks, have a great day. Lovely speaking to you.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is out now on DVD & Blu-ray.