December 21, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

If you’re going to make a name for yourself, you couldn’t choose a more elegant one than Quvenzhané Wallis. (Her name is pronounced Kwah-VEN-jeh-nay.) The young star of the indie end-of-the-world fantasy Beasts of the Southern Wild was only 6 when she shot the film, playing a bayou girl named Hushpuppy who faces down the apocalypse. She’s now 9, but she would still be the youngest-ever Best Actress contender if she scores an Oscar nomination. And if not, well, she’s enjoyed the ride. “It’s been fun because, you know, I get to meet different people and do different things. The Q&A’s were fun,” Wallis says with typical little-kid nonchalance during a recent after-school interview. She’d like to act again but is not in any hurry: “I don’t have anything right now. But yeah, I’ll see what I can get.” Whatever it is, it’s bound to be great.

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