Baker-Turned-Actor on Newfound Stardom
Dwight Henry stars in the acclaimed Beasts of the Southern Wild, set in Katrina-torn New Orleans.
DH: Never, but these [film producer] cats seen things in me that I didn't see in myself. Nazzy (Quvenzhané) was 5 or 6 years old when blessed with this opportunity [to be cast], like she hit the lottery. I hope both of us can have an impact on some younger children ... on some of the older people that's depressed in my community, who don't have hope at all, that are like, "Damn, Mr. Henry, look, he in his 40s and he in the newspaper."
Make a long story short, I actually turned them down three times for this part. I wanted to do it, but I had just opened up my new bakery, so I wouldn't sacrifice something that I'm building to pass on to my children. I can't pass an acting career down to them. But [the filmmakers] wanted me so badly. I worked things out with my partners.
TR: Was it difficult to relate to such a young girl?
DH: I have five kids [ages 9 and under]. It was easy for me to relate to her because [of] some of the same things that I do with my 7-year-old daughter ... we have a wonderful relationship. I brought the same qualities and same interactions to the screen with Nazzy. Ultimately she had the say-so for who was going to play her father because she was 6 years old. She has to feel comfortable with who she's working with.
TR: What did you do to make Quvenzhané feel at ease?
DH: I had to use strategy. So I did some of the same things that I do with my daughter. When she's mad at me for whatever reason she's mad at me, I go to Toys R Us and get two bags of toys -- that's a rap, she's good. What I did when they first told me [I got the part], I packed up all kinds of pastries in a box from the bakery and everything -- like four big boxes -- and when they brought me in to meet her, I looked at her, I handed her the boxes, put a big ol' smile on my face and laughed. She looked at me, looked in that box and put that big ol' smile on her face, and I knew I had her then.
Brett Johnson is The Root's associate editor.