Quvenzhané Wallis opens up about mother-daughter relationship with Jennifer Hudson in ‘Breathe’

The Oscar nominee talks to theGrio exclusively about her newest film, "Breathe," her relationship with Hudson, and Black roles in sci-fi.

Quvenzhané Wallis, one of the stars of "Breathe," attends the "Swagger" premiere during the Tribeca Festival last June in New York. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)

Quvenzhané Wallis and Jennifer Hudson have a lot in common. They’re both talented Black women making a name for themselves in Hollywood, they’re both trailblazers, having made history with their numerous award nominations and wins, and they’re both dominating the big screen with the release of their newest film, “Breathe.” 

In the sci-fi thriller, Wallis, 20, plays Zora, the daughter of Hudson’s character, Maya. The mother-daughter duo are navigating life underground in a bunker after Earth is left uninhabitable due to lack of oxygen. Zora and Maya must depend on each other after Maya’s husband, Darius (Common) goes missing and strangers show up at their doorstep, claiming to know Darius. 

Wallis tells theGrio that working with Hudson was “easy” because they’re “so much alike.” 

“We have things in common,” the young actress says. “She’s just fun to be around. She has this wittiness about her that I like to think I have as well. We could go back and forth and joke, and we could improv and create things. We could work together with [director] Stefon [Bristol], who was also very open to us having creative freedom or having an opinion about what we’re doing. So, it just made it easy to be mother and daughter with her.”

Wallis became an Oscar nominee for best actress at the age of 9, for her role in 2012’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” She has since had an expansive career, with roles in projects like “Swagger,” “12 Years A Slave,” and “Trolls,” but “Breathe” is the very first time she’s starred in a thriller action film. 

“What drew me to [the film] was talking to Stefon, the director, about it and also it being something I have never done before,” Wallis says. “I’ve never done a thriller or action. Also, my character was someone I admired — her having brains, her being smart, and also being strong and having a personality that was more than just being smart.” 

“Breathe” stands out in the science-fiction genre as all of the leads are Black actors. Fans don’t often see sci-fi thrillers focused on a Black family, who bring cultural authenticity and humanity to the film. Wallis says the diverse depictions in the movie is what makes “Breathe” an irresistible story.  

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“That’s what makes it kind of beautiful,” Wallis explains. “Just being able to see what that does to a family, and also for it to be real. That was what was nice about being around set. It was just a whole bunch of people coming together. We were like, ‘Okay, so what’s real? What’s really gonna happen in a Black family in this situation? What are we really saying?’”

“Let’s not just be like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s happening? We don’t know what’s going on?’ No, [in the script we have to decide], ‘We need to figure this s–t out. Let’s go. Let’s get it moving.’ That’s what we were going for, and trying to find ways to express that not only with words, but in our actions and how we look at each other.” 

“Breathe” is available to watch now in theaters nationwide and on digital on demand.