Quvenzhane Wallis shows off her puppy purse at GALA Hispanic Theatre. Quvenzhane Wallis shows off her puppy purse at GALA Hispanic Theatre. (Photo by Jessica Goldstein)

With her stuffed-puppy purse in hand, Quvenzhane Wallis, the 9-year-old star of  Oscar nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” was the star of an event with the award-winning Paso Nuevo Youth Performance Program event at GALA Hispanic Theatre on Monday. Wallis, along with her mother and “Beasts” director Benh Zeitlin, was on hand for the Teacher-for-a-Day program, a national series sponsored by Fox Audience Strategies and Fox Searchlight.

After watching a performance by Paso Nuevo students and screening a short clip from the film, Wallis, her mother and Zeitlin took the stage to participate in a panel focused on Wallis’s experience working on the film. Even though Wallis is basically bite-sized, she still commented that the (slightly) younger Paso Nuevo kids who asked her questions during the post-panel Q&A were “so cute!” This was — sorry, no other way to describe it — so cute.

Zeitlin described the process of searching for someone to play Hushpuppy, the role that ultimately went to Wallis. “We ended up looking at about 4,000 kids over nine months,” he said. “We really thought we could find somebody who hadn’t done this before.”

According to Wallis, the hardest part was not the acting. Her biggest challenge: “Dealing with the mud. Mosquitoes, because I’m allergic. And the one scene with the big, black heavy pig.” No offense, black pigs! “That was my first time ever touching a black pig. I’d only touched pink pigs before. That’s the type you normally see.”

Asked if they ever thought this whole venture was a huge mistake, Zeitlin said, “Every day.”

Wallis corrected him. “Almost every day.”

Wallis didn’t talk much about future plans — already picking up those actress-y cues, she would neither confirm nor deny her involvement in a remake of “Annie” — but she did announce her one goal at the end of the panel.

“I want to just be what kids believe in.”