Meet Helena Zengel, Tom Hanks' 12-year-old 'News of the World' co-star

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The announcement of this year's Academy Award nominations will not happen until March 15, but there's already been plenty of Oscar buzz about Tom Hanks' performance in "News of The World."

His co-star is also attracting plenty of attention, because Helena Zengel is so young and has such a big part.

The talented pre-teen hails from Germany and spoke to us from Berlin. She had so much energy when she was just 4 years old that her mother thought acting might calm her down and help her focus.

It did.

Today, Hanks calls her "absolutely superb" and told the New York Times he wished that he has her ease in front of a camera.

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Imagine how tough it would be to go toe to toe with one of the best actors in the world when you are just 11 years old, and adding to the degree of difficulty is that fact this young performer had very little dialogue in this movie. And when she did speak, her lines were in a Native American language.

She took it in stride.

"I was grateful that I was able and allowed to do it," she said.

The young star plays a girl facing an unspeakable tragedy after her parents were killed by the Kiowa tribe, and she was raised by its members as one of their own.

A former Confederate officer, played by Hanks, takes her on a perilous journey to try and find her surviving relatives.

"Tom was great, and we had so much fun," she said. "It was so easy sometimes for me to do it, because he helped me a lot. And (director) Paul (Greengrass) also did."

Greengrass is best known for action movies like "Jason Bourne" and "United 93," but he'd never before directed a child in such a key role.

"I thought, where am I going to find a girl who can play that huge part?" he said.

A friend tipped him off to a German movie called "System Crasher" starring Zengel when she was just 9 years old. After seeing the film, Greengrass knew he'd found his young star.

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So often in "News of the World," Zengel's character must express herself without saying anything. This requires talent and concentration, says her director, "real instinctive ability married to hard work."

She admits it required some extra effort.

"The toughest part was probably talking with my eyes, which I think, in general, is one of the hardest parts you can do while acting," she said.

But her real trick is making the acting look easy.

Remember the name Helena Zengel, because it's a safe bet that she will, as Greengrass said, "make many more films for many years to come."

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