Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, is the story of a young black girl from Harlem abused by her parents, struggling to get through high school and break out of the welfare cycle she’s been born into. Playing as part of Cannes’ official sidebar, Un Certain Regard, the film is directed by Lee Daniels and he was joined in Cannes today by stars Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey to welcome the premiere. Of course, they invited RT to lunch at the exclusive La Plage Vitaminwater on a beach front on the Croisette.
The film is a tale of tragic hardship but it’s nevertheless full of hope and despite its starry lineup of supporting stars, it’s as brutally real a portrayal of life in Harlem as we’ve ever seen on screen. Carey and Patton dispatch with glamour to play the film’s integral supporting roles, as a social worker and teacher respectfully who work to rescue Sidibe’s Precious from the world she’s a part of, and we were impressed with just how good the performances were across the board.
“I read the novel many years ago and it really stayed with me,” Daniels told us of his decision to direct the film. “Very few stay books with me, and they’re mainly classics. This was that urban, edgy thing that was a modern-day version of those books.”
Carey might seem an odd choice, but according to her director she wanted the role and was perfect for it. “Helen Mirren was going to play the role originally but Mariah and I are good friends and it was a very last minute thing, it sort of happened. I was surprised that she was as in love as I was. She never asked me to be in the movie but she hinted that she wanted to be a part of it and I felt if I was making a bold movie, how bold it would be to cast Mariah.”
Carey told RT that she’d been a fan of the material for years. “I read it years ago and it changed my life. It’s intense and it is life changing.”
As a social worker in the film, it’s her character’s job to make Precious feel comfortable enough in her company to share the secrets of her traumatic past. “I said, ‘Let me peel layers away of the world I live in and who I feel I am and really, truly become this woman,'” Carey told us. “I know there’s a creative side of me that needs to do work like this and I trust Lee so much. I’m just grateful for being asked.”
For Kravitz, the challenge came in completely abandoning his persona as a performer and inhabiting the character. “The thing Lee wanted to do was make me disappear. He’d say, ‘You can’t walk like that, you can’t move like that, your hand can’t do that, you can’t talk like that.” In an hour he completely changed my whole vibe. People didn’t even know it was me.”
The film’s highlight in an already strong case is unquestionably Mo’Nique who plays Precious’ abusive mother, Mary, and goes against type to deliver what may be the first truly Oscar-worthy performance of the year. She couldn’t be in Cannes due to prior engagement, but her co-stars were strong in their praise. “Her truth as Mary was so intense,” explains Carey of the one scene she shares with her, the film’s emotional climax. “Honestly, that scene — Lee just let us go. When Mo’Nique came in and it was the three of us, Lee was very protective of us. I knew my character wouldn’t cry but it was so intense that I really wanted to.”
For Gabourey Sidibe, the titular character playing in her first acting role, the experience of bringing the film to Cannes was emotional. “I’m having the most fun ever in Cannes,” she told RT. “This is completely glamorous, something I never thought my life would be heading towards. I wasn’t an actress, I was a college student.”
The film releases in the US on November 6th with other territories to be announced. Keep an eye on it until then — we suspect you’re going to be hearing a lot of it as this year’s awards season kicks into gear.