Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe had no aspirations to be an actress before she took on the title role in Lee Daniels’ Precious, which might be why her astounding performance felt so real — and why she’s just been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards. Alongside a potent turn from co-star (and fellow Oscar nominee) Mo’Nique, Sidibe’s performance as the pregnant, abused teenager has drawn widespread acclaim from critics and moved many audiences. It’s pretty impressive for a first film, and she may soon have a trophy to show for it. With Precious opening theatrically in Australia this week, RT got the chance to talk to the young star about her role, how she landed it, and what all the awards hype means.
RT: So, how’s it all going?
GS: I’ve been doing this tour for a year — I can pretty much answer the same questions in my sleep!
Alright, I’ll go get a drink at the bar… answer these questions and let me know when you’re done.
[laughs] Okay, I got my start by going to an audition…[laughs]
There goes the first question…
Mariah was really, really nice…
There goes the second…
What about Lenny Kravitz?
He was awesome too.
Great! Well this is your first role and you’ve got all these nominations — are you feeling overwhelmed at this point?
It’s not the nominations that make me feel overwhelmed. What’s more overwhelming than anything is the traveling — how far away from home I am, in space and distance and time. That’s overwhelming.
So you’re not feeling nervous at all? You’re about to get an Oscar nomination.
Yeah, it’s a little weird. I feel completely spoiled by it. I think it’s amazing and I’m excited about it. I don’t know if I’m nervous; in this situation nerves don’t do anything for me. I don’t wanna lose sleep over something that’s completely out of my control.
What were the Golden Globes like? Did you meet anyone you admired?
I met everyone. [laughs] Helen Mirren. Such a big deal. Such a big deal. She basically told me that I was a good actress — the queen told me I was a good actress! Leonardo DiCaprio was really nice. Yeah, I met a lot of people that night.
You’ve probably answered this, but was it your mum who suggested the film to you?
She suggested me to audition for the role of Precious and I didn’t listen. I wasn’t an actress and I thought, ‘No way’. And so it wasn’t until four years later that the notion of auditioning came around again, when a friend of mine called and told me about the casting. It kind of went well that time.
At that time had you decided to become an actress?
No, I hadn’t.
Are you going back to not being one after this?
Probably not for a while, no. Getting this role made me realize that one of the things I was put on this earth for is to act. [laughs]
When you got the script, or read the book, what did you think about the part? What appealed to you?
The biggest appeal was the opportunity to drop out of college. [laughs] It wasn’t like I read the script and though ‘I have to do this movie’, or even after reading the book or seeing Mr. Daniels’ art. It was just the fact that I could — that I could do it. That’s what really lead me to doing it.
How do you get to an emotional area where you’re able to give that performance? Like when Precious breaks down in front of the classroom…
That was the scene that I auditioned with. I’m not sure where it all came from. I think I just had compassion for Precious as a human, and that’s where I was able to access the emotions to play the role. In that scene specifically she’s tired, she’s at the end of her rope, with everything that could possibly go wrong in her life, not just in a day; and now she’s faced with a disease that kills, that there’s no cure for. She sees it as a death sentence. She’s lived this life but she hasn’t been loved a day in her life. That’s what really hits me about it. That’s what that scene was about.
Are you thinking about the character when you’re doing that scene?
Well I step out of myself. It’s like I completely disassociate myself from Precious and I’m just Precious in that moment. So I’m thinking everything that she’s thinking: I’m thinking about not being liked; I’m thinking about dying; I’m thinking about my child and how he’ll be raised once I’m gone. It’s like it’s an out-of-body experience, absolutely. So I don’t think much… I don’t think about anything when I’m acting. I’m just like living; it’s weird.
Were you and Mo’Nique nice to each other when the cameras stopped rolling?
Yes, I promise! [laughs]
I thought you might have been kept in separate trailers and then unleashed on each other. Did anyone get hit for real by accident?
[laughs] Yeah, actually — during a fight scene between Mo’Nique and I. I got hurt because she’s supposed to push me into a couch but the couch had a very hard arm on it that was wooden, and I hit it with the side of my ass. It hurt really bad. I got up to continue the scene but then I collapsed. I tried to keep going but I completely collapsed and we had to shut down for a while. I tend to get hurt though. I’m that kid that you can’t play with for too long ’cause they’ll eventually start crying, they’ll get hurt.
Seeing Mo’Nique’s speech at the Golden Globes, you could tell the film meant a lot to her. Was it an emotional experience for you?
Absolutely. Since the film has come out, so many people — not just women, not just black people, but men, Asians, people from every race — have approached me and told me that this is, you know, their story, or it’s similar to their story. They thought that they were the only ones in the world, and from this film they felt that they were closer to being a part of society. So what this film means to me is just the affirmation that we’re not all alone.