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November 13, 2009.
For a total
Sidibe to find a starring role in any film was beyond
comprehension. But to find one where her ultra plus-sized frame proved
to be an asset was more than extraordinary. Nonetheless, this daughter
of R&B/gospel singer
Alice Tan Ridley
and Senegalese father
got the lead role in Precious:
Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and is now being touted
as an Oscar contender.
devastating yet ultimately hopeful film, the adult Sidibe plays the 300
plus pound, sixteen year-old Precious, who has been abused and raped by
both her mother and father. Though she has two children by her father
and is nearly illiterate, several adults throughout this saga recognize
her potential, and through hard work and a survivor's determination,
Precious rises above her miserable situation to look towards the future.
Besides the uncanny find of Sidibe, Daniels also got remarkable
performances out of other cast members such as
Lenny Kravitz and
And he has managed this before; Mo'Nique starred in his hard-hitting
directorial debut Shadowboxer; Carey was in
Tennessee, a film Daniels
produced. Daniels has tackled controversial projects that sit outside
the box; the first film he produced,
Monster's Ball, dealt with
an interracial relationship (and won an Oscar for lead
and the second, The Woodsman offered a sympathetic portrayal of a pedophile
Harlem resident Sidibe never expected to pursue acting let alone be in
such a bright spotlight, first as the audience award winner at this
year's Sundance Film Festival then the winner at The Toronto
International Film Festival. But now, a myriad of festivals later –
including a big premiere night as the centerpiece of the New York Film
Festival and as the opener for the Denver Film Fest – the accolades and
reactions are still rolling out well before the film opens nationwide.
did you connect with your character Precious?
I felt like she was in my family, she was my friend and was with people
that I didn't want her to be friends with. I realized that I had judged
this girl and had stopped being friends with this girl over and over
again. I actually felt a lot of guilt behind it. So I think in reading
the novel it gave me more compassion and it opened my heart to more
cases like Precious. When it came time to film, and to actually take on
the role of Precious, I felt an immense responsibility to do it justice.
To do justice for the girls who have gone through it. To do justice for
the men who have gone through things like that [as well]. I felt a
responsibility to these people as well as to Sapphire the writer, and to
Lee Daniels, the director. He plucked me from obscurity and put me
basically in the same room with Helen Mirren, with Halle Berry, with all
these people that I idolize, and I didn't want him to be wrong in
gives you such a sense of confidence and composure?
I'm 26 years old. I'm a grownup. So when I got the role I was 24-years
old. It wasn't very hard for me to play a sixteen year old. I only
operate at about a nineteen-year old level anyway. So my sense of self
comes from being a grownup. I know who I am because I've lived with
myself for 26 years. That's really where it comes from. In turn, I know
Precious because I know who I am. Does that make sense? The lines don't
blur because I know exactly who I am and I knew who I was before I
she is so thoroughly depicted in Sapphire's book, how did you bring this
character to life so distinctly? What was it in you that you homed in on
to bring her to the screen?
As I said, I had a lot of guilt because I'd walked past this character.
I had walked past Precious and a lot of different people before in my
life, and I felt like I owed it to the people out there who hold this
kind of pain, who live this kind of life. And, I felt a lot of
responsibility to the writer, to Sapphire.
You've talked about the pomp and circumstance around the movie, but what
about the negative things that have surrounded this project for you?
Some of the negative stuff – things that have hurt my feelings, which I
stopped reading – are when people comment on clothes that I've worn or
whatever. That's weird, because it's my own style and I've been dressing
myself for a very long time and I wear clothes that fit me, things that
I like. But people expect more because they think I'm rich or think that
someone else is pulling strings around me. No. It's always weird, when
someone [says], "Someone needs to get that girl a stylist." It's like,
no. I tell me what to wear. That's the negative part, when people expect
something different from me. Also, people expect to me be a role model,
which is cool. But I am a role model because I have thirteen-year old
sisters and I have a twenty-year old brother – because I have siblings
and cousins, that's why I'm a role model. Not because I'm in a movie. My
first responsibility is to my family and to myself. It's so weird to
turn on a switch and be the role model for all women, for all
African-Americans. That doesn't happen that easily. It does not. So I
don't act up in public and don't do anything weird, because my sisters
are watching me. Not because the world is watching me.
are so many positive African American stories out there. Why do you
think this story needs to be told?
I think this story needed to be told because no one has told it and it
is reality. When I actually did research – these numbers change from
month to month – but when I [looked], seven out of ten children were
physically abused, sexually abused. Out of those seven, one in three
were victims of incest. That's too many people. Think about how many
people you walk by, how many people you know, and you don't know what
their story is because no one is saying anything and because it eats at
them inside. That type of secret eats away and destroys a human. This
story needed to be told because it starts a dialogue. It says that it's
okay. That you're not the only one that's been hurt. That you can get
past it. You can talk about it, and that it can possibly save another
mother, Alice Tan Ridley, once said she was offered Mo'Nique's role but
that it was too hard for her to do because of the reality behind the
story itself. Did that makes it too difficult for her?
My mom found it to be really, really hard and heartbreaking. But another
reason why she didn't want to do it is because she's not an actress and
she's not famous worldwide the way that Mo'Nique is. She was afraid that
strangers wouldn't be able to differentiate between her and the role.
Also, my mom has been a teacher since she was twelve years old. That's
crazy in itself, but my mom loves children and she's like, "There's no
way I can do that. I can't even act like I'm going to harm a child." She
just couldn't do it.
didn't have that fear that when you took on the role that people would
liken that portrayal of what you're doing to your reality?
No. I've been in a million situations since filming where people have
seen it and seen the trailer and they think that I'm that girl, but all
it takes is for me to say hello because I'm so very different. The
difference between her and me is so distinct that, in a word, that I'm
working with Mo'Nique, you two had to bond in such an emotionally
charged project. What was your relationship with her like as you worked
together and what is your relationship with her now?
Mo'Nique is so full of love. I've been describing her all day as being
like the tree in Pocahontas. She's really wise and she's so
loving and she is everything. Mary [the mother] is not. Mary is there to
degrade Precious. Mo'Nique is there to uplift. Precious and Mary are
enemies. They're in a constant fight and they've always been in a
constant fight. So when the director says action, we're fighting because
we're Precious and Mary. When he says cut, I certainly go back to being
Gabby and she goes back to being Mo'Nique; we hug each other and we love
each other. We really do have to love each other so much more, because
while the tape is rolling we hate each other.
are you dealing with all the attention you're getting now from this
role? Have you gotten any advice from executive producer Oprah in terms
of dealing with a possible Oscar nomination and how is that affecting
you and what you want to do next?
I don't know. [I take it] one day at a time. It's a new life, certainly,
but it's still a life. It's all so weird. It's an office job in a way,
and my office happens to be a red carpet or a room full of interviewers.
So I take it like it is life. It's fun. It's more exciting, but I still
take it as something that I have to do. As far as the advice that Oprah
has given me, unfortunately Oprah is so awesome that I can't hear when
she talks to me. My brain shuts down. I met her and all I remember is
her saying my name over and over and over again. I talked to her maybe
twice, for two days in Toronto, and we had a bunch of conversations. But
all I can remember is that her favorite color is not purple. It's green.
was it talking to the other executive producer, Tyler Perry? What was it
like getting to know and hanging out with him?
Oh my gosh! He's really tall and so handsome [laughs]. It's so
weird when you meet all these celebrities and you meet people you
admire. It's one thing to meet them, but then to hang around them for a
while, they dissolve from being superstars to just being a dude. Tyler
is just a dude now. Tyler is really, really awesome. He's really, really
funny and he's handsome. Weirdly enough, Mariah [Carey] is just a chick,
she's just a girl.
job has taken you to such heights. Has it been hard to go back to your
life, your neighborhood, to Lehman? What's keeping you grounded at this
I don't know. I never actually went to Lehman College. It's not my
school. It's my best friend's school and I had done a lot of plays
there, but I was never enrolled in Lehman. I go back every now and then
should there be a party going on, something like that, or to visit
friends. But I'm certainly not hindered by this life at all. At this
point, I still go where I want to go and I do what I want to do. While I
do get recognized a lot, it's not like I'm getting recognized every
second of the day. Not every second of the day is a red carpet or these
types of things where everyone knows who I am. For the most part, I
pretty much live my life in pajama pants and hoodies.
did you go to college?
I went to City College, BMCC (Borough of Manhattan Community College)
experiences on set were fun and will they end up on the DVD?
We certainly had our documentary boys – we called them docu-boys – that
filmed everything. One thing, it was Paula Patton's birthday and her
husband, [singer] Robin Thicke, came to the set. It was a big surprise.
She didn't know he was coming. Mr. Daniels had hired a mariachi band and
they got cupcakes from Magnolia and there was apple cider. It was a
really, really big surprise party that she didn't know was happening. So
we all started singing happy birthday to her and she was all flummoxed
and embarrassed. Then this mariachi band comes in and then Robin has
flowers in his hand and he's all jazzed up. It was amazing. The whole
company was in this one tiny classroom celebrating Paula's birthday. We
danced and sang; we ate cupcakes and drank fake champagne. That was the
best. I know it's on the docu-cameras because I've since seen the
footage. That should totally be on the DVD extras.
do you feel about the Oscar possibilities?
I have not followed the Oscars because I wasn't an actress and wasn't
interested. It wasn't my field. So I don't know what makes an Oscar film
and I don't know what makes an Oscar winning actress. I just don't know.
While it's all very nice, I don't understand any of it, to be honest. I
don't know what I did that's different from what any other actress has
done in order to receive an Oscar.
are you going to do next?
I would certainly love to continue acting.
you want to do a comedy? Some people might send you scripts that are
similar to this. Are you open to that or do you want to do something
So far, so good. The thing about this film is there probably isn't going
to be another role like this, another Precious role or film, for a while
at least. Fortunately, no one has yet pigeonholed me to this character.
I've received scripts that are all different kinds of characters. So I
would love to do a comedy. I'd love to do a romance. I'd love to do a
lot of really different films. I must do other stuff. How else will I
prove that I'm an actress, if not to take on different kinds of
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