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Interview: Gabourey Sidibe

A hidden gem discovered in Harlem
By BRETT MICHEL  |  November 18, 2009

0911_precious1_mnain

Review: Precious. By Peter Keough.
When I spoke with Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, I was struck by how eloquent she is in contrast to her role as Precious, the overweight, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child in Lee Daniels's film. Precious has been garnering accolades since its debut at Sundance this past January; last month, it was even the cover story of the New York Times Magazine. Two of the film's most vocal admirers, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, signed on as producers, no doubt inspired by the tremendous acting debut of the 26-year-old newcomer who, like her character, grew up in Harlem. The similarities pretty much end there.

How exactly did they [the casting directors] find you? That was your first credit, obviously.
I went to an open casting call and the first day I was called for the call-back, which was the next day, and after the call-back I was called [again] because the director wanted to meet me. After he met me, he offered me the part. So it really only took about two days of work. I auditioned on Monday, called back on Tuesday, and was offered the part on Wednesday.

Did you rehearse a lot before you even did the audition?
No...Well I didn’t have the script until after I had done the audition. So I re-read the first page from the book right before the audition so I could remember what I thought her voice might sound like and the way she might carry herself. And so, that’s what I went after, my idea of who Precious was.

How soon before you even auditioned did you know about the role?
Four years. Because my mom had been offered the chance to audition for the role of Mary, but my mom is a singer, not an actress. So she really didn't want to do it.

Did you have any acting experience prior to this?
I was an Indian and a pirate in Peter Pan in a college production, but that’s it...I knew about the role, but I didn't want to audition for it [the part in Precious]. My mom told me to audition for it about four years before I auditioned.

And had you read the book prior to that, too?
Well, yeah, I read the book because my mom gave it to me but I still didn't want to ... see, my mom thought that I should audition and I just thought that was a weird idea. But it wasn't because of the book at all; it was only because I wasn't an actress.

You can probably thank her come Oscar time.
I guess. Like, it totally isn't my mom's fault that I went to the audition. A friend of mine called me and told me about it. I'd thank her anyway, but it's not because I listened to my mom. I never listen to my mom.

I'm guessing she's nothing like Mary, though.
No, no. She's not. Thankfully!

How was your relationship with Monique?
Actually pretty awesome. She's like a second mom. She's so very loving and she's just so awesome. I kid you not, she embodies love. And so, our relationship is great. She taught me so much and she's nothing like Mary, either. And so whenever we had to be the roles we were, and as soon as the director said cut, we would hug each other.

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