Gabby Sidibe really hit me with her performance in Precious, it's definitely one of the hardest hitting films I've seen in the last few years, if you want to see explosians, slapstick comedy and spaceships this film is not for you. Gabby plays Claireece "Precious" Jones a sixteen-year-old girl born into a life no one would want. She's pregnant for the second time by her absent father; at home, she must wait hand and foot on her mother (Mo'Nique who also gives a sensational performance), a poisonously angry woman who abuses her emotionally and physically. School is a place of chaos, she's doing well but she's living with the secret that she can neither read nor write. Precious is offered the chance to transfer to an alternative school, Each One/Teach One. In the literacy workshop taught by the patient yet firm Ms. Rain (Paula Patton my crush of the month), Precious begins a journey that will lead her from darkness, pain and powerlessness to light, love and self-determination, it's serious business and hands down one of the most powerful films I've seen.
You give terrific performance in Precious, but I understand you had no real aspirations to become actor. You thought it was a dream too far…
Gabby Sidibe: Yes. That makes a lot of sense, a dream too far. I had been told for most of my life that I would never be able to do something like this. Also I got a lot of cues from the media: when it comes to actresses and people the media cares about, you can probably count the girls that look like me on one hand. So I certainly didn't think I could break any barriers and become an actress.
And even when you got the audition you weren't convinced?
Gabby Sidibe: No.
Who persuaded you?
Gabby Sidibe: It was partly my mother and also I have a friend, Henry, who is the assistant director in my local theatre. He called me when they were coming to cast and he thought of me, because they were looking for a very specific girl that I look like. After the audition I went straight to work and by the time I got out of the subway, which is literally an hour later, I had the call back.
I heard that you had an amusing phone call when trying to ring them for the call back…
Gabby Sidibe: Yeah, I was still in disbelief, I dialled the wrong number and I got some lawyer office and I was talking to this lawyer and who happened to have the same name as the guy I was meant to be calling. I was like, ‘Can I talk to Billy Hopkins?' So they put me through to Billy, the lawyer! He was like, ‘What are you looking for?' And I said, ‘I have just done this audition and I am doing the call back.' He laughed, and said, ‘I hope they actually gave you the right number!' I was pretty sure they did, because I was just one number off so he wished me luck. ‘I hope you get it.' he said. So I called the right number and made an appointment to come in the next day. The callback was the next day and I was called within half an hour of leaving, saying Mr. Daniels wants to see you. He wanted to meet me that day but since I had already gone all the way back home — and I think the office at the time was five blocks away from where the call back was — so they said I made the appointment and went back in the next day and was talking to Lee for about forty five minutes to an hour. The whole time I am waiting to do the audition again because I was told I would have to audition for him, but it never happened. He just gave me the part.
Lee Daniels says that you told him things about the character that he had not considered. Do you remember what?
Gabby Sidibe: Being a fan of the book, anytime they wanted to do something a little different I would get up on a soapbox, saying, ‘No, you can't do that because they didn't do that in the book and we can't change the book.' I am anal and got very serious about the character. I have probably told him a lot of things just because there are so many layers to Precious and he just thought because she was big and dark skinned that she had to be a certain way. But in meeting me, I am big and I have dark skin but I am certainly better than what he thought of me. He thought I would be not so and certainly I changed his idea of who Precious is, based on the way I am.
What were you thinking during the audition?
Gabby Sidibe: It was the scene where Precious meets Ms Weiss for the first time, the social worker, and I was given about three minutes with it. I hadn't seen the scene beforehand. For the most part if you have a manager and the manager submits you for the role then they will email you the sides to the audition so you can prepare the night before. But since this was an open casting call I just showed up, no appointment, no nothing. And they had sides available so I was given three minutes with it and I went in and I did it. I remember thinking that it was a complete waste of time. Billy Hopkins was in the room with his assistant director Jessica Kelly and I wasn't nervous at all, because I was feeling pretty stupid for having cut class and I was wondering about what I was missing. That was pretty much all that was on my mind. I wasn't nervous at all because I didn't think I had it all; I thought that I had zero chance of actually getting the part.
There are many layers to character and some very harrowing scenes to film…
Gabby Sidibe: I tend to disappear when I am acting as Precious. I am blank, completely, I am just feeling every emotion as Precious would feel it and how she should feel it. I leave my body and I take on this character. It is such a weird thing to describe because at first you do a certain amount of takes for every scene, sometimes more than others and for each time it is all brand new information and it a real revelation. It never grows cold or dead to me.
Precious dreams about the red carpet in the movie. How are you finding it yourself?
Gabby Sidibe: Red carpets are more fun in the film. Photoshoots are more fun in life. That's the way you split that. Red carpets. They don't suck but they are actually more fun to film than to actually do. Photoshoots are really awesome because sometimes they give you the clothes you are wearing. They give you free shoes and stuff like that!