When news surfaced that she had won two prizes for her starring role in Lee Daniels’ Precious, Gabourey Sidibe reacted as one might expect of a woman in her position. “I changed my Facebook status,” says the 26-year-old actress while sipping a rum cocktail at Bistro Milano in midtown Manhattan. “I can literally tell people I’m an award-winning actress,” she says, with a violent, characteristic burst of snort-punctuated laughter. “And that’s pretty bomb.”
Adapted from Sapphire’s 1996 debut novel Push, Precious is the story of an obese, impoverished and illiterate teenager in 1980s Harlem who has been twice impregnated by her drug-addicted, HIV-positive father, and is humiliated on a daily basis by her abusive mother, played with feral intensity by Mo’Nique. “I’m not a victim of incest, so I had to learn to play Precious through empathy. Growing up, I lived in some pretty rough neighborhoods, but that’s where the overlap ends,” says the charismatic Sidibe, whose father is a cab driver, and who was raised by her musician mother in Brooklyn and Harlem.
“It’s always considered a courageous move to get all ugly, Charlize Theron-style,” she says of her transformation into a sweaty, sloppy girl whose chin and cheeks, in one scene, are slathered in chicken grease. “But it’s like, so what that I’m not wearing makeup? I wasn’t wearing makeup when I decided I was beautiful in the first place. You want to know the real me? Every picture I take and every photo shoot I do is revenge for every boy who didn’t want to hold my hand, for every girl who knew she was so much prettier than me, and for everyone who told me I wouldn’t be worth anything until I lost weight.” In light of the buzz that surrounds her performance, I tell her that could be her Oscar acceptance speech. Instead of laughing, she looks down at her drink and smiles.
Photography by Tim Palen. Hair by Giannandrea @ The wall Group. Makeup by Christian McCulloch @ Tim Howard. Production by Ryan Wickers.