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Arts

Kam Williams | 11/18/2009, 5:41 a.m.
Gabourey Sidibe stars in Precious, based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. Lionsgate Publicity

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Gabourey Sidibe stars in Precious, based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.

GABOUREY “Gabby” SIDIBE was born in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in 1983 to RandB/Gospel singer Alice Tan Ridley, and Ibnou Sidibe, a cab driver from Senegal. After her parents separated, Gabby was raised in Harlem by her mother who supported the family by teaching special ed and by singing in the subway.

A graduate of Washington Irving High School, Gabby was pursuing a degree in psychology at Mercy College and working as a telephone company customer service representative when she decided to try out for the title role in the movie Precious. Her audition so wowed director Lee Daniels that he had no hesitation about picking her over the 400 other actresses answering the casting call.

Here, Gabby talks about the film and her critically-acclaimed performance, both of which have Hollywood humming with early Oscar buzz.

Tell me a little about your background.

My dad’s from Senegal, and my mom’s from Georgia. But oddly, her roots trace back to Senegal, too. I was born in Bed-Stuy, and I lived there until right before I turned 8. That’s when we moved to Harlem.

What interested you in auditioning for the role of Precious?

I’m not sure I had a serious interest. To be honest, my mom had told me to go audition for the part. In a weird way, I think I just kind of ended up there. Just the thought that I could be in the film was really, really interesting. I guess that’s part of the reason why I auditioned. But I auditioned with the absolute belief that I wasn’t going to get it. 

[Director] Lee told me that he had to audition over 400 actresses before he found you, and that the role of Precious was the most challenging one to fill. What do you think sold him on you?

He said that he saw a lot of girls who were just like Precious, and that the difference with me was that I wasn’t anything like her, and that I was obviously acting. He didn’t want to be seen as possibly exploiting a girl similar to Precious, so I think that played a part in his decision, along with my giving a really good audition.

What was it like acting opposite big stars like Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz?

It was amazing! I felt very fortunate to get to work around people that I idolized.

Did they live up to your expectations?

As it turned out, every one of them was so much more awesome than I expected.

And how’d you like being directed by Lee?

Lee is just adorable, cute and so much fun! He’s a disarming genius with a very creative mind.

Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

No one’s ever asked if I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Okay, do you like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

[Chuckles] Yeah, I’m afraid of a lot of stuff, although I’m not really the nervous type. Like, I want to see the movie Paranormal Activity, but I’m afraid to go because I’ll believe it’s real. [Laughs]