Gabourey Sidibe: Not Just ‘Precious,’ Part 2

With Yelling to the Sky, the actress says her new awkward-teen drama goes in a different direction.

Gabourey Sidibe as Latanya in Yelling to the Sky

“Neither of the two have anything to do with each other, but sadly that’s why there are so many comparisons between this girl and Precious,” she said. “Victoria Mahoney hadn’t even seen Precious when I met with her. So it’s sad that the movies are being compared to each other, but what else is there to compare [them] to? If there were more, we wouldn’t have this issue. We just need to make more and more and be represented in every age, in every genre.”

Perhaps the critical acclaim embracing possible Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) will change this trend. She’s only 9, and if all goes well, she might break out of playing the troubled child. For Sidibe, however, her outward appearance may hinder her from breaking out of this box.

While her weight issue is hard for other people to ignore, Sidibe seems very comfortable in her skin. So much so that a recent Internet posting of her head Photoshopped onto the body of model Marquita Pring, claiming that she had lost 179 pounds, really didn’t faze her.

“Oh, that,” she said when I brought it up. “They do weird things to celebrities all the time. I’m no more offended than anyone else. It’s like, whatever. My friends told me I should try and get it fixed, but I actually don’t care. I’m actually a movie star, and I don’t have time. [Laughs.] I’d sort of look foolish if I get all upset about a photo prank like that. I didn’t even realize what you were talking about. I give it that much thought.”

Nor was she upset when Joan Cusack advised her to give up her career because the industry was so “image-conscious.” That essentially was Cusack’s way of saying, f–k them. “She really meant it in a very sweet way,” Sidibe explained. “She was really coming from a place of trying to be helpful and trying to spare me.”

Sidibe was miffed, however, over the recent firing of TV meteorologist Rhonda S. Lee, who lost her job for responding to a racist rant by a viewer on Facebook. “It’s just this business,” she said. “There’s no other business like this one. If you’re a receptionist, the people you work with are not allowed to talk about your body or your skin color.

“I’m just Gabourey,” she continued. “I’m not out in these streets talking about you in your face. This is who I’ve been my entire life. And the thing is, if I change, if I don’t change, it literally has nothing to do with anyone.”

Despite it all, there’s really no denying her talent. Not many folks get nominated for an Oscar the first time out of the gate. Sidibe, who recently wrapped the final season of Showtime’s The Big C, is open to working in whatever arena that welcomes her as she is.

“I’m having a very sad, emotional moment in my life,” she said about the end of The Big C. “It was such a wonderful job. It was like my favorite job — well, certainly my longest. I would consider doing another series. I mean, I would love to say I’m just going to focus on movies like I’m Leonardo DiCaprio or somebody, but I actually don’t see a huge difference between doing TV and doing film.”

And even though she’s playing yet another dysfunctional teen in White Bird — a character she described as someone who “wears many colors” — she couldn’t be happier to be on that set. “I don’t know what I can [say] about it because we’re still filming,” she said. “All I can say right now is that I am just freaking out that I’m working with Angela Bassett!”

Miki Turner is an award-winning photojournalist in Los Angeles.