Page last updated at 08:23 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

Gritty Precious unearths new star

By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Precious stars Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'nique as her mother and Mariah Carey
Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) must endure the wrath of her mother (Mo'Nique) but has her social worker's sympathy (Mariah Carey)

A hard-hitting film about poverty and hopelessness is turning into a bright prospect for awards glory.

Precious is about a black Harlem teenager, sexually abused by her father and expecting his second child.

Her brutal mother bullies her on a daily basis, while she is barely literate and taunted for being overweight.

Life has dealt a bitter hand to this girl.

But for actress Gabourey Sidibe, playing Precious has landed her her first screen role and her performance is being recognised far and wide.

The 26-year-old's demeanour could not be a greater contrast to her downtrodden character's destroyed sense of self-worth and despair.

'Hell of a performance'

"Being awesome came before I got the part, and I continue to be awesome!", she says with an effervescent laugh, brimming with confidence.

Meeting the actress behind Precious makes it clear that her performance in the film is an impressive achievement, but Sidibe says she had a lot to draw upon.

Gabourey Sidibe
Precious has so many messages you can take away, but the biggest is one of hope
Gabourey Sidibe

"Precious and I come from absolutely the same neighbourhood. I'm from Harlem too. I didn't go to the greatest school. There were girls and boys there who couldn't read. It's familiar to me," she explains.

The film is based on the popular and acclaimed novel Push by Sapphire, which Sidibe already knew well before bringing Precious to the screen.

"I was a fan of hers, I felt like I knew her. After I read the book I felt like she was part of my family. I had to do her justice," says the actress.

"This girl Precious absolutely exists whether that's her name or not, whether she's female or not, whether she's black or not - I had to do it for this girl."

In this young woman's dreary and suffocating world her mother looms large, ultimately blaming her abused daughter for stealing her man.

Actress Mo'nique - best known as a TV comic in the US - turns in a staggering performance as the loathsome figure with practically no redeeming features, putting her in contention for an Oscar.

"She certainly turned in one hell of a performance," says Sidibe, who went from fan to co-star and played out some harrowing scenes with her.

"For those who thought she could only be funny, this certainly changed that. She embodies love, so I was never afraid of her.

"We loved each other so much more because of the gravity of the film and our scenes."

Director Lee Daniels pulled in some star talent to appear in Precious, including rock star Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey almost unrecognisable as a dowdy, make-up free social worker.

"She is just a normal girl and so sweet," says Sidibe. "She didn't come on set with this larger than life persona. She was just Mariah and not Mariah".

As for the film's - and her own - Academy Award prospects, newcomer Sidibe admits it is "scary" to contemplate, adding that she has "never really paid much attention" to the glittering event.

"I don't know what I'm doing, I don't know if I'm an Oscar-worthy actress or that I'm in an Oscar-worthy film. But I'm delighted people think that we may be contenders."

Lee Daniels and Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey (with director Lee Daniels) strongly supports the film

While this confident, warm young woman may have little in common with the life of her screen alter-ego, she shares her size with Precious - but initially laughs it off.

"I am quite stunning!" Sidibe declares, chuckling infectiously.

"This role has helped, but to be honest I loved myself before the audition. I think that's the reason why I got it.

"I have to live with myself and it doesn't make any sense to hate myself. I have to live in this body and have to live in this world," she explains.

"This isn't to say that I'm happy living an unhealthy lifestyle - I don't, in fact - or happy with my weight, but I'm happy with me."

Sidibe's role in Precious has lead to further projects, with the actress aiming to steer away from the unrelenting drama of the movie.

"I hope to act a lot more and some day do comedies and romantic films. I'd love to be funny in a film," she says.

But for now, the rising star is a great advocate for the character of Precious, and maintains the film's main message is one of hope.

"She keeps having things thrown at her, but she never stays down. She keeps going, so you shouldn't let anything stop you either."

Precious is released across the UK on 29 January.

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