Precious: Casting Unknown Gabby Sidibe in the Lead

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"Precious," directed by Lee Daniels and starring Gabby Sidibe, is the feature film adaptation of the novel "Push," written by Sapphire. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is being released on November 6 by Lionsgate.



The 24-year-old Harlem resident Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe had just started a new semester at college when she heard about the casting call from a friend at Lehman College in the Bronx.  A psychology major, Sidibe had acted in a few college productions but had no ambitions to become an actress.  However, she did know Sapphire’s novel, having read Push a few years earlier when her mother, singer Alice Tan Ridley, was approached about appearing in a stage adaptation.  Sidibe read a few pages of the book to re-acquaint herself with Precious’s voice, and decided on Monday morning to go the audition.  Within a matter of hours, she received a callback for a second audition the next day.

Sidibe’s audition tapes stunned the casting directors and filmmakers alike.  “The authenticity she brought to the part was amazing,” says Daniels.  On Wednesday, September 12, he met one-on-one with Sidibe.  “We talked about the character in depth. Gabby clearly understood Precious, and even disagreed with me about some aspects of the character’s behavior based on her own real-life experiences.   She gave me the facts and just blew me away.”

Sidibe had gone to the meeting expecting to give a third audition for Daniels.  “We were talking, and I was getting kind of antsy about when we were going to get to the audition.  Then Lee just came out and said, ‘I want you to be in my movie.’ I said, ‘but –’ and he said, ‘No “but,” I want you to play Precious.’  I started crying.  It was a very clichéd response, but it had all happened so fast: the first audition was Monday and this was Wednesday — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…boom!”

Sidibe was moved by Precious’s capacity to imagine a better life for herself, despite the relentless negativity and abuse from her mother, Mary.  “Precious is very much a dreamer, and has a lot of wonderment in her.  And she’s very hungry for knowledge,” the actress comments.  “She’s sweet, but at the same time she’s learned to be defensive.  When there’s trouble coming, she’s ready for it.  She’s a warrior, I think.”

Enough of a warrior that she is willing to risk Mary’s wrath by enrolling at the alternative school Each One Teach One, where she is placed in a pre-GED class taught by Ms. Rain.  The class changes Precious’s life on many levels, delivering intellectual and emotional sustenance.  Says Sidibe, “Precious gains a support system at Each One Teach One.  It’s much more like a family than what she has at home.  In a lot of ways, Ms. Rain becomes Precious’s surrogate mother.  The other young ladies in the class are really her first friends; they care about her, and they have problems like she does.  It’s like a classroom of broken hearts, and they all mend each other.”