On the new Showtime series The Big C, actress Gabourey Sidibe is playing Andrea, a student of Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney), a woman diagnosed with terminal cancer who has not told anyone in her life about her condition. Seeing a confidence and spiritedness in the mean and snotty teenager, Cathy decides to take on Andrea’s smart-aleck ways as a challenge to nurture and help, and through the process helps herself.
During an interview while at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Gabourey Sidibe talked about why it was important for her to do a project that was really funny and how her character definitely doesn’t suffer fools. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you end up getting involved with this project?
Gabourey: I was really, really interested in the script. I thought it was phenomenal and so interesting. And, after reading the script, I wanted to be a part of it. I thought it was really, really funny. It’s really important to me that I do things that make me happy and that make sense. I just thought that it was such a great fit to my life, being able to do the show.
Did you audition with Laura or did you just get offered the role?
Gabourey: I auditioned with Laura.
How would you describe your character, Andrea?
Gabourey: She is a teenage girl who is very, very colorful. She’s very sassy. She doesn’t suffer fools, and she’s just everything I wanted to be at 17.
What about Andrea do you think is cool? What do you like about her?
Gabourey: Andrea is just cool. She was the popular girl at school. She’s so colorful. She wears funky nails. She certainly has a style. She does not take it lightly. She’s very serious about her style.
With all the movies you’ve been offered, why did you decide to take a TV series right now?
Gabourey: It was really fun to do. I’m really, really interested in the job of acting. I can really care less about being famous. I’m more about the work, and The Big C was amazing, so I wanted to be a part of it.
Were you attracted to this project specifically because of the role, the subject matter, Laura Linney, or all of that combined?
Gabourey: For me, it was really a combination. Reading the pilot script, I thought it was so interesting, so different and really, really smart. The way the writers handle the delicacy of this woman’s life, it’s so smart and endearing. It was such a beautiful script that I wanted to be a part of it. And, of course, I don’t turn my nose up to Laura Linney, who is amazing.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from working with this cast?
Gabourey: I really, really like working with this cast, but I’ve never got a chance to work with Oliver [Platt]. I work mostly with Laura and with Gabriel Basso, who plays her son in the show. And, I really like working with Laura because she is amazing. I never had the chance to go to acting class, so I consider working with her in a scene an acting class. I just like to watch her. I can’t really say what I’ve learned because it’s more than I can put into words, but I really, really learn from her.
What do you think of the relationship between Cathy and Andrea? Have you ever had any kind of relationship like that?
Gabourey: Yeah, I have. I’ve had that relationship with a few people, luckily. But, I think that Cathy also gains something from Andrea by helping her, the same way Andrea gains something from Cathy.
Have you gotten a love interest at all?
Gabourey: No, unfortunately I haven’t just yet.
Has this show made you think about what you would do in this situation, or has it made you live your life any differently?
Gabourey: I don’t know if I think about my life any differently. I do things that make me happy, anyway. I’m a selfish liver, I guess. But, certainly, I do know people who have both died of and survived cancer, and it makes me think of them more. My character doesn’t know about Cathy’s diagnosis at all, so I wonder how many people in my life I don’t know about, who are suffering.
Because Precious was very serious, did you intentionally decide to go lighter with this project?
Gabourey: It was not a decision. I’m lazy. I’m very loose in my life. I don’t make a lot of decisions. I like to just float and see where it takes me. It wasn’t necessarily a decision to do some comedy. I’m more about work. I don’t think about what the next step is that I should do. I just think about the work and how it makes me feel.
Were you offered a lot of roles that were like Precious 2.0?
Gabourey: No, I’ve never been offered a role like Precious. Not ever again.
Do you feel like people typecast you?
Gabourey: I think non-industry people do, certainly, but it doesn’t matter because I’m not that girl. I’ve done a million-plus interviews, in the last 10 months of my life, and not one interview was done as Precious. So, I don’t worry about people wondering if I’m that girl. They’re clearly not paying attention, if they think that I am her.
Is it important to you to be a pioneer, or make way for other plus size women?
Gabourey: I don’t know. It’s not something I can say. It’s not something I can stop myself from doing. It just comes with the body and the image, and all this. When I was younger, it was important for me to see girls like me, in order to know that I was normal and that I actually existed. It’s hard to think that I might be that person for someone else, but I know that it was important to me.
With your career so successful, do you feel vindicated about the extremely rude comments that Howard Stern made about you?
Gabourey: Everyone makes rude comments. It’s not the first rude comments I’ve ever heard, in my whole life. With people outside of my life, it doesn’t matter what they say because they have no idea what’s in my life. Other people have made rude comments, and his don’t mean any more than anyone else’s.
Have you been able to take this whole year in stride because this was so unexpected and you weren’t banking on this to be your career?
Gabourey: I think so. It’s a total surprise. But, I also didn’t come into this career as a teenager or as a child. I’m a fully grown-up woman, and so I already know who I am. It’s such a huge surprise, and I’m not naïve enough to think that it can’t all go away. There are peaks and valleys in every career, and this one has the hardest peaks and valleys, but I’m okay with that.
Did you have a back-up plan, if you didn’t make it as an actress?
Gabourey: This is the back-up plan. This is just something that happened. My Plan A was to be a psychologist. I thought I would be a receptionist. I’m always middle of the road and very normal. I’ve always wanted a normal life, and this is what I got. Being an actress wasn’t a plan at all, so what’s happened to me is very strange. Life isn’t very normal, even though I’m still very much a normal girl. I ride the subway, I ride the bus, and all of that. It’s the people around me that have changed. I love when I go to a restaurant and I walk past, and everyone waves. That’s always really funny. It’s strange. It just goes to show that whatever plan you have for your life, you are wrong, a lot of times.
After you were nominated for an Oscar, did you notice that people suddenly wanted to get to know you?
Gabourey: Yeah, but it’s not just the nomination, it’s the whole career. But, people want to know everyone for a lot of different reasons. It doesn’t have to be anything as big as an Oscar nomination. It could be a brand new job. People see their opportunity. And, when you’re winning, everyone loves a winner.
Have you always had such a positive attitude, or is that a result of the success you’ve had in the past year?
Gabourey: I don’t know any teenager with a positive attitude. The positive attitude doesn’t have anything to do with the success of any movie because it’s only been nine months or so and I’m sure I wouldn’t be this far in the industry without a positive attitude. But, it’s something that I had to develop.
How has success changed you in the past year? Have your values or the way you perceive things changed?
Gabourey: I worry about money so much more now. I really do. But, I don’t think my values have changed. I was a grown up when I started, and I still am. I don’t think I’ve changed so much. But, my perception of what fame is and what it can do to you has certainly changed.
What was that perception before?
Gabourey: Before, I used to be really, really heavy on the blogs and I would believe every rumor. Now, having been part of certain rumors and knowing that it’s not true, and knowing that the whole world has got me wrong, I have more sympathy for those people that I used to laugh at.
What should the world know about you?
Gabourey: There are no rumors that I want to clear up because I don’t believe in clearing up rumors. But, I really want people to know that I am a normal girl. I’m not a superhero now. I’m not some sort of celebrity that doesn’t have feelings. I’m very, very normal.
What is Yelling to the Sky, and when will that come out?
Gabourey: I’m not sure when it comes out. It’s a Sundance film. I play a mean, bad girl. She’s a bully.
Was that fun?
Gabourey: Yes. I don’t know what that says about me, but it was so much fun to be a bully.
Do you have any desire to get behind the camera?
Gabourey: I think that’s a natural step in this business. Laura is an executive producer, which I think is amazing. It’s such a smart thing, and I really do think it’s the natural step. Being an actor is wonderful and it’s a lot of fun, but eventually you look old and you can’t fit this or that. It’s important to have other skills, be able to do other things, and to really learn how this business works and what it thrives on.
Your mother has been great on America’s Got Talent. Has she always had the dream to be a singer?
Gabourey: She’s been a professional singer since she was five. It’s nothing. I know everyone is really impressed by her, but it’s nothing new to me. My mom has been in movies and she’s been on TV before. It’s not her dream, it’s her profession.
Do you sing like your mom?
Gabourey: No. I am not a singer, but I can sing.
Is music something you would also want to pursue?
Gabourey: Not seriously. I really like to do it, but I don’t know that I want to turn it into a job.
Do you guys ever sing together?
Gabourey: Not ever. I’m not a big fan of doing what my mother wants me to do, like any daughter.
Are you pulling for her on America’s Got Talent?
Gabourey: Who else would I pull for? She’s so cute. She gets it from me. I raised that one well.
Have you thought about how you might celebrate if she wins?
Gabourey: No, I haven’t. I’m guessing there will probably be a big party. I’m sure someone will throw her something, and make a cake.