Gabourey Sidibe

Gabourey Sidibe Headshot

Actress

Birth Date: May 6, 1983

Age: 41 years old

Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York

One film was all it took to turn Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe's life into a cinematic Cinderella story. As the star of "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" (2009), Sidibe's Oscar-nominated performance as an obese and illiterate teen impregnated twice by her father, beaten by her mother, and tortured by her schoolmates was raw, gut-wrenching and powerful. The film explored a young woman's pain and struggle to survive without turning her into a victim who has given up hope for a better future. Sidibe rose to the challenge with the sophistication and conviction of a seasoned performer, and with her acting debut, painted Precious as one of the most deeply layered and unforgettable characters ever seen on film. Later roles showed that this was no mere one-off, expanding her range to include comic, action, and horror roles in movies like Chris Rock's "Top Five" (2014) and television shows ranging from the music business drama "Empire" (Fox 2014- ) and "American Horror Story" (FX 2011- ).

Gabourey Sidibe was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1983. Her mother was Alice Tan Ridley, a Special Ed teacher and subway singer who raised her daughter alone after she split up with Sidibe's father, a Senegal-born cab driver. As a teenager, Sidibe spent hours outside MTV's Times Square studios to cheer on pop group 'N Sync and she spent a good amount of time on recess singing Mariah Carey songs. She studied at Borough of Manhattan Community College and The City College of New York before attending Mercy College to pursue a degree in psychology. While studying to become a therapist, Sidibe could not shake off her love for acting. She appeared in several college theater productions in 2003 including "Peter Pan," "The Wiz" and "The Vagina Monologues." Sidibe later said she cherished her theater experience because it allowed her to stretch her limits by taking on different personas on stage.

Sidibe's life changed after reading the 1996 novel Push, written by Ramona "Sapphire" Lofton. The actress' mother who was not a trained actress but held aspirations of becoming one was originally offered the role of Mary Jones, the title character's abusive mother, for the feature film adaptation. Ridley was so overcome with the emotional intensity of the role that she turned it down. However, the lead part of Clareece "Precious" Jones caught the attention of Henry Ovalles, assistant director at Lehman Stages and Sidibe's theater colleague, who encouraged the young actress to audition for the part. Things began moving at a record pace for Sidibe and what was about to become her breakthrough film, now renamed "Precious, so as to avoid confusion with the 2009 action film, "Push." Just two days after auditioning in 2007 she sat across from "Precious" director Lee Daniels and was offered the role. It was a star-studded production, with comedienne Mo'Nique playing against type as Mary and a de-glammed Mariah Carey as Precious' social worker, Mrs. Weiss. There were also two very impressive forces behind marketing the film - Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Films and Tyler Perry's 34th Street Films. With an A-list cast and two Hollywood powerhouses promoting "Precious," Sidibe found herself at the center of one of the most anticipated movies of 2009. Her performance was so unbelievably realistic that the audience was instantly sucked into the character's nightmare the second she stepped in front of the camera. Both Mo'Nique and Carey delivered equally powerful performances that complemented the young star's gritty and heartbreaking portrayal of Precious, a young woman so beaten down sexually, physically and emotionally that there seems to be no way out of her living hell. Instead, she escapes by dreaming up surrealistic scenarios where she is often a glamorous movie star or a high fashion model.

The film debuted at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Award for the Dramatic category, and a Special Jury Award for Mo'Nique. A few months later, the film won the People's Choice Award at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, a sign that the movie and its star were frontrunners for Academy Award nominations. Not surprisingly, Sidibe began racking up nominations later that year, including Independent Spirit, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and the coveted Academy award nods. At the same time she was receiving critical recognition, however, the actress was also receiving a lot of undue attention in regards to her weight. Proving she was nothing like her cowed character, Sidibe announced she was proud of her curves and that they were what made her fabulous. "If I don't like myself, there's no reason to even live the life," she told New York magazine. "I love the way I look."

For her next project, Sidibe appeared alongside Don Cheadle in the drama "Yelling to the Sky" (2010), where she portrayed a character who was the polar opposite of Precious. Her role as Latonya Williams allowed the star to play a bully and also make out with a boy onscreen - a scene which Sidibe revealed she had had written into the script.

Sidibe next appeared in the action comedy "Tower Heist" opposite Eddie Murphy, and in Martin McDonagh's black comedy "Seven Psychopaths" (2012). During this period, she also signed on to the cast of cable comedy-drama "The Big C" (Showtime 2010-13). After that series wrapped, Sidibe appeared in the indie drama "White Bird in a Blizzard" (2014), romantic comedy "Life Partners" (2014) and Chris Rock's metafictional comedy "Top Five" (2014), in which she played a version of herself. Sidibe was also a key cast member of the third season of the anthology series "American Horror Story" (FX 2011- ), subtitled "Coven." After appearing in a smaller role in the following season, "Freak Show," Sidibe joined the cast of the music industry drama "Empire" (Fox 2014- ). At first, her character, Becky Williams, was merely recurring, but she was added to the main cast during the show's second season. At the same time, she began a recurring role on the comedy "Difficult People" (Hulu 2015- ).

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