Not even a full week has passed since Gabourey Sidibe attended the 82nd Annual Academy Awards as a best actress nominee and we’re already questioning whether her career is over.
Despite the accolades bestowed upon the actress in the past few months, it’s unclear if the film industry can go against the norm and cast a young woman who is not only African-American, but also larger than the Hollywood standard in a non-niche role, as the romantic lead in a major film vehicle, for example.
During Howard Stern’s Sirius satellite show on Monday morning, co-host Robin Quivers commented that Sidibe should have looked around at the Oscars and noticed that none of the other working actresses looked like her.
“What movie could she play in?” Stern questioned on his live broadcast. “You feel bad because everyone pretends that she’s part of show business, and she’s never going to be in another movie.”
The comments made on Stern’s show sparked a heated debate among moviegoers and industry observers, with some believing the shock-jock was simply saying what everyone else is thinking.
Jeffrey Wells, a columnist who’s lent his candid perspective on the industry to a variety of outlets over the years and now blogs about it on HollywoodElsewhere.com, said in an e-mail, “Gabby is a lovely person and a fine actress, but the hard fact is that she’s way, way too fat,” adding that the actress will suffer from health problems as well as limited career opportunities if she doesn’t lose weight.
“I don’t want Gabby to not work, but the only roles she’ll have a shot at playing will be down-market moms and hard-luck girls working at Wal-Mart,” Wells continued. “No casting director would choose her to play anyone in the upscale executive world … because no one in the executive world looks like her.”
Robert Ulrich of Ulrich, Dawson and Kritzer casting, acknowledged that “every role will not be open to her,” but thinks now more than ever, directors and producers are interested in seeing something different than what’s written on the page.
“We hear over and over to think outside the box. I’ve been in the industry a long time, and it’s never been as open to people being something different than now,” Ulrich said. “I work on ‘Glee,’ and those actors never would have been cast on network television a few years ago. It’s a show about diversity, and it’s a hit.”
The thing about Sidibe, casting directors said, is that aside from the irresistible charm, wit and confidence she exhibits in interviews, which certainly don’t hurt her prospects, she’s a remarkable talent. The 26-year-old, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, displayed an irrefutable amount of it in “Precious,” and her performance becomes more mind-boggling when one learns that her resume previously contained just two small parts in college plays.
“That was an incredibly difficult role,” said Rachel Tenner, a casting director for best picture nominee “A Serious Man.”
“And from what I know of Sidibe, she’s not from that world. This [character] wasn’t something she knew, and she tapped into something pretty dark.” Having already had critics rave about her dramatic ability will work in her favor, Tenner said. “I know for myself, good is good, great is great, and as a casting director, that’s what I want.”
Tenner is right that Sidibe is as far removed from the film’s lead character as one can be, a fact that has been hammered home repeatedly since the movie opened to highlight Sidibe’s acting ability.
As Sapphire, the author of the novel “Push” that “Precious” is based on, put it during an interview with CBS News’ Katie Couric last fall, it’s not like they used a girl who has a story similar to the lead character, where they could simply put her on camera and tell her to think about her mother and cry.
“This girl is a real actress,” Sapphire said. Typically, she added, “when we do have an actress that looks like her, she’s the comic character or the old woman or something, [but] we have a heavy, dark-skinned black woman as the star of the show.”