Gabourey Sidibe discusses weight-loss journey in memoir 'This Is Just My Face'

Actor Gabourey Sidibe is shown during an interview with The Canadian Press in Toronto on Monday May 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Actor Gabourey Sidibe is shown during an interview with The Canadian Press in Toronto on Monday May 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — Gabourey Sidibe had a storybook rise to stardom with her Oscar-nominated debut in "Precious," but the actress found fame was no shield for the onslaught of vicious insults ridiculing her physical appearance.

In her memoir "This Is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare" (Harper Avenue), the 34-year-old shares details about her recent weight-loss surgery, but also goes back to childhood to explore her longtime struggle with the scale.

She describes extreme measures employed in an effort to shed pounds, from fad diets to bulimia, and is also candid in talking about her mental health, dealing with depression and panic attacks.

Sidibe earned widespread acclaim for her portrayal of the title character in 2009's "Precious," as an overweight, illiterate, pregnant teen mother subjected to horrifying abuse. 

Offscreen, Sidibe's bubbly personality, quick wit and sarcasm have been both a source of protection and a tool to battle back against attacks. But her armour isn't impenetrable, particularly when it comes to the stinging insults and racially tinged slurs that have been levelled her way.

"The thing about writing (is) I had all the space and time in the world to get really, really deep and think about things that I wouldn't normally think about — which was really great," the "Empire" star said during a recent interview in Toronto.

"While writing the first sentence of all of these chapters, I was really upset about something.... But by the end, by the last sentence of the chapter, I felt relieved and alleviated of the pain or whatever, the annoyance — all of it. It was like I could breathe," she added.

"It was like something was lodged in my chest, and writing about it allowed it to fall through."

The New York-born actress writes about her pre-fame stint as a phone sex "talker," and how indulging in caller fantasies offered unexpected training for her acting career.

"On my first film, 'Precious,' I remember that a lot of dialogue was improv — a lot of it. And I was really good at it at the time because every single call was completely improv. 

"There might be basic things that you say, like I have to say my name, 'Hi, I'm Melody.' Or you know, 'I'm a college girl' or 'I'm a horny housewife,'" she added, laughing, as she temporarily transformed into her high-pitched talker persona.

"There's kind of a script, but for the most part, I can't determine what that guy is going to want. When I say 'hello' I don't know what he wants, but whatever he needs me to be, I need to be.

"An audition ... is walking into a room and convincing them not only to like you, but to like you more than the last person they saw and more than the next person they'll see. It's all about likeability. And being on the phones, that's what it was."

Sidibe had high praise for "Precious" director and "Empire" co-creator Lee Daniels, who has inspired the actress in her own foray behind the camera.

"There are so many things that I take away from him without trying to copy him — because he knows what he wants," said Sidibe, who directed her first film "The Tale of Four" last summer.

"He might not know how to get there ... but (you say): 'This is what I want.' So, it helped me to explain to my (director of photography) or my assistant director: 'This is what I'm trying to achieve: tell me how to get there.' I learned collaboration from Lee and all of the directors I've ever worked with."

Sidibe said she didn't truly recognize her capabilities and worth as a writer prior to her memoir — even though she had embraced the craft since childhood.

"I didn't realize that anything I had to say had any value," she said. "After writing my book, I realize everything was valuable. Even though it was my point of view, it's just as valid as anybody else's.

"As I did in the book, I want to take those stories I've written and put them onscreen. That's absolutely the next step, and I cannot wait to get started."


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