As hard as it is to imagine, one of television and film’s fastest rising darlings originally had no interest in acting. As a child, the native New Yorker, born to an African-American mother and a Senegalese father who later separated, participated in school plays from time to time, but hardly qualifies that as formal training.
While pursuing a psychology degree at Mercy College, she decided to randomly audition for a role in Lee Daniels’ Precious—a friend called her about it while she was studying for an exam. And it was her psychology major that helped her effectively portray the complexities of the 16-year-old character. Precious, based on the main character in Sapphire’s novel Push, is obese, untalkative, illiterate, pregnant and has been the victim of child abuse and rape from her parents. Her empathy and commitment to the character overshadowed her lack of training and immediately wowed Daniels. Viewers of the film were just as enthralled, and with that film under her belt, Sidibe was nominated for a slew of awards, including a Golden Globe, an Oscar, Critics’ Choice, and a BAFTA Film and Screen Actors Guild Award. She took home wins from various regional film festivals and the NAACP Images Awards.
In real life, Sidibe’s personality feels far removed from that of Precious. She is vivacious, confident, witty and full of spunk—traits that have come alive in her post-Precious roles. The award-winning actress has gone on to star in films like Sundance’s Yelling to the Sky and Chris Rock’s Top Five, and has graced TV screens on Saturday Night Live, American Horror Story, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Empire. Even more so than her knack for acting, her infectious energy and body positive mentality has etched her into the hearts of those happily witnessing her rise.