Darned if the soothsayers aren’t right some times.
Take the one who approached Gabourey Sidibe and announced: “I’m psychic. … I can see in your eyes that you have a big future in front of you.” The woman predicted the world would listen to Sidibe, that she would talk to Oprah Winfrey and be famous one day.
“You’re going to write a book. You’re going to help people with your confidence.”
The book, “This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare,” is here, and early forecasts of fortune from that stranger and others came true.
It’s all bundled in a revealing memoir that explores family, fate, fame, depression, bullying, eating disorders, panic attacks, therapy, patience, weight, money, dating, social media hoaxes, and an unconventional upbringing as the daughter of a Senegalese cab driver father married to two women at once and a mother who sang (beautifully) in the New York subway.
If Sidibe’s life were turned into a movie, certain twists would seem too far-fetched to swallow. For instance, director and acting coach Susan Batson approached Alice Tan Ridley, Gabby’s mom, about playing the mother in an adaptation of the novel “Push” by Sapphire. She declined, suggesting Mo’Nique might be perfect.
Five years later, Lee Daniels was directing the movie now called “Precious,” Mo’Nique would be cast as the abusive mother in a turn that would win her an Oscar and Sidibe would be invited to audition for the title role. She wasn’t an aspiring actress but a psychology student secretly working at a phone sex business for the money.
The day of the audition, she could go uptown to the Bronx for a role she was “never going to get” or head downtown to class. A movie crew, of all things, forced her in the direction of the casting call and she landed the part that led to an Academy Award nomination and the series “The Big C,” “American Horror Story,” “Difficult People” and “Empire.”
Sidibe, 34, writes in a conversational, sassy, smart way with occasional R-rated language and details. She also goes where few celebrities have gone before, acknowledging some family members treated her like an ATM, borrowing money they never could – or would – pay back.
She recounts the plus-size prom dresses she bought for early “Precious” premieres (she had no money and no stylist), the marriage proposal from an Egyptian Muslim cabbie who needed a green card and her least favorite game of “Is this a date?” Is a flirty dude interested in her or her ability to advance his career?
As recently revealed, she underwent weight-loss surgery, writing that it took her years to realize that what she was born with, “what was shaped, the mold it took, is all beautiful.” She wanted to move comfortably in heels, climb stairs without pain and stop worrying about diabetes.
The emphasis is on the personal and the author uses sarcasm, self-deprecating humor, openness, a willingness to share humiliating as well as glorious moments and perceptive insights to tell an uncommon story.
“How many psychics does it take to convince a sad little girl that she can be much more than the world is telling her she is? None. She’s got to be able to convince herself to show up for her own life. I still don’t see any real value in fame. … Fame isn’t what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s purpose. I’ve found my purpose and this is it.”
“This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare”
By Gabourey Sidibe
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 256 pages