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'Precious' star talks about ice cream, life and her new movie

Charles Ealy

She's new to the movie star gig, and she's loving it.

She bubbles on the telephone, peppering her answers with an "oh-no-you-didn't!' attitude and laughing at the folly of giving interviews.

And when asked what she wants to talk about, the rambunctious star of "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" has a ready answer: "carousels and ice cream."

"I have a vast knowledge of carousels," says Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, 26. "And I love ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery. So any questions about ice cream would be awesome."

So, what's her favorite flavor?

"Oh, that's easy. It's the Birthday Cake Remix," a concoction of birthday cake batter, rainbow sprinkles, brownies and fudge. "I'm in a dare-off with a friend. I can't eat any Birthday Cake Remix without him being with me, and he can't go to Jamba Juice without me. And it has been a strain since I've been away for a while, doing interviews and festivals. I've even been to Europe!"

Is he her boyfriend?

"Boyfriend? Oh no, shut up!"

Well, it seems as though director Lee Daniels thinks she has lots of boyfriends, at least according to an article in New York magazine. He says he "had no doubt" that Sidibe "had four or five boyfriends, easily."

"What he meant to say was that he had no problem seeing me with four or five boyfriends," says Sidibe (pronounced SIH-deh-bay). "But that makes me sound like a slut! If had four or five boyfriends, I would just call them friends."

Sidibe's jovial nature stands in stark contrast with her character in "Precious," which opens Friday in Austin and screened at the recent Austin Film Festival. The film won top prizes at the Toronto and Sundance film festivals.

In the movie, Precious has little self-esteem, at least at the beginning. She's overweight, sullen, angry and self-destructive. But Sidibe doesn't see herself that way at all. "At some point, you grow up and you choose. I let in what I want to. And as far as my weight, I think I'm a beautiful person, no matter what my weight. My idea of beauty is up to me."

Her character in the movie has plenty of reasons to be a mess, however. As a teenager, she has one child with Down syndrome and another on the way, both the result of rape. Her mother, played by the comedian Mo'Nique, is one of the scariest, most abusive characters ever to be portrayed on the big screen. She hits Precious, ridicules her, orders her around and tries to stop her from attending an alternative school when she is expelled from regular classes.

But in the midst of all this abuse and horror, Precious finds a reason to turn her life around in the new school, bantering with her classmates and finding heroes in a teacher (Paula Patton), a nurse (Lenny Kravitz) and a social worker (Mariah Carey).

"It makes sense that people confuse me with the character," Sidibe says. "But she's really different. As Gabby, someone asked me if I'd describe myself as bubbly. But there are so many words to describe me. If I threw out four words, then I'd be in that box of four words. I'm just Gabby! I like to dance! My secret shame is that I'm into boy bands like 'N Sync.

"As for Precious, she's a girl who has been handed a rough deal, abused, with her voice beaten out of her," she says. "I didn't walk away with the character after filming. The other characters told me it took a while to get their characters out of them. But I didn't drag her with me. I think it's because I don't have any training as an actor."

When you watch "Precious," however, you'll have no idea that Sidibe is a novice. She auditioned for the part at the urging of her mother, a teacher and other friends in Harlem. (Her mother, R&B singer Alice Tan Ridley, is known for singing in the New York subways, often at the 42nd Street station.)

"I wasn't a theater major in college," says Sidibe, who has spent the past few years attending New York-area colleges, including Lehman College, where she had a few bit parts in theater productions. "I was just kidding around. I was a psych major. But after I got the part in 'Precious,' I had to stop and become a movie star."

Well, now that you're a star, are you planning to attend the Oscars?

"I don't know. I haven't been invited yet!" she says. "I'm thinking that maybe I could get someone to take me as their date. I think Brad Pitt might be available. He does that kind of thing and goes every year."

Yeah, but she'll have to watch out for that Angelina. She might try to stick her with baby-sitting the kids.

"Oh no she won't! I'm not baby-sitting anybody!"

cealy@statesman.com; 445-3931