By Anna Bielak | December 23, 2012
I met them in Berlin — Zoë Kravitz (Lenny Kravitz’s daughter) and Gabourey Sidibe (whom I still stubbornly identify merely with Precious Jones from Lee Daniels’ Precious). I entered a large apartment in a five-star hotel to have a quick chat with them. They were already in the room. Kravitz was wearing a white loose sweater and violet, tight pants, sitting crossed-legged on a tiny chair. The window, facing a busy street, was slightly ajar; yet, nothing could drown out the sound of Sidibe’s laugh. The two actresses came to Berlinale two years ago with writer-director Victoria Mahoney to promote their debut feature film, Yelling to the Sky, which has finally been released in theaters and VOD in US.
Anna Bielak: Did you know each other before you met on the set for Yelling to the Sky?
Gabourey Sidibe: Yes, we had met couple of times beforehand — we bumped into each other at few parties. We even like each other a lot [laughs], yet our work on set has been extremely strange. As Sweetness and Latonya in Yelling to the Sky we were enemies and had to detest each other. It was a raw deal.
AB: Gabourey, most audiences first saw on the screen as Precious in the Oscar-nominated Lee Daniels’ movie. The truth is slightly different, because you made your debut as an actress in Yelling to the Sky, right?
GS: Yelling to the Sky was shot almost two years earlier but Victoria’s movie had not been finished when Precious had its world premiere. At one point I was working with Lee Daniels and shooting Yelling… at the same time. Many people consider Precious to be my debut, but it is not. It is also not true that thanks to Lee, Victoria had noticed and cast me. Auditioning was essential in both cases. Screen tests were the one and only proof of how talented I am! [Laughs]
AB: Zoë, I heard that at first you did not want to appear in Victoria’s movie. Why?
Zoë Kravitz: I would not say so. I was just hesitating. After the audition, it occurred to me that I would be playing a girl whose life is like Victoria’s. They share similar experiences. I was just afraid that it was too much to handle. I was pretty sure that I would not be able to cope with that task and I did not want to disappoint Victoria. I knew how important this movie was for her.
AB: The role of Sweetness O’Hara seems like it was very demanding. Your character goes through constant changes — she was a browbeaten and shy girl; shortly afterwards, she becomes a drug dealer and an aggressive leader of a street gang. That kind of transformation seems to be a much longer and tougher process than the one you unveil on screen.
ZK: Contrary to appearances, it was not difficult at all, because every woman is a complicated, multi-faced creature. When a girl is shy, she often imagines herself as a naughty one — brunettes dream of being blondes, etc. I just needed to unveil every single part of me and then the changes took place within my character’s soul. I would consider it as a sort of challenge than an impossible act of creation. Furthermore, the story is really extensive, thanks to the process that I go through! It represents real life, with all of the attempts and mistakes one can make. We have many different opportunities to undertake new challenges; looking for new goals or other places to live. Let’s consider the plot as a natural sequence of causes and effects, which is acknowledged by all of us. The idea for the film was under discussion for many hours; thanks to those conversations, we were able to discover our own intimate portraits of our characters.
AB: What other preparations did you make before shooting?
ZK: The conversations with Victoria were sufficient for me. She has always been very concrete in her demands.
GS: I did not have to do any sociological studies, because I knew this cinematic world from my own experience. There was a girl in my high school very similar to the one I played in the movie. She was cruel, vicious; she liked to push other students around for no reasons. It was her concept of being popular and her way of gaining respect from the others. Everybody knew her and nobody got in her way. I am pretty sure that we all have met a girl like her at some point in our lives. Recalling her image in my mind was a piece of cake. And you know what? By being her, I made fun of her! I became the girl I was afraid of in the past! Acting is like pure — but therapeutic — fun. I have never entered the door of an acting school. My mother was my very first viewer. Her behavior was more or less an inspiration for my ideas. I was fooling around, imitating her gestures.
AB: You were both inspired by life. Still, I wonder which actresses move you most?
ZK: I love Helena Bohnam Carter. I want to be her.
GS: She is brilliant! If she would enter this room at this very moment, I would lose my nerves and throw up. I am sure of it!
ZK: I dream of working with Paul Thomas Anderson, Andrea Arnold or Kathryn Bigelow, but Helena is the woman I would like to be. I would like to be Helena Bohnam Carter in a biographical movie about Helena Bohnam Carter! [Laughs] This is the answer for the question about my dream role as well. She is extremely talented, sexy, funny, and beautiful; her characters are always extraordinary ones. Helena Bohnam Carter is totally outstanding.
AB: She is apparently your dream woman! Apart from finding a girl’s identity, Victoria’s film examines the relations between teenagers and their parents. What kind of role did your parents have in your lives?
GS: My parents are my parents; they were never trying to play my buddies. It should be like that. Honestly, I do not understand women who claim that their mothers are their best friends. Your friends do not lie, telling you that you are beautiful even if you are not! My parents should let me feel how reality really works, how it really looks like.
Z.K.: My mum is my best friend [laughs], but she always tells me that I am stupid when I act like an idiot! Still, everything is changing as the years pass by. We — my mom and I — are both growing up, becoming closer to each other, learning about new responsibilities in life. Nonetheless, we remain partners. There is no such feelings as superiority or inferiority between us.
AB: Your father in the film goes through changes as well. He is an aggressive, sort of bad guy at the beginning; but after a while, he reveals generosity and tenderness.
ZK: The process of his transformation is not a sudden one. The father is circulating backward and forward, dealing with his emotions on different levels. He pushes his wife in the kitchen during the first scene, even though a couple of minutes before, he kissed her. He slaps his oldest daughter in the face, but before that, he takes her back home with her newborn child. He is on the emotional border all the time. He does not know what will happen with him in a week or a month. He is stuck in the process of constant changes, just as Sweetness is.
GS: We hide our faces all of the time. We unveil some of them thanks to different people we are with. Besides, nobody is a hundred percent bad and nobody is perfectly good all the time. We are never, and will never be, one person for a whole lifetime. I may claim that I am perfect, but we all know that it is not truth. I can be good; but if you get on my nerves, I become really nasty! [Laughs.] While watching the movie, we cannot see every single gesture that leads the characters towards certain behaviors. We do not see them in our reality, is it so strange, though?
AB: You seem to be strange, Gabourey. I remember you as a shy Precious; now I meet you, and you are an aggressive Latonya. Who are you, really?
GS: I was shy in my life, once, when I was Precious. You saw me at that time, because I am an actress. Now I am talkative and happy, but you will never know if this is my real face or just a creation of my mind. Maybe I am playing in front of you now? How would you guess? Here and now, you will never know who I really am. We have spent about a half an hour in this room, but that is not enough to learn what kind of person I am. I will not take off my mask and disclose my inner-self to you; yet, you can be sure of one thing only — that I am a good actress. Isn’t that exactly what you want? [Laughs.]