Gabourey Sidibe was 24 and working as a phone sex operator when she was cast as the lead in the 2009 film Precious. It was her first acting role. "It had better change my life for the better," she remembers thinking to herself. "That’s what I prayed for." And it did: she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, and has since landed roles in big-budget movies like Tower Heist and television series like American Horror Story, The Big C, and Empire.
But financial success didn't come right away. As Gabourey writes in her new memoir, "This is Just My Face," she only made about $30,000 from that first role. And, she tells me, it went fast. "Not that I spent it on frivolous things," she says. "What I did with the money was I got out of credit card debt." Gabourey remembers calling a collections agency to pay off several thousand dollars from a Crunch Gym membership that had gone unpaid. "I was like, 'Lisa I'm gonna pay the whole thing off now,'" she laughs. "And she was like, 'Whaaaaat?' And I was like, 'Girl, I got a movie!'"
These days, Gabourey says she's financially stable, and enjoys the attention that's come with her career—mostly. "Before I was an actress nobody said anything about my body," Gabourey says. "It took a while for me to learn that I was never going to out-talent the fact that I should be skinny in, you know, somebody else's eyes." Everyone from directors to fans have told her to do something about her weight—that she should lose it or, at times, that she should gain it back. "People think that I don't care that I am bigger, that I don't notice," she says. "I know. I'm worried."
That worry fueled her decision to get weight loss surgery last year—something she kept from her family, her manager and her agents. "I had made up my mind and I didn't want space for anybody else's mind to be made up about it," she told me."I wanted my opinion and my comfort and my safety to be the only thing that mattered surrounding the surgery."