Actress Angelic Zambrana knew she was part of a special film when “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” started winning award after award at the beginning of 2009 and continued to receive accolades throughout the year. It wasn’t until last November, however, when the film made its premiere in Los Angeles when Zambrana felt like her life had changed.
“That’s when I first met Oprah and she knew who I was!” Zambrana told me during a phone interview. “I also met Sidney Poitier and he said I did excellent work. Will Smith even sent a letter to my house. After that I told myself, ‘I am an actress and I’m never looking back.’”
In “Precious,” Zambrana plays Consuelo, one of the more caustic classmates enrolled in the same alternative school as actress Gabourey Sidibe’s title character. The film tells the story of Precious, an overweight, illiterate teen who is abused by her family, but strives to do something with her life. This past Sunday, “Precious” won two Oscars (Mo’Nique for Best Supporting Actress and Geoffrey Fletcher for Best Adapted Screenplay). “Precious” was released on DVD March 9.
During our interview, Zambrana, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, talked about growing up in Queens with aspirations to be an actress, where she found the inspiration to play Consuelo and why her big confrontation scene with Sidibe could not have been more realistic.
How did you get involved with “Precious?”
I had gone in to audition for one of the other roles and even got a call back for it. When [director] Lee Daniels saw me, he was like, “No, I want you to read for Consuelo.” He wanted me to schedule another appointment to read for the other character, but I was like, “No, I’ll read for it now.” So, I did it and [Lee] was like, “Excellent!” That’s how I got the role.
Since you weren’t actually ready to read for that specific character, where did you draw your inspiration?
I knew girls like Consuelo and the other characters. They are all outcasts of the education system. I knew how I should play her – her attitude and all her insecurities. I knew where to find the truth in Consuelo right away.
Did you ever think an independent film like “Precious” would get so much acclaim when you first started working on it?
We knew [the novel] “Push” had a following and that we were working with something substantial. I always hoped that it would reach the status and success it has now, but we really didn’t know. We just hoped we could make a good film. You can’t think, “We’re going to win an Oscar” when you first do it. We just wanted to tell a good story.
Was it more evident how far this movie could go after Sundance last year?
Yes, that’s exactly the time when Oprah and Tyler Perry stepped in and said they wanted to promote the film. During the [Sundance] awards ceremony, we were winning award after award. Then it came down to the most important award, which is the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Feature, and when they called our name, we all jumped up. That’s when it all started.
In your big scene in the film, you and Sidibe get into a physical fight in the classroom. What was Lee looking for in that scene and how were you able to deliver it?
Lee wanted a fight to happen. No one is supposed to like me in the movie. I didn’t know I was going to get hit. I was in character and being really disruptive in the classroom. Lee whispered to Sidibe to knock me on my feet. When she came up to me, I was playing Consuelo and acting like I was hot shit and thought, “She’s not going to hit me.” But she was like, “Wham!” and hit me. I was shocked, but I stayed in character and I got up and started fighting back as an impulse. It was all genuine.