Mariah Carey has a sense of humor about the role she took on in the movie Precious: Based On The Novel "Push" By Sapphire, even though her character and the story itself — about an abused, downtrodden teen — is anything but funny. As welfare caseworker Ms. Weiss, the global superstar appears in dowdy clothes without a stitch of makeup or false eyelashes — not that she didn't try.
"You can thank Mr. [Lee] Daniels," she said, looking over at the director/producer, during a press conference earlier this week for the film at the Toronto International Film Festival. "He had a very specific look. I brought in all my wigs for the character and he was like, 'No, it's not happening.' He really brought up what everyone was going through [in the film] was not about that.
"Lee, come on, I had no make up underneath my eyes and the overhead lighting was not my friend. But you knewwwwww. You knew-ooooooo," she mock whined. "And you loved it."
Lee, sitting alongside author Sapphire, executive producers Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Lisa Cortes and composer Mary J. Blige, then teased Carey by telling the room an amusing story from the set.
"I'm looking at Mariah and I'm directing. I'm talking and I'm doing whatever and I look in my peripheral vision and I see her putting on blush," he said.
"It was a little bit," Carey interjected.
"'Mariah what are you doing?' " he said to her. "Forget about continuity. I said, 'Bitch, what is this?' She says, 'Nothing.' She says, 'Precious has makeup on.' "
"Somebody who does makeup for me said this is a Mariah Carey nightmare. 'You have everything that you hate going on right now,' " Carey said, making fun of herself. "But it was cool because a lot of people say they don't recognize me in the film. They don't know it's me and, to me, that was a great gift that [Lee] gave me to be able to really go that far away from who I am."
Like Winfrey, Patton, Blige and Sidibe, Carey had long been a fan of Push, the original title of the novel, written by Sapphire. "It changed my life and Sapphire knows this," she said, nodding to the author. "Just being involved in this is just incredible for me. I don't even know if I could have fathomed how this could turn into a film. After being such a fan of the book, I think I read it twice in a row and it was overpowering."
Carey has one of the most intense scenes in Precious, a probing, revealing interview with Precious and her mother, Mary, played by Mo'Nique. She refers to it as "the answer."
"My character is not really a likeable person, but she does bring this to the surface. I had to really stay strong as an actor and I had to thank Lee for giving me that chance and letting us really be free with that scene," she said. "I feel like it was a great chance for me to exercise and me to work and I feel like we connected on such a level. We were crying between scenes. It was emotional for us."
Winfrey added, "When I finished watching that movie, I literally had to breathe. I didn't cry until the card came up with 'For Precious Girls Everywhere.' And that hit a nerve. And I recognized myself in that character. Most of all, I recognized that I have seen the Precious girls of the world and they have been invisible to me.
"The message from this film is none of us who sees that movie can now walk through the world and allow the Preciouses of the world to be invisible to us again."