Mo'Nique's come a long way since 'Phat Girlz.'

The amiable actor-comedian-talk show host (and yes, headliner of that infamous 2006 bomb) is the talk of Tinsletown these days thanks to her harrowing dramatic turn in the Oscar favorite 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.' The indie has steadily gained steam since winning big at Sundance in January, subsequently winning the endorsement of media heavies Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who signed on as producers.

'Precious' features the year's most unlikely heroine -- Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), an obese Harlem teen twice impregnated by her father. For her portrayal of Mary, the girl's callous, abusive mother, Mo'Nique is a virtual lock for an Academy Award nomination. Mo'Nique's come a long way since 'Phat Girlz.'

The amiable actor-comedian-talk show host (and yes, headliner of that infamous 2006 bomb) is the talk of Tinsletown these days thanks to her harrowing dramatic turn in the Oscar favorite 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.' The indie has steadily gained steam since winning big at Sundance in January, subsequently winning the endorsement of media heavies Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who signed on as producers.

'Precious' features the year's most unlikely heroine -- Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), an obese Harlem teen twice impregnated by her father. For her portrayal of Mary, the girl's callous, abusive mother, Mo'Nique is a virtual lock for an Academy Award nomination.

Of course, Mo'Nique's ascension to awards darling hasn't been without its off-screen drama. Various reports have circulated accusing the actress of taking a diva-like attitude and demanding money to appear at festivals to promote the film -- and saying it could severely hurt her Oscar chances.

Mo'Nique fights back against "they" -- the anonymous sources of those reports -- in our candid chat.

Did you have any idea that 'Precious' would turn out to be such a big deal when you signed on to do it?
We didn't do it for it to turn out to be a big deal, we did it for it to change peoples' lives. And I think whenever you do something that you totally surrender to, the universe gets involved. And we totally surrendered to this project with [director Lee Daniels].

Are you surprised at the attention it's received?
I won't say surprised. I'll say appreciative, very appreciative.

Where did you look for inspiration for your character, Mary?

Well, I know that character. That character was my oldest brother Gerald, to me. So I was very aware of who that character was and when Mr. Daniels told me he needed me to play a monster, I reflected that.

You had to go to some pretty dark places in the film, does that wear on you emotionally?
You know, I won't say dark, I would say I had to go to some very honest places. And, no, it didn't wear on me because I dealt with it. So when Mr. Daniels said, "Action," I totally knew it was a character and not something that I had to be deprogrammed for.

Did you do anything to lighten the mood on set in between takes?
Oh my goodness, if y'all could've been there when Mr. Daniels said, "Cut," we were kids on a playground running through that place, listening to house music, eating crab legs. We just totally had a ball. People wouldn't know what movie we were filming if they saw us in between takes.

And that came naturally?

It was very natural because I'm a comedian and Gaby is very joyful and playful and Lee Daniels, oh my God, he's the biggest kid I've ever met. So it was very natural.

What was your relationship like with Gabby behind the scenes?

Amazing, I learned so much from that young lady.

She wasn't afraid of you once the cameras stopped rolling?

Heck no [laughs]!

What do you think the backing of Oprah and Tyler Perry does for the film?

Well, we all know that when Oprah Winfrey says, "I like it" ... What does that mean? That means you can purchase a small island anywhere in the world, if you like [laughs]. Oprah Winfrey understands that story -- she's spoken openly about being molested as a child. Tyler Perry has spoken of it. So they know those stories, they know those people. And when we start removing the labels, when they start looking at themselves as human beings, they can relate. So then they said, "How can we make sure the world hears this? Let's put our names to it."

You share a pivotal scene with Mariah Carey. What was your impression of her?
Amazing. When we got to that scene, and the scene is very real, all those emotions are very real, she was amazing. It said it all on her face. It said it, you read it, you felt it, you understood it. She was just, hands down, brilliant.



Are you surprised that people are so surprised you have the dramatic chops that you display in this movie?
Well, I think that people are surprised because they oftentimes want to put us in a box. And it's like, "OK, well, you can only do this." And it's so unfortunate becuase there are so many talented people out there that get put in boxes and they don't choose to fight their way out of it. It's like, "Guys, I'm an entertainer. I love being funny, that's what keeps me alive. But I also love entertaining, period."

What would earning an Oscar nomination mean to you?

Any nomination would be appreciative, but we've already won it. We've already won. Because when you get an Asian brother that comes up to you and says, "Mo'Nique, what I'm going to say to you is going to sound really weird, but I have to say it. I am Mary Jones, and I was Mary Jones to my brother and my sister." And now he's sobbing and we're embracing and I said, "Congratulations for your honesty, now go get you some help." We've already won.

Are you game for the whole campaigning process that the Oscar race sometimes demands?
Well, honestly, I think that the Academy has been given a bad rap. I really do. Because when people say, "It's political," well, I'm not a politician. I really think that the Academy has been given a bad rap. They're humans beings too, and they want to judge the performance. I can't imagine them judging anything else. What else would you be judging? Do you know?

It's unfortunate, but there are obviously politics involved in the Oscars. Otherwise there wouldn't be all the campaigning and marketing.

I'll say this, I'm very comfortable with what I did on that screen. And I really believe that the Academy are human beings that say, "We're going to judge the performance, because that's what we give this academy for, the performance." That's what I believe.

There's been a lot written in the media about you missing a couple movie premieres and not doing enough to promote the film. Do you think that coverage has been fair?
Well, who's saying that? Because no one can tell me who, Kevin, do you know who they are [laughs]? Because I want to meet them! Who are "they"? Baby, people gonna talk. It comes with the territory. But didn't they talk about Jesus? Then they killed him. So, what makes me think I'm so special that they're not gonna talk about me?

What would you say to the people spreading those reports?
I would ask them, did they see this show? And, I don't know, maybe they haven't, because this may not be the show you go on when you want to promote something, but it's called 'The Oprah Winfrey Show.' I don't know, Kevin, I'm not sure. And then I would say, there's another show that's an institution, it's been around for so long and it's called 'The Today Show.' I did that show, too. Then I did this amazing show with my Italian sister Rachael Ray. Then I did The New York Times, which is supposed to be the biggest print organization in the world. So, what I would say to whoever "they" are is, stop reporting the wrong thing, it's unfair to the readers.

Speaking of TV shows, how is your own talk show going so far?

I am having the time of my live. When I tell you, I'm a kid in a candy store and I can get any type of candy I want, that's how I feel every night I come out of those elevator doors.

No major challenges or difficulties hosting a nightly show?
No, because I'm talking to my friends. Y'all are my friends, y'all are my family. Why would I feel challenged in front of my family?

Have you seen the new 'Jay Leno' show? Are you a fan of the format?

Yes, I have seen the new format. I'm a fan of Jay. Everyone is saying to me, "Well, the competition is going to be thick." And I say, "No it's not." Because I'm not competing. I'm not competing with anybody. I'm there to have a great time, baby. I have my blinders on so that way I can keep moving forward. I'm happy for Wanda, for Jay, for Dave, for George, for Chelsea, for Wendy, everybody, Oprah, Tyra, I'm happy for all of them, because what's meant for Mo'Nique, guess who gonna get it?

Mo'Nique?

Exactly.

So what's next for you?

I hope tomorrow, Kevin [laughs]. Because I am a true believer that tomorrow is not promised. I don't take that for granted, so I'm very thankful for today and I hope I just get to tomorrow.

MORE FROM OUR PARTNERS:

Mariah Carey Talks About Her Physical Appearance In 'Precious' [BV on Movies]

'Twilight' Addicts Since 2008 [Twilighters Anonymous]

Kristen Stewart's 'Yellow Handkerchief' Trailer [Rotten Tomatoes]