Showtime’s new dramedy The Big C spotlights the life of Minneapolis schoolteacher Cathy Jamison, Laura Linney, who discovers she has terminal, Stage Four melanoma. But she decides her big ‘C’ will stand for carpe diem. She vows at that moment that it’s high time to make some drastic changes in the way she is living her life.
Oliver Platt portrays her immature husband, Paul, and Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe, plays her saucy student, Andrea. Both have something in common – neither of them knows the truth about Cathy’s condition.
I spoke with Oliver and Gabourey about their new series.
Gabourey, one thing you have in common with the character that Laura plays is that, in real life, your role has changed so much in less than a year. Can you reflect on that just a little bit?
Gabourey Sidibe: It’s been a strange year. I thought I would be a receptionist. I’m always in the middle lane, very normal. I’ve always wanted a normal life, and this is what I got!
Being an actress wasn’t a plan at all, and so it’s very strange what’s happened to me. And life isn’t very normal, even though I’m still a very normal girl. I ride the subway and the bus all of the time. When I go to a restaurant now, and I walk past people they (start waving at me). That’s always really funny. It’s strange, it just goes to show that whatever plan you have for your life, you are wrong a lot of the time.
Oliver, can you talk about Paul, your character, and how he starts in this deep hole, being so immature? Does he dig himself out?
Oliver Platt: Well, you are going to have to tune in, aren’t you? One of the most appealing and interesting things about the relationship and the character to me, is how Cathy has a very interesting kind of mysterious response to her diagnosis. She doesn’t want to tell the people closest to her, and this goes on for a while.
My hat is off to the writers to keep it going forward. One of the many things l love about the show is that this is a very modern relationship. When Cathy gets the diagnosis, (she takes) a very stark, fresh look at what’s going on in (her) life. And she realizes that maybe this relationship isn’t all that she wants it to be right now.
We do start in a hole, without giving too much away. What’s great as a character is that his emotional maturity might not be the top line of his resume, but he grows up fast, and what a smart thing to put him in a hole to begin with because it gives us a tremendous way to go.
Were you attracted to this project specifically by your roles, by the subject matter or by Laura Linney, or a combination of all of that?
Gabourey Sidibe: For me, it was really a combination. Reading the script, the pilot episode, I thought it was so interesting and so different and really smart. The way the writers handle the delicacy of this woman’s life is so smart and endearing. It was such a beautiful script I wanted to be a part of it. And, of course, I don’t turn my nose up at Laura Linney, who is amazing, along with the cast, I just wanted to be a part of it.
Oliver Platt: For me, it’s absolutely a combination of all three of those things. This narrative has a really healthy dose of what compels me to be drawn to any story, which is mystery. And when I say mystery, I’m not talking about the who-done-it type, but human mystery. The show asks this incredibly beautiful question for me, which is why do we start to live beautifully when we get a death sentence? Why do we have to have this dramatic thing come along where someone says, ‘You’ve only got a few months,’ to start to tell the people we love that we love them, or not want to mess around doing superficial things anymore?
Like Gabourey intimated, it’s a very delicate show. The show has an enormous amount of respect for this disease. The only person who’s allowed to make a cancer joke is Laura, and yet it’s got a really marvelous appreciation for the absolutely ridiculous ways people behave under extreme pressure. It’s got a very healthy sense of irony, a very healthy sense of the absurd.
Has this show made you think about your life differently?
Gabourey Sidibe: I don’t know if I think about my life any differently. I kind of do things that make me happy anyway. It’s a selfish liver, I guess. But certainly, I do know people who have both died and have survived cancer and it makes me think of them more. But my character doesn’t know about Cathy’s diagnosis at all, and I wonder how many people in my life I don’t know about who are suffering.