Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas has a lot in common with the young star who portrays her an an upcoming Lifetime movie.
“There was one point where Gabby wanted to quit gymnastics,” actress Imani Hamim says.
“Not a lot of people know that about her. Her mom wouldn’t really let her quit because she knew – and Gabrielle knew herself — that there was this much bigger prize at the end. It wasn’t worth quitting because this was her dream.”
THE GABBY DOUGLAS STORY — premiering February 1 — contains “some very emotional moments,” Imani tells me.
“She was away from her family at 14. She just really missed her family and wanted to go home and be with them. I was away from my family at 15. So I know what that feels like. That is why I was like ‘I really have to play this role.’”
Imani — who is best known for the role of Tonya Rock on EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS — first arrived in Hollywood when she was just 11. By 15, her parents turned over legal guardianship to her manager and returned home to Cleveland.
“It got a little hard sometimes,” she remembers. “15 is really young. You are going through that weird phase and you are liking boys. And you want your mom there. So that’s the same struggle that Gabrielle and her family had to overcome. She was very young when she went through the whole experience of living in her van with her family. My dad and I once lived in our van.”
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Imani — now 20 — revealed even more about the film and her incredible Hollywood journey in this exclusive interview with TheTVPage.com:
How did you end up living in a van with your dad? Did you not have anywhere else to go?
My dad and I just kind of packed up our stuff in a van and said, “Let’s go to Hollywood and make this happen.” While we were out there we kind of just ran out of money. We were staying in hotels. We ran out of money because it is not easy to break into this industry. I don’t know what we were expecting. But anyway, we were living in our van and changing in Starbucks bathrooms and eating little Vienna sausages from the 99 Cents Store for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
How long did that go on for?
Thank God, not very long. We were only out here a couple of months before I booked the role of Tanya on EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS. After I booked that role, the studio found out that we were living in our van and put us up in a hotel. We didn’t say anything because, you know, our pride.
Did your dad have to give up his job?
At the time, my Dad was a taxi driver. But he really believed in my talent. It makes it a whole lot easier when your parents believe in you. My aunts and stuff weren’t really believing in me. Even my grandfather… He was the one who was kind of supporting us while we were out here. He was sending us money. But he was like “Ok, I don’t think this is going to happen. You guys should head on back.” But my Dad was willing to stay as long as I was willing to stay. So he sat down and he talked to me. He was like “If you want to go home, we can go home…” But I said “I want to stay because I really want this.”
If you didn’t get the role on Everybody Hates Chris, would you have given up?
No. I would have kept trying. I think it was he perfect time for me to come out to L.A. and get that role. But I definitely would have kept trying because this is something I decided I wanted to do at 7 years-old. And I wouldn’t have wanted to go home and have everyone be right either.
Where is the van now?
I don’t know. That van is long gone. It gave us a lot of issues. It kept breaking down on the way to California. It was a piece of crap. We were putting more money into it than we didn’t have.
What was it like to meet Gabby?
I didn’t meet her until the last week of filming, but I was able to communicate with both Gabrielle and her mom throughout the whole process and get to know them over the phone.
After playing her, you must have felt like you knew her. What surprised you the most when you met her?
I think just meeting her and realizing she is just another human being. When you meet people like that it is easy to go in with this idea of how they may be. But she was just very humble. She was nervous herself when she had to do some filming and she kind of asked me for advice just like I was asking her for advice.
You gave her acting tips?
I just told her o relax and just let it flow. It will come naturally. Just think about what you are saying and the feeling will just come. So she did that and it came out really good.
Did you have any gymnastics experience going into this?
No — and I was really nervous because when I was auditioning for the role, they wanted somebody with gymnastics and dance ability. And I was not that girl. But thank God they trained us for it, so I look like a gymnast and I learned all the choreography. I didn’t do any flips, but I learned all of the floor routines and the beam routines, which was very nerve-wracking. I practiced it a lot on the floor on a line, but doing it on the actual beam was really different. That beam is really small. It’s only like 4 inches!
You are 20 now. Are you starting to get calls to do sexier, more grown up roles — like you see on cable?
I haven’t experienced that yet. But I told my manager that I wouldn’t mind it. With cable and HBO, I feel like you are taken more seriously as an actor. People are more interested in you. It’s not a joke anymore. They want you more for different roles. Not because you are taking your clothes off, but because there are just a bunch of people who watch those show — casting people watch. So I want to get into that area.
So nothing is off the table for you then? You are, as they say, a “brave” actress.
Yes, exactly. I am very open. I want to explore my talent, I want to explore different characters and challenge myself.
Would your parents be horrified if you showed up on show naked?
My dad wouldn’t because he is all about me challenging myself. My dad and I are on the same page. He talked to me and said “what are you willing to do?” and I don’t think I have a limit right now. My dad is like, “Good. You shouldn’t limit yourself.” But my mom, I am still her baby girl, so it might be a little harder for her.
THE GABBY DOUGLAS STORY premieres Saturday, February 1 at 8:00 PM on Lifetime.
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