* Mo’Nique was considered Oscar front-runner
* Actress was previously known mostly for comedy (Adds background and quotes)
LOS ANGELES, March 7 (Reuters) - Mo’Nique won the best supporting actress Oscar on Sunday for her role as an abusive mother in “Precious,” claiming her first Academy Award.
The actress had been considered the favorite to win, having racked up a slew of critics’ choice, festival and guild awards for her role in the independent film.
Her chilling portrayal of Mary, a verbally, physically and sexually abusive mother to the title character, had an intensity unmatched by any of the other nominees, who were Penelope Cruz in “Nine,” Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart,” and Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air.”
Mo’Nique accepted her statuette to a standing ovation.
“I would like to thank the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics,” she said with emotion. “To my amazing husband, Sidney -- thank you for showing me that sometimes you have to forego doing what’s popular, in order to do what’s right.”
The newly crowned winner, whose real name is Monique Imes, was up until now largely known for her work as a comedian on the stand-up circuit as well as the UPN television series “The Parkers,” and films including “Phat Girlz” and “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.” Last fall, she debuted her own late-night talk show on cable channel BET, “The Mo’Nique Show.”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” is the actress’ second pairing with filmmaker Lee Daniels, who first cast her in his directorial debut in 2005’s “Shadowboxer,” alongside fellow Oscar nominee, Helen Mirren.
Mo’Nique joins only a few black actresses to get an Oscar. Hattie McDaniel claimed best supporting actress in 1939’s “Gone with the Wind,” Whoopi Goldberg won best supporting actress for 1990’s “Ghost,” Halle Berry took best actress for 2001’s “Monster’s Ball” and Jennifer Hudson got best supporting actress for 2006’s “Dreamgirls.”
Mo’Nique said last year at the Sundance Film Festival that the sexual abuse her character displays in “Precious” is not completely foreign to her, as she described her own experience as the victim of childhood molestation.
She also said earlier this year at an awards show that a man walked up to her after seeing “Precious” and confessed to being an abuser, and she urged him to get help.
For her role in “Precious,” Mo’Nique has also won supporting actress trophies at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. (Reporting by Zorianna Kit and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler)
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