In her latest movie, Nikki Blonsky plays an overweight high school student spurned for being different from her peers. Ultimately, she finds acceptance, glory and the hint of romance with a dimple-cheeked guy, all without surrendering pride to the body-image police.
“Queen Sized,” premiering on Lifetime Saturday at 9 p.m. EST, isn’t “Hairspray,” but it has elements in common - at least, on the surface - with last summer’s hit film. For that $200-million blockbuster, Blonsky was nominated for a Golden Globe, which will be announced Sunday night.
Unlike “Hairspray,” which was set in 1962, “Queen Sized” takes place in present-day South Carolina, where Blonsky is Maggie Baker, a plus-sized high-school senior who has always pitied herself for not being skinny, pretty or wealthy. When her name turns up on the list of nominees for the homecoming court as a prank, she’s mortified.
The film was inspired by the true story of a suburban Detroit teen who in 2004 spurred a national dialogue about a type of teen bullying: students voting less popular peers onto homecoming courts for the purpose of mocking them.
“I don’t easily give out these numbers, but I can tell you that I’m not a size 0 ... and I’m not a size 6 ... and I’m not even a size 10,” Blonsky said last week, laughing into her cell phone from the back of a car. She was en route to the airport for a flight to California, where she was receiving the Rising Star Award at the 2008 Palm Springs International Film Festival.
The topic of Blonsky’s dress size has come up in response to a question about whether the 19-year-old can, should or even wants to build a film career playing the girl who is noticed primarily for her weight. Blonsky won’t be specific about her weight and swears that dress size remains solely the purview of her stylist.
“I don’t know what size dress I wear,” she says.
Though this is her second screen spin focusing on size, Blonsky says, “You can only be typecast if you let yourself be.” She believes that if somebody’s writing parts for a plus-sized girl, then somebody has the opportunity to stand up and fill those shoes. “The reality is, if I can speak for them and be a part of their community, then I’m proud of it.”
Maggie Baker differs from both Blonsky and the hyper-ebullient Tracy Turnblad of “Hairspray” in that she doesn’t have that “unbelievable positive energy,” says Nancy Bennett, the Lifetime vice president who oversaw production of “Queen Sized.”
“Maggie reflects a lot more of what girls feel like when they feel they don’t fit in,” says Bennett. “She feels like: `Why bother? What’s the point?’ And that’s very different from Nikki, or Tracy, who is this blind optimist.”
Blonsky filmed “Queen Sized” in September and October in Shreveport, La., just after wrapping her second feature film, “Harold,” scheduled for a summer opening.
In the Lifetime flick, Blonsky has a clique of outsider pals, and a mom (Annie Potts) who appears special effects-wise as both a nurturing caretaker and - in a role that offers Potts the chance to stretch her Kentucky twang - a fang-baring monitor of her daughter’s eating habits.
For her part, Blonsky bares flesh in “Queen Sized” in particular, in two scenes she says Lifetime offered her the “artistic choice” to cut. In one, she wears only a bra and pajama bottoms as she faces herself in a mirror and nitpicks her perceived shortcomings. In another, filmed from the back, she undresses in a bathroom stall, to avoid having to change in front of her peers.
Says Blonsky: “I’m not about exposing yourself. But I realized that a lot of plus-sized women are ashamed of their bodies or are scared to show them - let alone on TV. So I said: `You know, I’m not scared, because this is what we look like.’ This is what most of America looks like in their pajama bottoms.”
In case that point isn’t driven home enough, a sequence at film’s end has Maggie being readied for homecoming by a supportive team of hairdressers, makeup pros and a stylist, who welcomes her with the reminder that “the average woman in this country wears a size 14 dress.”
Blonsky, who also collaborates with composer Duncan Sheik on a song for the film’s soundtrack, says that if it’s her destiny to be offered parts that are weight-related, so be it. “It doesn’t matter as long as it means something to me, and I feel it could mean something to the audience.”
WHAT’S NEXT ON NIKKI BLONSKY’S AGENDA
Up next for Nikki Blonsky:
Sunday, she competes against actresses such as Helena Bonham Carter (“Sweeney Todd”) and Amy Adams (“Enchanted”) for the award for best performance by an actress in a musical or comedy motion picture at the Golden Globes.
This summer marks the release of her second feature film, “Harold,” filmed largely in Great Neck. Blonsky co-stars with teen actor Spencer Breslin (Abigail’s brother) as the leader of her school’s “nerd herd.” Breslin’s Harold is a 13-year-old boy with a case of extremely premature male-pattern baldness.