Jennifer Armstrong
July 02, 2010 AT 04:00 AM EDT

It takes a deft touch to make cancer funny. But that’s what Oscar nominees Laura Linney, 46, and Gabourey Sidibe, 27, are doing on Showtime’s August comedy The Big C, about a teacher (Linney) who hides her skin-cancer diagnosis from her family and her students, including Sidibe as the smart-mouthed Andrea. ”When life is urgent, when people are human and frail, funny things happen,” Linney says. Wisdom like that is exactly why Sidibe loves working with Linney. ”I learn a lot from just watching her,” says the Precious star. ”The other day she was doing a scene with no words. She was just thinking, and you could see everything on her face. She makes me wonder if I can be that good someday.”

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