Gabrielle Union was as excited as a kid at Christmas as she and gal pal, fellow actress Essence Atkins, hurriedly made their way through Saturday afternoon shoppers to a Los Angeles theater to see the latest movie release.
The All About Eva star, is often cast as an uptight prima donna, but this cocoa-skinned beauty is apparently is anything but. She is a contradiction of terms and roles. In Daddy’s Little Girls, she played opposite Idris Elba as an ambitious and demanding barrister, barking out orders and readily rendering judgment on any lesser achiever. In All About Eva, she is the overly maternal, meddling sister-in-law whose primary aim is to protect her younger siblings by annihilating male suitors.
And while there is a bit of life imitating art here (Union planned to become an attorney) she began acting much by happenstance while interning at a modeling agency during her college years.
“I had no intention of becoming an actress. I was interning at the [modeling] agency for college credit and I chose that internship because I thought it would be easy, not that I wanted to become Naomi Campbell or anything. … I was studying for the LSAT and this was a means to get four units of college credit without actually having to go to class,” Union relates matter-of-factly.
Regardless of her intentions, the industry experts recognized her innate ability to attract attention, and the would-be lawyer subsequently landed several roles in television and film, including the romantic comedy hits Love and Basketball and 10 Things I Hate About You.
Now in BET’s first hour-long drama series “Being Mary Jane,” which airs tonight at 10 p.m., Union returns as an Atlanta news anchor who struggles with her loved ones (including a friend who attempts suicide), romance (she’s torn between a married man and a bad boy), and career (choosing professional integrity or career advancement).
“I tend to play strong characters. But it’s not like you’re going to see me playing a serial killer or anything crazy,” quips Union, although this is close.
The actress in real life is as pragmatic as they come. Engaged to NBA star Dwyane Wade, Union is relatively resilient to talk about more intimate affairs. The same is true for her character Mary Jane who is depicted in a number of sexually explicit situations. “I felt like Marilyn Chambers towards the end with the sex scenes. Everyone’s like “Clear the room.” And I’m like, “Look honey. You can google it on the Internet. Let’s just shoot it. We’re losing the light.” If you’re excited about seeing my butt, you have bigger issues … I’m masturbating at my desk at work,” Union says of the forwardness of her character.
This is so good.’” She adds, “It’s authentic and it’s brutally honest. You’ll see characters that within an episode you may love, you may hate, you may cry with.”
“What I’ve learned in life is that bad things happen to good people all of the time. It is how you respond to that adversity whether it is in your personal life or your professional life, or your family life. … Things happen all day so what are you going to do about it? Stop b——-!’ I got that philosophy from my older sister who when we were younger and my dog died, I started crying. My sister said ‘Crying is not going to bring your dog back. What are you going to do now? Let’s look at solutions.’ Apparently a tearful Union took that advice, albeit harsh, to heart and continues to draw on the lesson learned that day for moving forward, one foot in front of the other.
“We all have things to deal with and no one owns the right to adversity. We all have crosses to bear whether you’re a million-dollar athlete like Tiger Woods of a laid-off factory worker. Everyone has problems; how do you bounce back and deal with it? B——- about it just takes you further away from your goal and leading the life of happiness and joy that you should have,” Union says.