A More Perfect Union
Born in Omaha, Nebraska on October 29, 1972, Gabrielle Monique Union was more of an athlete than an actress during her formative years, going on to play point guard on her high school’s basketball team and soccer for the University of Nebraska. Ironically, when she set her sights on showbiz, the 5’7″ beauty found her breakout role as a cheerleader in Bring It On.
On her way up the ladder to superstardom, she got her start in teensploits like She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate about You. But after Bring It On, she became a staple of urban-oriented fare such as Two Can Play That Game and The Brothers, and landed the lead role in Deliver Us from Eva.
Since then, Gabrielle has made the transition to summer blockbusters, co-starring opposite Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys II and opposite Cedric the Entertainer in The Honeymooners. Earlier this year, she handled the lead role in Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls opposite Idris Elba. And now she’s appearing in a film for the fourth time with Morris Chestnut inThe Perfect Holiday.
As for her personal life, Gabrielle’s divorce from retired football star Chris Howard of the Jacksonville Jaguars was finalized in 2006.
KW: Hi Gabrielle, thanks for the time.
GU: No problem.
KW: I loved your performance in The Perfect Holiday. What made you decide to play Nancy?
GU: You know, I generally don’t play women with children. I think I’ve only done it one other time. But seeing what my sister and what my girlfriend go through raising three kids, it was a role I definitely had an interest in exploring. And when Latifah and Shakim [producers Queen Latifah and Shakim Compere] came to me, I was like, “Let me give it a go. The worst that could happen is that I try and it doesn’t work out.” I definitely gave it my best.
KW: Didn’t you just play a mother in Daddy’s Little Girls?
GU: No, they weren’t my children.
KW: That’s right. Those were Idris’ kids. Well, how was it working with Morris again? You two have such a natural chemistry.
GU: Every time we work together, it’s like putting on a pair of old comfy jeans, or your favorite pair of shoes that you’ve had since high school that never failed. He’s just so easy to work with in this day and age where everybody wants to be a diva or a divo. He’s so not that. He’s so humble and has no clue that he’s one of the best looking people on the planet. He’s just so easygoing that whenever they give me a chance to say who I want to work with, I pick Morris as often as I can.
KW: How was it having so many other big names in the cast? Queen Latifah, Terrence Howard, Charlie Murphy, Katt Williams, Faizon Love, etcetera?
GU: What’s great about the African-American entertainment community is that you’re kind of around for so much of people’s careers. So, I’ve known everyone in this movie for years. I’ve known Katt since he was just doing standup, and now he’s Katt Williams! The same with Charlie and Faizon, and Latifah and Terrence. They’re just my friends. I never think of them as more than that, but the cast is very impressive. It’s a great community of people who got to come together.
KW: So, the black acting community is kind of small.
GU: Very small. You know everybody. It’s kind of the same with musicians. It’s a very small world. It doesn’t matter what city you’re in, everyone is kind of in the same place. So, you see people literally from when they’re starting out and asking you for tips to when they blossom into some of the hugest stars we have today. And it’s a great feeling to know that you’re a part of this great community that kind of nurtures talent, because Latifah didn’t have to come to me. She could have gone to anybody. It says a lot about our community that we really try to lift each other up and give each other jobs and opportunities.
KW: Coincidentally, I just got Bring It On 4 in the mail today. What’s funny is that the story has the cheerleaders somehow back in high school, even though they were already in college in Bring It On 2. I know you’re not in any of the sequels, but do you care to comment, since it was the film that really kickstarted your career?
GU: Yeah, it was about the fourth or fifth movie I’d done, but it definitely gave me the biggest boost. I’m just so glad that the franchise has this life, and that it keeps getting reincarnated. It’s kind of cool that something you were a part of creating has that staying power. I am probably asked about Bring It On more than most of my other movies, because it’s always on cable TV and remains a popular rental. It’s one of those movies people watch over and over again.
KW: Which of your films is your favorite?
GU: The one that kinda stands out, because we made it for so little and because we were all such good friends to begin with, was Deliver Us from Eva. That was when I really began to understand FUBU [For Us By Us] filmmaking, and just how good it feels to not be the only person who looks like you in front of or behind the camera. We all really came together. Everyone would just hang out and be supportive on the set. And we played music between takes. It was like this great functioning family. So, that was one of my best experiences, though they’ve all been great in different ways.
KW: Is there a question you always wish someone would ask you, but no one ever asks?
GU: [Laughs] No, people pretty much ask whatever pops into their minds nowadays.
KW: Well, then let me ask you the Columbus Short question. Are you happy?
GU: Yeah! I’m having a great run right now. I can’t ask for more, except maybe for the writers’ strike to be over.
KW: And the Jimmy Bayan question. Where in L.A. do you reside?
GU: I’m in the hippy part of L.A. The Valley.
KW: Does The Perfect Holiday have a theme or a message you want audiences to come away with?
GU: One of the things that I sort of liked about the script when I read it is that it’s about finding a balance. Speaking to mothers, I think you have happiest children, when the mom’s happy. So, it’s saying, don’t think of it as being selfish to take time for yourself, because if the mother feels great, she’s going to be happier about everything else in her life, including her marriage or relationship, and the time that she spends with her children. So, the movie’s about trying to find that balance. You can sort of have it all, provided you kind of strike that balance.
KW: I see you have a sci-fi comedy coming out in 2008 with Eddie Murphy called Starship Dave. What’s that about?
GU: We play two-inch tall Martians. We lose this orb that’s vital for our existence, and it crash lands on Earth. So, we come to Earth searching for the orb. It’s sort of about how we are on our search for this orb and how Eddie’s character navigates around the streets of Manhattan and life, and finds his true calling and passion and love along the way.
KW: I’m on the NAACP Image Award nominating committee and I know you’ve been nominated for one four times before. Are any studios planning to promote any of your performances for an Image Award this year?
GU: Oh, I hope so. That would be nice. Anytime that I get nominated for anything, whether it be something as prestigious as an NAACP Image Award, or for Best Butt in Black Tail Magazine, I feel honored that anyone is thinking enough of me in any way, shape or form to acknowledge it. So, it just feels nice to even be thought of. If I make it onto a ballot, that’s great. If I make it to be a nominee, it’s even better. It’s sort of wonderful to have my name tossed about.
KW: How often do you go back home to Nebraska?
GU: Often. More often than I think people realize.
KW: Does that help you keep grounded, and to feel normal as opposed to the pressure of being a celebrity in Hollywood?
GU: It’s funny, because when I come back to Nebraska, my family makes sure that no one thinks of me as normal. My aunts are calling press conferences, and people are coming! That’s the funny part. I feel most at ease and at home in L.A. I don’t stand out at all. Still, I love being back in Omaha, because my family is humongous, and very, very supportive. I just love being with them, so, if it draws a little attention, I don’t mind, because I can’t not see my family. And we have a good time, so people can’t not see us.
KW: In L.A., can you go to a mall or a movie theater?
GU: I can definitely go. Well, maybe a mall would be a little difficult. Where I live, Dr. Dre and Xzibit live around the corner, and he’s more exciting to these kids than I am. They don’t care about me looking for socks at Target.
KW: What’s your advice for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
GU: If you want to follow in my footsteps, that includes going to college, valuing education, taking an interest in you community and in charity, and in getting involved with causes that you’re passionate about and can make a difference in. But first and foremost, get an education. You only strengthen your craft with more knowledge and, for me, that was through a formal education. If I didn’t have the knowledge that I gained through my university experience, I don’t think that I’d be the actress or the person that I am today. And I think it’s also about humility, and understanding that we’re not curing cancer here. We get to do something that’s really fun, and brings a little levity to people’s lives. So, let’s keep it in perspective. And finally, be on time. Just being on time is half the battle, and that’s how we shoot ourselves in the foot more often than not in our community, making a bad impression before you even get to open your mouth.
KW: You were thinking about attending law school when you were in college? Have you entirely abandoned those plans now?
GU: I have such a passion for law and justice that I may still go to law school, when it’s all said and done with the entertainment industry. But for now, I’d love to play a lawyer. That’d be cool.
KW: How about directing?
GU: No, I’ve never had a passion for directing, but I am producing a book that we optioned, and I’m getting my hands into a couple of other projects. I’m trying to be like Mekhi Phifer. It’s a book by Mitzi Miller and couple of other ladies called The Vow. It’s about four women who make a vow to be married in a year.
KW: That’s great, because if we want to see more rich representations of black females in films, we need more black female producers.
GU: Exactly. If we want our stores told in the way we feel that they should be told, we need to take a more proactive role in getting these projects on their feet and in making them come to life. We don’t need to wait around for anybody to hand us anything. We just have to get out there and hustle. So, that’s what I’m trying to do, hustle.
KW: Are you making a guest appearance on any TV series? You’ve been on so many shows over the years, Night Stalker, Moesha, Sister, Sister, Steve Harvey, Friends, ER…
GU: I’ll be doing an arc on Ugly Betty.
KW: Really? I recently interviewed Vanessa Williams?
GU: Well, I’ll be playing her sister.
KW: How will your character be worked into the storyline?
GU: When the writer’s strike is over, I can tell you more about it. All I know now is that I’m playing her sister with a mysterious past. That’s as far as we’ve gotten.
KW: Well, thanks for the time Gabrielle, and best of luck and I’m looking forward to hearing more about it and your other upcoming projects.
GU: Yes, definitely. Thank you.