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EXCLUSIVE: Gabrielle Union Chats About Aging In Hollywood, Who She’s Crushing On + More!

gabrielle union smiling

If this whole screen siren thing doesn’t work out for Gabrielle Union, she’s got a serious second career in stand up comedy.

The 40-year-old actress — yes, you read that correctly! — is funny even when she’s not intentionally trying to be funny. She recently wrapped forthcoming BET scripted show, “Being Mary Jane,” and she’s looking at a busy summer. The BET show is now done — look for the film to premiere on the network in July, and the show to premiere at the top of 2014 — Gabrielle is in Las Vegas reunited with the cast of “Think Like A Man” to shoot the sequel. But before she skated out of Atlanta, she let CocoaFab crash her set (naturally, she’s fantastic in the new series!) and her trailer (she loves “Words With Friends!”) and opened up about this new role, her news anchor crush and why 2013 may very well be the Year of the Black Actress.

You really take over a screen when you come onto it …

I learn each time from whoever is number one on the call sheet how … your mood affects everybody. If you’re not so nice, everyone’s on edge and it just sucks being there and it affects everyone’s work, because you’re walking on eggshells and nobody wants to set you off! So learning from somebody like a Will Smith or Jamie Foxx to try to keep a lighter mood and to make sure not just the cast, but the crew is happy as well. I don’t want to be an asshole! Just don’t be a dick is kind of my … philosophy.  At the end of the day my parents are alive and nice people. They’re nice people that people like to be around and I would embarrass them if the things coming out of set were that I was a crazy, delusional diva. It would hurt my mom, who teaches Sunday school and is best friends with our parish priest. I can’t. It would be mortifying for her, so I just try not to provide those experiences for my family!

You’ve been interviewed on CNN and MSNBC and now you’re playing a news anchor in this new BET show. Who are your news anchor crushes?

Soledad O’Brien! But I’ve been obsessed with her for years. The “Black in America” series, they take up a lot of space in my DVR, and I refuse to erase them. If you come over my house you’re gonna watch some part of “Black in America.” I will make sure the conversation is steered toward something that gives me a reason to watch “Black in America.” She has a rare combination of being painfully genuine and honest and delivering information in a way that you believe her and you trust her and you like her. You usually don’t have all of those things. Some people deliver the information and you’re like, ‘Great. I should evacuate.’ But you don’t like them. And then some people are super likeable or they might not be as smart or as clever. You don’t trust them. So she, to me, is one of those people that is the perfect combination. Throw in a little Roland Martin — I don’t wear ascots! – but … like, Roland might be able to drop it like it’s hot on the dance floor, so some of the scenes where she’s partying with her friends, that’s Roland.

He’ll be thrilled to hear that!

If you see me doing The Wobble on the show, that’s Roland. Cause I’ve never seen Soledad out and about socially, but Roland I see all the time. And you recognize, OK. Wow, they’re news people, but they have lives and they like to have fun and they do it in such a way that they’re not the story but they can still have fun. You meet a lot of journalists – and I’ll use my finger quotes on that – who want to be the story. You know what I mean? So yeah, there’s a balance of having a dope personal life, but without becoming the story.

Congrats on being named one of People’s Most Beautiful. You’re in a rare category: A black woman who’s 40, but you haven’t had to deal with losing out on jobs because of your age …

It’s an issue for us as we sit in this hair and make-up chair! I’m like, ‘give me some tweezers and pluck this gray. It keeps cropping up!’ It’s like, ‘This bitch is 40. She might not have wrinkles, but look at me! Try to pluck those quick!’ No, I don’t know if it’s because I did teen movies for so long and I was associated with young projects for so long that people just refuse to believe that I’m 40. It’s been more like, ‘You’re 40?!?!’ They put my age with everything nowadays. You can’t escape it.

That’s hilarious. I remember after “Bring It On,” your next role was a doctor. And I was like … that doesn’t make sense! She should be going off to college …

It was me playing my actual age on “City of Angels!” At the time, it was a concerted effort because it was like, I’m well into my 20s, I’m hanging out with people’s parents after work and I just wanted to kind of segue into more adult roles. It was jarring for a lot of people.  It was like Doogie Houser. And then when I look back on some of the pictures … it was funny because Hill (Harper), who has also been blessed with looking painfully young … we look like children! We looked like Doogie Houser. But at the time it was a blessing and a curse, because it was like, “I want to be so-and-so’s love interest” and it was like, “You look like their child.” And now I’m closer to the age of some of our leading men, but it’s like, “Mmm, black woman? Those were really 2006.” No. We’ve gotta make sure we come back in style!

That’s interesting. I don’t think any other actress has gone through the period of, “I’m in my 20s, let me play my age, please God!” But you …

Well, you kind of run out of token black girls roles to play in teen movies! I can only be someone’s sassy friend for so long before they’re like, “We’re gonna need another one.” For a long time it was, “OK, well you’re not going to be the lead, but she does have a long-suffering Confucius-like friend who delivers sage advice, as they steal the car or whatever.” First of all I’m old and I’m a UCLA graduate, I wanted to be more intellectually stimulated. I was in my artist phase – I want to create art! And I’m not going to be able to do that on the Disney Channel doing H-E-double-hockey-sticks as a double agent, which I did. It’s a film I did with the kids from “Boy Meets World.” So yeah, I played a child bride doctor in City of Angels to try to escape that.

You’re hilarious! So now you’re this lead actor in a TV series that premieres with a film this summer and then comes back at the top of next year as a series …

It’s exciting! I mean, there’s the whole group of us who auditioned for “Scandal” that, not just fell in love with that project and Shonda (Rhimes), but the process, the level of respect that we were given even in the audition process and the world that Shonda created even for us trying. It was like, is there ever gonna be another situation for you like that? And then here come Mara and Salim (Akil) and I literally met with them at the Four Seasons on the day that Whitney died. And they were obviously very emotional. They still had “Sparkle” coming out with her and they were just in the middle of editing and trying to wrap their brains around losing such an icon and a legend that they worked with, and I had a lot of awesome experiences with her. You don’t really always think about your legacy and you want your lasting footprint to be, and we happened to have this meeting at that exact time where you literally see … a bunch of industry people at the Four Seasons. You see all these people all of a sudden just on their phones and just devastated and crying and shrieking and running out and you’re sort of like, “damn, what do I want to leave with the world?” And what they were presenting me with on that day it was like, “Man, here is this opportunity and here is the respect and here are these dope words and here is working with a black woman in charge, running things.” And here is her husband, so it’s kind of dope to see highly functioning black love creating things and that’s what you get with them. So you get to be a voyeur on their love story. But to be a part of that love and what that love has created, it was … a blessing. It feels like it was destiny the way that it came about and the emotion that went into all of our making of this decision and what we wanted to get out of it. So from February of 2012 we have been committed and passionate and excited.

I know you made a little bit of a joke when you said, “black girls we’re so 2006,” but looking at primetime TV, this is the year of the black woman …

Luckily they’re my friends so thank God if I ever needed a loan I’d be like, “Well, I saw you last night on “Deception,” Megan, and I know you have money!” “Person of Interest” is one of the top rated shows internationally, so my girl Taraji (P. Henson) is doing so well. And then all of the films that have come from the great work that she’s done, and Kerry (Washington) with “Scandal” and “Django” and the whole world is like, Gladiator! And Thandie (Newton)’s show. I’ve big shoes to fill, but it’s dope. I think what we’ve all sort of realized in the last couple years is that we were all holding out on that one movie role that was going to do whatever your publicist tells you is supposed to happen, and even when you get that role you’re like, “Alright, so…nothing’s happening! I don’t think everyone else got the fax that something was supposed to happen!” But if you humble yourself and you open yourself up to every possibility that’s out there, there’s TV. There are so many amazing writers that weren’t getting put on with film that have all these amazing stories to tell and they’re being able to tell them in a different medium. If you just humble yourself and be open, amazing things can come your way and that’s what we’ve seen. You can wait for a train that may never stop for you, or you can take advantage of every opportunity and I think that’s what you have seen us do in droves. Now you hope that the time of the black man is coming. You want them to have their “Scandal” and their “Deception” and their “Being Mary Jane” and you can see black love and black dysfunction.


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