The Union Movement
Meet Gabrielle Union. She is not Ashanti -- obviously. By Allison Winn Scotch
Gabrielle Union is being tailed on the freeway. “Oh my God, he’s honking,” she tells me by cell phone. “This is so weird.” She shouts to the other driver, “Please, go away!” “Maybe he recognizes you,” I suggest. “No, he thinks I am someone else,” she says. “It happens all the time. He is probably thinking he’s chasing down Garcelle or Ashanti or Brandy.” Eventually, her suitor drives past her, and Union laughs it off. “I’ve done whole in-person interviews where someone has mixed me up,” she says.
It’s hard to fathom that Union, with her tall frame, striking good looks, and career success -- she has been working steadily for more than a decade, appearing in megahits like Friends and Ugly Betty and in blockbusters such as Bad Boys II and Bring It On -- could be mistaken for anyone else. Though she is now occasionally misidentified, she may not be for much longer. This month, Union is poised to shoot to the stratosphere -- nearly literally -- when she costars opposite Eddie Murphy in Meet Dave. They play tiny aliens who come to Earth in a spaceship designed in the form of a human. Or something like that. So, weird honking guy on the freeway, get used to this. It’s Gabrielle Union.
You started your career as a model. Is it a love of acting that’s led you to where you are today? I fell in love with the money, to be honest. I was a student at UCLA and was making $6.16 an hour as a book-buyback supervisor. As a model, I was working a whole day for $100. I thought, This is awesome! I am rich! When I started booking acting jobs, I paid off a third of my student loans two weeks later. Eventually, I started getting into studying acting, not just cashing the checks. I really began to love it, and that is when I decided that as long as I can make a living, and as long as I do not inconvenience my parents, I am going to do this. I have never stopped making money, either, though, to be brutally honest.
You know who makes a lot of money acting? Eddie Murphy. And Will Smith. And Jennifer Aniston. You’ve acted alongside all of them. Is being on set with those people like being in a master’s class? Yeah, I am always learning. But it is not necessarily just from the big names. There are people who are amazing actors who have never gotten a shot. And I generally learn more from them. Certainly, their biggest lesson is humility. You can go from being the hottest thing, the “it” person, to unemployed very quickly in this business.
So the prospect of it all being taken away is still in the back of your mind? Oh, absolutely. Unless you are making $20 million a picture, you are fooling yourself.
You’ve been outspoken about the glass ceiling for black actors. Do you still feel like you’re ramming your head up against it? Definitely. A casting director can always say, “She just wasn’t right,” and I can’t respond, “But look at my résumé versus this person’s. Look what my movies have done.” In any other profession, you can quantify your attributes and say, “Look, this is clearly not fair.” But it doesn’t work like that for us. So if you choose to be in this business, you are also choosing to deal with this reality, and you try to do whatever is in your power to make as many small changes as possible, hopefully for the next generation.
It sounds like you’ve seen people gutted by the business. I have a lot of people tell me that they want to be an actress. And I’m like, Do you want to be famous, or do you want to be an actress? Those are two different things. If you love acting more than anything, you would be just as happy doing Pippin in Poughkeepsie as you would be working with Cameron Diaz. If you want to be famous and maybe your dad didn’t give you enough attention at home, you are not in the right business, and the likelihood of your making it is not really good.
Okay, so before you get back to dodging honking guys, break down Meet Dave for us. I hope I can help. Basically, we are two-inch-tall martians, and the orb that we need in order to survive on our planet has crash-landed on Earth. So we form an expedition to retrieve it and take it back to our planet. In order to blend in, we create a ship in the shape and form of our captain, Eddie Murphy. So there is the two-inch-tall Eddie, our captain, inside the ship, helping to run things, and then there is the ship Eddie, who has to navigate Earth and try to blend in.