The Fretts on Film Interview: Gabrielle Union
I’m back in the pages of the New York Daily News this morning with my profile of Gabrielle Union, who plays the much-younger girlfriend who comes between John Slattery and his estranged son Zach Gilford in the indie dramedy In Our Nature (opening Dec. 7). She was such a great interview that I had lots of leftover goodies about race, divorce, Tyler Perry, Twitter, turning 40 and her relationship with NBA MVP Dwyane Wade. Here are the outtakes…
You’re not known so much for doing indie movies. Was that an arena you were necessarily looking to get into? Or did you just like In Our Nature‘s script?
It’s interesting because I think you look at indie in terms of budget—I’ve done a lot of that. Most quote unquote black films don’t have a budget over 10 million, and by that definition, it would be technically indie. So I’ve done a lot of not-huge-budgeted films, but in terms of mixing in what people consider indie subject matter, no, I don’t usually do a ton. I don’t get asked to do a ton. I don’t even get the opportunity to audition to do different kinds of subject matters so I was glad they even thought of me. I was pleasantly surprised and humbled and excited.
How was it working with a first-time director like Brian Savelson?
He’s great. Again, I’ve worked with so many first-film directors. It’s pretty normal for me, and I have developed a patience, and a helpful guiding hand, as well. But mainly just having patience, and encouraging first-time directors to be articulate and prepared, and he absolutely was. Sometimes first-time directors bring an exuberance that more seasoned directors have lost over time, and sometimes you need it, quite frankly, especially up in the middle of the woods with difficult subject matter. You need somebody who’s not jaded.
In the script, was the character originally written as African American or was that just something that came up in casting?
That’s a good question. There are a couple of lines in there that would say to me that it was supposed to be at least a woman of color. There’s like the big reveal when I come through the door and it’s like, ‘Not only is my Dad here, but he’s with a black chick.’ So that would sort of imply to me that she was supposed to be a woman of color, I would imagine, if not an alien.
But the character isn’t defined by race. Did that appeal to you?
I was glad that it wasn’t like ‘da da da da!’ It was sort of implied in the big opening, and then there was one scene that I felt sort of had racial undertones, where Zach and I are by the campfire and he sort of accuses me of trapping his father, and I felt there were sort of undertones. Then when we brought it to the press, a number of audience members brought it up. So I was like, ‘I knew I wasn’t racist!’ And other scenes, audience members were like, ‘How did that feel as an African American woman?’ I was like, ‘Oh that one, I hadn’t thought about!’ And I think our country is becoming more polarized, and certainly now, it will be interesting post-election and sort of the mood of the country, what people take away from it. It seems that people are a little more racially polarized. I’m very curious just to see what people take away. Especially now with the election.
It struck me that it was almost like a reverse of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. When the daughter comes home with Sidney Poitier, it’s like the father comes home with Gabrielle Union. Have we come a long way? Or is it kind of the same situation that it was 45 years ago?
It was also the age thing —someone who was the antithesis of Mom. So anyone who is not an older white woman–somebody that would look like Zach’s mom–is going to be “other.” It would have been “that’s not Mom.” So having it be a younger black woman who’s divorced with a child, it’s going to be a problem regardless, but when you add that extra layer, it makes it extra “other,” with an already volatile situation.
Your character does have a child, and she’s in a relationship with this guy. She jokes that she’s his mid-life crisis. How did you relate to the situation? I take it it’s not something you necessarily experienced yourself. How do you get in touch with that as an actress?
I can’t relate as a mother, but I can relate as a divorcee. Trying to start over with someone who is completely opposite from the person you’ve been married to, and just not wanting to repeat the same shit that got you miserable. And just trying to make different choices, and then when you see yourself falling back down the rabbit hole. So from that sense—absolutely, I’ve been there, done that.
You’ve become part of Tyler Perry’s repertory company. Do you think you’ll continue to work with him on projects in the future?
The good thing with Tyler is he likes to keep people employed, and he doesn’t want you to jump through hoops and, ‘Well, I’ve seen you do 80,000 comedies, but if you could come in and audition 8 more times’—he doesn’t do that. He’s like, ‘I get that you’re capable. That you are a decent actress and a nice person to be around. Come work!’ And I appreciate those experiences where people give you the confidence to get a little extra bounce in your step. That’s sort of what it feels like on a Tyler Perry set, where somebody gives you that vote of confidence to just be you and be great, and he doesn’t second guess every little thing. It feels good, and it kind of frees you up to do some of your better work.
Where do you kind of draw the line when it comes to privacy? I know you tweet about personal things sometimes. How do you make that distinction of what you’re wiling to share and what you’re not?
I don’t mind sharing, but it’s to a point where you’re not going to know what I’m eating or what Dwyane’s eating for breakfast every single day. But we like to joke, we like to pick on each other because there’s an interest in what the hell we’re doing—but it’s about levity. The people I follow on Twitter, it’s the random, funny crap that I’m like, ‘Wow, I know Justin Bieber!’ It makes me like him a little bit more. I don’t need to know every conversation he and Selena have to be a fan or to buy an album. I just kinda like to share the little things. I think when my Mom says, ‘Why did you share that?’ I’m like, ‘Oh! Too much?’ I try to keep the mystery alive in my relationship, much less with the public. I don’t think it’s healthy for everyone to know everything.
Looking back over your career, can you believe that it’s been 12 years since Bring It On or you’ve come all this way since Saved By The Bell? You turned 40 recently—where do you see yourself in your life right now?
I’m happy! And confident. I’m finally in a place of being happy in my skin, and just not stressed. I’ve eliminated a lot of the bullshit, and I think so many of us, we cling onto people and things and crappy situations because we’re used to it or because it’s comfortable or it’s a sense of loyalty. And once I shed all the crappy layers of bullshit, I just emerged so much lighter and more adventurous and more confident. I’m in the happiest place of my life.
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