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May 2004
Breakin' All the Rules: An Interview with Gabrielle Union

By Yemi Amu

Breakin' All the Rules: An Interview with Gabrielle Union

After doing back-to-back action film last year with DMX in "Cradle 2 The Grave" and with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in "Bad Boys II", Gabrielle Union is back on the prowl doing a romantic comedy with Jamie Foxx in "Breakin' All The Rules". In the film, Gabrielle plays Nicky, a woman who's having men issues and can't decide what to do with her dilemma. Blackfilm.com caught up with her as she came to New York to promote the film.

Jamie Foxx was recently on The View and he was talking about how your guys are such good friends. What was it like having to kiss him?

Gabrielle: We are close friends and he's also close to my husband. He's truly a southern gentleman and he's so respectful of my marriage and has been from day one. That was the hardest kind of hurdle to get over; having to get past the awkwardness of kissing my friend. It's not like we had something and then we became friends or there was some flirtation. It's just never been that way with him; so that was kind of strange. Hopefully, it was real enough.

How difficult was if for you to make the transition from your character in Deliver Us From Eva to playing this character. Eva was such a strong woman; was it an easy transition?

Gabrielle: It was a little different because my own natural personality is not quite as dingy as Nicky. She wasn't really together. It was challenging having to be a little vulnerable and clueless especially when it comes to men. She went as far as to cut her hair off. I don't even know what your favorite food is after three months; I'm definitely not cutting my hair. So yes, it was kind of difficult to find that place of vulnerability and try to sell that which is just not natural to my own personality.

Speaking of cutting hair, what is the worst thing you ever did to shock a boyfriend?

Gabrielle: The only time I've been dumped was in high school and I vowed it would never happen again. I got dumped for this girl was first team all UA and I was second team. She was headed to Stanford and I really believed that I got dumped because my crossover wasn't as nice as hers. I spent all of that summer working on my crossover and I found out in the end that my getting dumped had nothing to do with my crossover. Apparently some of her other skills were better than mine. I spent all summer working on the wrong thing. Another time I did something crazy was in Junior High school. This was the time of Duran Duran and New Wave and blond girls were popular. I soaked my bangs in Hydrogen Peroxide and sat in the sun. In the end I had a patch of red hair at the front of my head.

What was his response?

Gabrielle: I don't think he knew I existed before that and if he knew after that he must have been like she's a weirdo.

The movie poses an interesting premise about a self help book for guys to break up. Have you ever been a reader of self help books that help women get men like The Rules?

Gabrielle: Six months before I met my husband I read The Rules and I found out that it had all the same things your mother would tell you like don't give it up too quick, create a mystery about yourself, don't tell all your secrets and so on. It's funny because I met my husband at a questionable party, but when we went to his apartment and I saw the scrabble board and Bogle I asked myself what story I wanted to tell my grandkids at the family reunion about how I met their grandfather. So I pulled back. After that we had a proper courtship. Three months later he bought the ring, 6 months later we got engaged a year and a half later we were married and here we are going on 3 years. So holding back and not giving away everything works. It might have been a little manipulative but I got the ring.

Is it hard to keep a marriage going in Hollywood?

Gabrielle: Hollywood adds another element but marriage is hard period. They don't tell you that when you read Modern Bride and those other bridal magazines. You're planning this expensive wedding and no one bothers to tell you that you have to be able to communicate with your partner or that there are certain issue your might want to sort out before you get married. It's like being thrown to the wolves. You spend so much money on the perfect wedding and then there's no money left for a down payment on a home. After the wedding you find yourself stuck with this person you are bound to by law and in the eyes of God and you have no idea of what it is to be married because you lack the maturity level. On top of that you're broke because you've spent all your money on the wedding. It's incredibly difficult and on top of that Hollywood adds the extra element of dealing with cute co-stars and being separated from your spouse for long periods of time. It's tough, but my mom says what you put into it is exactly what you'll get out of it. On the days you put in a little extra into it, you get a little extra out. That is true regardless of whether you are a Hollywood couple or not. All of my married friends and I regardless of whether they are teachers, investment bankers or stay-at-home moms all have the same story to tell. Except that sometimes mine ends up in US Weekly.

Your voice is absolutely wonderful. Have you always spoken like this?

Gabrielle: I've never been an early riser and on films and TV I always end up with the first shot of the day. So it seems like I always sound like this. My voice is not going to sound this deep by four this afternoon.

Would you say you sound more like your mum or your dad?

Gabrielle: My pattern of delivery and certain rhythms sound like my aunt Joanne. I also string sentences together the way she does. My temperament is like my mother's. My tone and voice quality is like my dad. So it's like a little bit of everybody.

Would you say it was difficult for you to transition from teen flicks? Most people got to know you through films like Bring It On.

Gabrielle: It was a difficult transition because I was 25 years old playing 15-year-old characters that I had nothing in common with. Once the teen flick genre fizzled out I was looking to play older characters, but the last thing people remembered me from was playing a cheerleader in Bring It On. It was difficult even getting seen to audition because no one believed my real age or that I had the life experience necessary to play these more mature characters. Gary Hardwood who did the rewrites on Bring It On finally gave me a chance on the film The Brothers. We hung out a little and he got a chance to know the really Gabrielle. He actually gave me the opportunity when no one wanted to see me.

Is that how your credit constantly working?

Gabrielle: It's really about being in the right place at the right time. Sanaa (Lathan) is one of my good friends and I just came from seeing her on Broadway last night. For about a year after she finished shooting Out Of Time and I was shooting Bad Boys II, we thought we had finally made it and we were having a ball. Then one day we find both find ourselves looking for jobs. I found myself saying now what. I'd done the romantic comedy thing and two action films. I was looking to stretch and grow and I decided on an independent because I felt it would give me an opportunity to try something different. The way the movies are released we always manage to stay in the public eye, but in reality some of us haven't done big studio films in about a year. The public doesn't realize that because they don't witness the daily grind.

When you do a big studio film like Bad Boys II do you ever get overwhelmed when you see yourself on a poster?

Gabrielle: It's more overwhelming during the process of making the film. While I was working on the film I kept thinking back to the beginning of my career. Now here I was filming with 2 twenty million dollars a film guys. The first day on the set was so surreal with Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay on the set. By the time the film premiers, it is not as overwhelming.

What is the one role you auditioned for and didn't get that you're still bitter about?

Gabrielle: I'm still a little bitter about Josie And The Pussycats. It was such a long process of auditioning. Every one keeps pointing at how it turned out, but that is irrelevant for me because I spend 6 months auditioning for the film. But, it's like a rite of passage for me now.

Would you consider theatre?

Gabrielle: Seeing Sanaa Lathan, Phylicia Rashaad and Audra McDonald last night showed me that it would be years from now before I could get to a place where I'm a little bit more self realized and self evolved enough to be open to the kind of instruction it would take to turn in those kind of performances. I get offered things, but I believe that just because your get offered doesn't mean you should do everything. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Are there any roles you would not do?

Gabrielle: Every year I say there's something I won't do but as I get older, I look for more challenges. I could do romantic comedies because they make me happy and I usually work with my friends. They're usually such enjoyable experiences, but in order to grow, I have to challenge myself. I don't feel comfortable doing straight nudity. Both my parents are alive and so is my Parish Priest. I don't even want to try explaining that to them. Maybe later when they won't care so much that I'm naked, but I don't believe that's happening any time soon.

Your character is very likable. What instructions were you given to make her so wonderful?

Gabrielle: It was kind of written on the page. Daniel wrote a really sweet girl. The words were there; I just kind of brought them out.

We know that Jamie is a comedian and you said earlier that you two are friends. Sometimes when friends get together they play little practical jokes.

Gabrielle: Jamie is not really a practical joker, but we have a lot of friends in common outside of the business and he likes to imitate them. He does these imitations of our friends that only he and I understand. They are so funny and the next thing I know my eyes are watering from laughter.

Did you study acting?

Gabrielle: No, I got into acting during my last year in UCLA. I was interning at a Modeling agency for extra school credits and after the internship was over I was asked if I would consider modeling. They were offering $150 a day and at the time I was working at the school bookstore making $6.60 an hour. I was up to my neck in student loans so I jumped at the offer. In a matter of about two weeks I was modeling for Teen Magazine, Sassy and All About You. The man I was interviewing for who is now my manager suggested I try auditioning for acting roles. He felt I had the personality and my reading was good. In a matter of weeks I booked parts on Saved By the Bell: The New Class, Moesha, Sister, Sister, Smart Guy and 7th Heaven. It wasn't until about three years later when I was working on ER that I decided I needed to get an acting coach. My character was supposed to get misty and I had a difficult time getting teary. Now I work with an acting coach on more difficult material.

Where do you see your career in ten years?

Gabrielle: I see my self probably producing; a lot more producing and probably doing sitcoms. I love sitcoms because you get paid a lot of money and it doesn't take up too much of your time. I also intend to do some writing.

Can you talk about the pressure of being the first African American love interest on friends?

Gabrielle: There was no pressure at all. It was literally just another job. City Of Angels got cancelled that Monday and on Tuesday I got the call to see if I'd be willing to do friends. To me it was just another check. It was such an easy job because the show is such a well-oiled machine. I didn't think about the pressure at the time. I'm always professional and I'm always careful not to make a nuisance of myself. Because of the environment I was raised in, I'm used to being the only black person in an all-white environment. It was four months later that there was this big to do about never having a black character on friends.

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