Get Gabrielle Union's Best Career Advice - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because she's the cool BFF you always wanted.

By Joshua Eferighe

She’s the girl next door that millennials grew up with, from her debut on Saved by the Bell and as a cheerleader on Bring It On. Now she stars alongside Jessica Alba as an LAPD badass on the new detective show L.A.’s Finest, all while making it work in the spotlight as a mom, a wife, an activist and entrepreneur. Below are a few of the best moments from her interview on The Carlos Watson Show.

On her best advice

Carlos Watson: Were you acting already by the time you showed up at UCLA or no?

Gabrielle Union: No. I got an internship in my senior year. Well, I started paying for school myself at 19. I was taking 20 units in my last two quarters, and I just wanted an easy four units. And somebody is like, “Just get an internship at the expo center.” So I was looking for what I thought would be the easiest internship and it was at a modeling agency. I was like, “Oh, models are idiots, right?” Of course, I became one.

I got an internship as office help, and when my internship ended, they were like, “Would you ever consider a career in modeling or acting?” And I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” And they’re like, “Nobody does.” And they sent me out without a book or résumé, and I booked the first few modeling gigs I was sent out on. And then a week, literally a week into my new career, they sent me on an audition with a made-up résumé, and I booked it. And I’ve, knock on wood, I’ve never stopped working.

Then, very quickly, I booked Saved by the Bell. All it takes is one person saying, “Oh yeah, I know she’s good.” Was I good? Not at all. I was on time, I was nice, I was quiet, I stayed out of the way, and I still stuck with that.

Watson: I think it was Chris Rock who told me that he made so much money by just answering the phone and showing up. He was like, “So many people are hard to work with even if they’re talented. That being so easy…”

Union: When people are like, “What’s the best advice you can give?” And I’m like, “Be on time.” And they’re like, “Be on time. OK. What else?” And I’m like, “Be on time.” And they’re like, “That’s it?” So people play themselves out [of] the pocket just because they believe that time is a suggestion, not like a hard, fast thing.

On the role that got away

Watson: Has there been a role that you really, really wanted that you didn’t get?

Union: Yeah. All of them. Yeah. I mean, I’ve not talked about it before but at the time there just wasn’t a lot of opportunities for Black women. Like grown Black women to play nuanced, complex, delicious characters. And so when Shonda Rhimes created the role of Olivia Pope, everyone and their mother auditioned for that. And everyone wanted it because it was the only thing like it. And for a whole generation, it was all we had to look forward to. And I was eliminated. …

I had to mourn the opportunity. Not even the role, but just the hope of something better. Because there was just nothing. And I just lucked out that I feel like within six months or so, maybe less, Mara Brock Akil and her husband, Salim Akil, presented me with the pilot for Being Mary Jane. And I was like another nuanced, complex, messy, delicious, sexy Black woman on TV. Holy shit. Yes. I want to do this.

Watson: When you look back on that experience now and you take it all in together, do you look back on it positively?

Union: I’m not a coulda, woulda, should have person. Obviously the right person got the job. But it was the experience. Black actresses are so disrespected at every step of the way, and what Shonda did was create this beautiful respectful process with the casting process. We’re never given that kind of consideration or respect. And she treated us all so well. And she handled us so beautifully, and she was so nurturing. So even though only one person got the job, none of us left there feeling bad. She set us up for success. And success for actors is just so oftentimes the journey. So if I was able to come in there and be treated so respectfully and so beautifully that I was able to give a great performance, that’s the win. The job is a cherry on top, but the journey and the experience of being able to audition and leave your heart in the room and feel good about it, no matter what happens, that’s rare and that was amazing.

On her best allies

Watson: Gabrielle, who have been your best non-Black allies? … And maybe I’m asking in part who could be an ally going forward and building this new world?

Union: It’s funny, somebody asked me this question the other day and I kind of forgot about the first non-Black real ally that put me on and it changed my whole life, which was Aaron Spelling. Aaron Spelling, RIP, put me on a show called 7th Heaven. And I wasn’t a series regular. It was one of my first gigs. But he paid me like I was a series regular. I had friends who had their own shows who weren’t making what I was making on this little CW Christian show that I was on every so often during Black History Month.

On what she’s learned about love

Watson: Tell me a little bit, if you don’t mind, about what you’ve learned about love.

Union: God, what have I learned? That you don’t have to be somebody’s emotional or spiritual mule to be worthy of love. You can be a badass chick or a ride-or-die without trauma. Trauma is not a requirement of real, enduring love. How much crap you endure should not be indicative of the love that you deserve. I wish I would have gotten that memo or a fax perhaps in the ’90s, but on the other side of it, I don’t even know how many hours, hundreds of hours, of therapy and public failures later. Yeah. That whole you-complete-me thing, it’s a Hollywood creation that’s not real. You should be pretty freaking complete by the time you come together, join together with another person. And love should feel like beginnings. You know what I mean? Ideally you should be growing and evolving at similar rates and speeds for romantic love, I should say. So that whatever the endurance is, [it’s] more of the watching and the nurturing of each other growing and evolving and not being a hindrance to that evolution.

That’s the only kind of endurance I’m going to cosign for at this point. But it should feel like an adventure every day. Because hopefully you’re learning and growing every day. Love shouldn’t be complacent, love should never be satisfied because you should always be growing and learning new things.

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