Gabrielle Union, BET’s new leading lady, hypes network’s first original drama

December 11, 2013
Gabrielle Union (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Architectural Digest)
Gabrielle Union (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Architectural Digest)

For a screening of BET’s first original dramatic series, there was a lot of laughter Tuesday at D.C.’s W Hotel.

After watching the first episode of the network’s much-hyped “Being Mary Jane” starring Gabrielle Union, we’d say the show is more of a dramedy. And sure enough, the 100 or so fans really seemed to enjoy themselves, especially since Union was on hand herself to kick off the promotion for her new series.

“We’re incredibly happy that you guys came out to support and check out our baby that we have been pregnant with for almost two years,” said the star, dressed in a short-sleeved white sweater, black harem pants and towering heels. “We’re just really excited to give birth to this extra-large awesome kid, and hope that you all think it’s cute.”

Union, 41, has been a darling at the network for many years – she has hosted the BET Honors five times in a row. The network has high hopes for the series – which went forward after the 90-minute pilot, which aired as an original movie, did well in the ratings last summer. Union is taking the job as the network’s new leading lady seriously, doing research for every element of her news anchor character.

In the series, which debuts Jan. 7, she stars as Mary Jane Paul, a famous cable news anchor trying to balance her high-profile job and very complicated love life. So you know, there’s going to be a lot of material to work with: pressure-filled job, difficult family members, a steamy affair with a married man, race, weight issues and the definition of beauty. But with enough one-liners to relieve the tension.

Union told our colleague DeNeen Brown that she prepped for the show by watching real-life cable personalities. “I am obsessed with Soledad O’Brien. I just believe her. Her ‘Black in America’ series, they are still on my DVR. Every single one. I re-watch them often. I quote her.”

Union is trying to play a character like that: “Somebody who has that balance where you believe them, you are comfortable and yet they are compassionate, you want to be their friend and tune in – that is what I was going for.”


Gabrielle Union in BET’s “Being Mary Jane.” Union was in D.C. on December 10 to promote the series. (Quantrell D. Colbert/BET Networks)

BET is pushing the modern, “real” aspect of the series: The characters, whether they’re making the right decisions or breaking the rules, are all too human. And of course, the network that recognizes its primarily African-American audience wants a show that reflects their own lives. If the show succeeds, Union will be one of the only black actresses currently in the lead role of a scripted series, following the success of Kerry Washington on ABC’s “Scandal.”

Margaret Avery, who plays Union’s mother on the show, told the crowd at the screening that she was surprised by the authenticity of the writing. “You’re going to really enjoy the realness of all the relationships in this program,” she said. “Something that we, as people of color, have not seen.”

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Michael Livingston | December 10, 2013