By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
She's got that whole perky, Doris-
chocolate thing going. No matter the material, actress Gabrielle Union, nice Catholic girl, Nebraska born/California bred, has worked that clean-cut image, mining the wholesomeness -- notwithstanding those steamy Maxim pics, the ones with the pink corset, pouty lips and plumped-up cleavage -- as she's zipped from comedy to drama and back. Witness her as a snippety cheerleader ("Bring It On"), as Will Smith's gun-wielding inamorata ("Bad Boys II") and her turn as Annette Bening's lesbian lover ("Running With Scissors").
"She's our Julia Roberts," says Faizon Love, her co-star in "The Perfect Holiday," which opens tomorrow. Adds Morris Chestnut, her love interest in the film, "There's a wholesomeness to her. She's an attractive woman who's smart and can do comedy."
So . . . why isn't she getting Julia Roberts-level roles?
"The lack of the right opportunity," says Chestnut, who's also starred with her in "The Brothers," "Two Can Play That Game" and "Breakin' All the Rules." "Sometimes it's that one defining role that can make your career."
We chatted with the 35-year-old UCLA grad last week when she breezed through town to promote "The Perfect Holiday" -- in which she plays a harried single mom -- about her new role, the horrors of being one of Bossip.com's favorite targets, staying employed in Hollywood and growing up black in the burbs:
So how did you end up working on " The Perfect Holiday" ?
When [producer] Queen Latifah called me, I was like, "Single mom with three kids? [She makes the universal buzzer sound.] Call me back when you've got something sexy."
Why is that?
In Hollywood, you play a mom and instantly, you've got osteoporosis. I didn't want to age myself.
It's easy to get labeled.
Yeah, it's a little nerve-racking.
What changed your mind?
My friends. They said, "So and so has played a mom and they're still on the Maxim hot list . . . ."
These days, the Internet can be a nasty place. You've taken a few hits lately in the blogosphere [with sites portraying her as a hooking-up party-girl-around-town].
October for whatever reason was an awful month. . . . I'm lobbying Congress [about funding for rape crisis centers], advocating for breast cancer awareness. . . . I'm busting my [heinie], why are you assassinating my character? When I'm about the only one saying anything about our community? . . . Why do we subscribe to a crabs-in-the-barrel mentality? If I was getting arrested, if I had kids I don't take care of, if I was walking outside without my underwear, I'd get it, I deserve it. . . .
Not to make this a Gabrielle Union, Black Actress article, but what are the biggest roadblocks you've encountered? You've been outspoken about the dearth of roles.
A fact of birth puts me behind the eight ball. . . . The biggest roadblock is ignorance and getting people to change their minds about who can play what. Hollywood panders to the 18-to-34 crowd. That demographic doesn't care about race and the package it comes in. They care about the hottest chick. They just like hot chicks. . . . I was talking to my girlfriends, and we were talking about how no woman of color has her own show. Except America Ferrera and "Ugly Betty." . . . Reality TV looks more like America than movies do. But as bad as [African American actresses] have it, Latinas, Asians, Middle Easterners or anyone who's a combination of that has it way worse. . . . If a movie is under $10 million, then it's a black movie. "Bad Boys II" had only one white guy, but no one said it was a black movie. No one asks the cast of "Lord of the Rings," "How does it feel to be in a movie that doesn't represent what America really looks like?"
Were you worried about "This Christmas" [another African American Christmas film] competing with "The Perfect Holiday"?
Not at all. "This Christmas" has a "Soul Food" vibe. Ours is the only movie coming out for toddlers to see. ["The Perfect Holiday"] is much more basic, with simple elements. It's like "Shrek"; the kids are laughing at one thing, the parents at another. It's a children's movie. . . . It's a straightforward, feel-good, overcome-adversity-around-the-holidays movie. And the cast happens to be black.
It might sound crazy, but watching this movie, you reminded me of Doris Day.
I'm sure I've morphed. My sister's obsessed with Doris Day. We watched her movies all the time. And I like to mimic.
Does that have to do with moving around as a kid, from Nebraska to California, trying to adjust to other people's accents?
My mom is painfully sweet; she's from Nebraska. My mom is [she affects a flat, Midwestern twang] "Oh my gosh." Super Omaha. She still makes May Day gifts. At 60, she became a foster mom. [After we moved to California], she took me to my first gay pride parade when I was 8. I wore a button, "Straight but Not Narrow Minded." [She taught me to have] a world perspective, not a town perspective.