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A Perfect Union

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Gabrielle Union’s got it all— beauty, brains, and a budding film career— which are all evident in her latest flick, Deliver Us From Eva. In this modern-day Taming of the Shrew, the Omaha, Neb., native takes the lead opposite LL Cool J as Eva Dandridge, the eldest of four sisters. She is a young woman, who after losing her parents in a car accident becomes the parental figure of the family. “Eva basically gave up all of her hopes and dreams so that the family could stay together,” Gabrielle says, “and in doing so she began to live vicariously through [her sisters] and became increasingly overbearing, much to the chagrin of the men in their lives.”

The role of Eva marks the first time Gabrielle has stepped into the lead. Although she welcomes the new challenge, she admits the idea of carrying a movie is a bit intimidating. “It’s scary because if it does or doesn’t do well, it’s on you,” Gabrielle says. “With ensemble pieces, especially when you are more so in the middle, you are kind of insulated from responsibility. But, when you are the title character, you can’t exactly hide,” she says laughing.

Her success can undoubtedly be linked to her unyielding work ethic. “As long as you are not satisfied with something, you have somewhere to go. You have space to grow,” says the 29-year-old whose career shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. In fact, Gabrielle’s resume has hit a growth spurt with Cradle 2 the Grave in theaters now, and Bad Boys II and The Breakup Handbook on the horizon.

ESSENCE.com caught up with the rising star and chatted about her new flick, loves scenes with LL Cool J and what goes into maintaining a healthy relationship.

What spoke to you about the character Eva, and do see any similarities between the two of you?

[I love] her strength and the fact that she evolved. She starts in one place, and she ends up so far removed from where we see her in the beginning, and she learns from compromise, which is something that I find eludes me a lot of times. Unfortunately, I do [see a lot of similarities], especially with the early Eva. I have some of the same struggles as Eva. I am super-organized and an efficient person who functions best with order. I don’t function well in chaos. Everything is kind of planned to the T, like with Eva. And unfortunately, with my little sister, I can be a bit overbearing and not understanding and respecting of her boundaries.

I am sure just about every woman is jealous of you for your love scenes with LL. How was that for you?

It was weird. On the one hand it’s like this is LL Cool J and on the other hand, you are like, I don’t know you, and it’s awkward to all of a sudden create this intimacy with someone that you really don’t know. If I was a loosey-goosey girl, who was out in the club doing it anyway, I guess it wouldn’t be that much of a difference, but I was raised to respect marriages. We all respect what has to happen for the movie to be made, but I would imagine that being the spouse and seeing your significant other [on the screen] all over someone is awkward. We tried to get to know each other and each other’s families so everyone would be comfortable. I need to be able to look his wife in the eye and he still needs to be able to sit in a room with my husband. So you know it’s really important to feel each other out and [let everyone know] that this isn’t any Meg Ryan/Russell Crowe [situation] popping off [laugh]. And once we established that trust, it freed us up to have chemistry.

Gabrielle, it’s hard for African-Americans, especially African-American women, to get quality roles in Hollywood. What is your process for determining what scripts you’d ultimately choose and are there any roles that you’d never play?

There are things that I’m just not good at, you know what I mean? [laugh] I understand my limitations. So, until I can get to a place with my craft where I can give certain characters life in an honest and believable way, there are certain roles that I just shy away from— like victims. I just don’t do them well. Part of the problem comes from me being a victim myself. [Gabrielle was raped when she was a teenager.] It’s hard for me to go back there and attach myself to the emotional necessities that would have to be there to make a victim come to life, and to really capture all the nuances of what it feels like to be at the losing end of something. Right now [victims] aren’t characters that I do well and I really don’t have the desire to play one.

What advice do you have for single sisters or sisters with relationship drama? What does it take to maintain a happy and healthy relationship?

Communication, and making a concerted effort to put the other person first and not be so selfish. When you enter into a marriage, it’s not that the me goes away, you just have to think of it in terms of us and if you think of me too much then you don’t have an us. Start looking at what’s best for you and him and compromise. And, just be nice to one another. My husband [Chris Howard, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars] and I will be having an argument and I’ll call one of my married friends like Robinne Lee (who plays one of the sisters in Eva) and she’s like ‘have you tried being nice to him?’ And I’m like ‘damn it, no’ [laugh], let me try that. I tried screaming in his face but that didn’t go so well, but, ah, let me call you back.’[laugh] It’s amazing how far kindness goes and I think we forget about the basic things. Just be nice. It works. [laugh]

If you had to assess your career so far, would you say you are where you thought you'd be?

This is way more than I ever expected. Now that I am in the midst of it all, I feel I have so much to learn, so many more places to travel to, and people to meet and share experiences with— and not Hollywood people, just people people. I want to produce. I want to form this collective with other actors to try and create roles, not just for us, but also for other Black folks. There is just so much more to do. I feel as though I am a novice. It’s like once you get to a certain place you’re like ‘oh gosh, there is just so much more ahead.’ And, when you’re on that path, the road just seems to get farther and farther. You can sleep when you’re dead, that’s how I look at it.

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