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EXCLUSIVE: Gabrielle Union on 'Being Mary Jane,' Single Black Women, and Not Having It All

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Gabrielle Union
Photo Credit: Michael Rowe

When Gabrielle Union and a group of girlfriends watched her latest project—the BET dramedy Being Mary Jane (premiering July 2) about single, successful news anchor Mary Jane Paul who just can’t seem to get it right in love department—they each looked at each other like, ‘That’s you’ she recalls, laughing.

“Nobody wants to admit to being Mary Jane but there are quite a few of them. I recognize her in my friends, myself and family.” Union hopes women will recognize themselves in Mary Jane. We caught up with her as she filmed Think Like a Man Too to talk about single Black women, finding love at any age, and why she believes women can’t have it all.

ESSENCE: Mary Jane is doing so well in everything else, but her love life. Why do you think she just can’t get it right in that department?
GABRIELLE UNION: There are a number of reasons why she can’t get it right. I think that she’s entitled and when you’ve been head of the household and you’re super career woman, I think it’s hard to turn it off and share your life with someone when you’ve been dictating life on your own terms. Also, just in general it’s hard for people to live up to her father and the life she achieved on her own. A lot of men like to feel like they’re taking care of you or they’re your hero and she doesn’t really need that. Also, you kind of get set in your ways especially the older that we get, we acquire all of these standards and prerequisites that haven’t worked for us but we aren’t really willing to let them go. For me and my friends it’s like that’s not my type and I don’t like this. I remember watching Dr. Phil and he was like, ‘Well your type hasn’t worked yet, so you need a new type.’ It’s one of those things. [Mary Jane] is stuck to dating one type of guy and that hasn’t worked out for her but she’s hesitant to open up the field or try something new.

ESSENCE: What makes her so refreshing is how she’s so multi-dimensional. It’s rare that we see Black women being so regular on scripted TV nowadays.
UNION: It’s all those little things that we made sure to add to the character. I’ve played plenty of characters that were career women but very rarely have we gone that extra mile to make her normal. You only see those characters at work when they’re trying to be perfect, you don’t see them on the toilet and it’s like, ‘Do my favorite characters ever poo?’ I love watching Law & Order and we’ve never seen Anita [played by actress S. Epatha Merkerson] take a dump, ever. We don’t see her dancing to her favorite song or drinking wine and just chilling.


ESSENCE: She’s very like every woman at the same time: powerful career woman, good girlfriend, and provider for her family. She’s juggling a lot.
UNION: Yes, but when we look at our friends, they do all that as well and then they might add a kid or a husband to that and it’s like, how the hell are you doing it all? I’m convinced the idea of having it all is a myth. You can have a lot and be happy in some areas of your life, but for everything to be working on full cylinders and to be 100 percent, I’ve given up on that. I make the attempt to string together some perfect moments and just let myself off the hook that I’m not going to hit it out of the park everyday. In Being Mary Jane you see her trying to have it all and failing, whether it be with her friends, her romantic relationships, at her job or with her family. When one thing is going well, one thing is springing a leak.

ESSENCE: At the beginning of the movie there’s a statistic about how 42% of Black women have never been married. Why bring that up and why make Mary Jane a single woman?
UNION: I don’t know. I’m always pleasantly shocked at the controversies that are created. I didn’t read it that way. Seeing it with my group of friends we have some happily married and then we have a lot that are not and we have a lot of women who every part of their life is amazing except for their relationship and their desire to be married and have a family. I don’t think it’s a false claim. Hopefully Mary Jane will eventually be married and it’ll be a different part of her life as it evolves and changes. At one point in our lives as Black women we’re single and maybe we get married, maybe we get divorced, maybe we get rid of and maybe we never get married. At some point we’ve all been single so hopefully this will be something African-American women can relate to.

ESSENCE: And I’d be remiss not to talk about the fashion and the hair. Mary Jane is serving!
UNION: Yes, we try our best. Mara [Brock Akil] set such a high standard on Girlfriends and The Game and I couldn’t be the one who drops the ball because leave it up to me I will be in sweatpants, tank tops and Uggs and perfectly happy. While Mara gives you high fashion, anytime you see Mary Jane in sweatpants, a tank top and Uggs that would be a fight I fought.

Being Mary Jane premieres Tuesday, July 2 at 10:30pm on BET.

Filed Under: Celebrity Spotlight
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