On the surface, Gabrielle Union found it difficult to relate to her character i The Inspectorate.
Inez French is a corrections officer who kicked her son (Jeremy Pope) out of the house when he was a teenager for being gay. (The play is based on the true story of its writer-director, Elegance Bratton, who tried to win back his mother’s love by enlisting in the Marines.)
Union herself is an outstanding advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, consistently supporting her stepdaughter Zaya (whom she helped raise with husband Dwayne Wade), who came out as transgender in 2020.
“At first, I was like, ‘I live differently. What did I ever do to make anyone think I could pull this off convincingly?,” Union told us in a virtual interview where she was joined by Bratton and Pope.
Ultimately Union found a connection with Inez through some reflection on her self-image and identity.
“I had to find the common ground with her. And that common ground is all the things we are willing to do to be seen, to go much further to check, relate, accept, validate for white supremacy. What are we willing to gamble with? And for me, I haven’t been gambling with my kids, but I’ve been gambling with all kinds of things.
“I mean not to make light of it, but I gambled with my upper lip. For many years I want to smile literally [while hiding my lip]. Because I thought if I let my whole lip be seen, they would know I was Black. … As illogical and silly and stupid as that is, I tried to minimize my Blackness. I tried to constantly change the shape of that dual consciousness. I had multiple personalities. I wanted to constantly change who I was, depending on the room, if I thought it was going to give me so far ahead. All the things you do on behalf of man, all the things you do for Jesus, all the things you do for anyone who you think will consider you worthy, you consider yourself good enough , you value all the opportunities you have. life, wealth, you will do anything. You will exchange for anything. And for some of us children. And for me, it was my soul many times. So when I realized that common ground, it’s dark. It’s very dark and disturbing.”
Union, 50, began her career with roles in popular but mostly white comedies She is all that (1999), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and Bring it on (2000). She also became the love interest of Ross (David Schwimmer) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) in a 2001 episode of Friends.
In the following years, however, the actor began to land more prominent parts in films with mostly Black casts. Those included The Brothers (2001) by Morris Chestnut and Bill Bellamy; We were delivered by Eva (2003) opposite LL Cool J; Bad Boys II (2003) with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence; and All the Rules were broken (2004) alongside Jamie Foxx.
Credits include highlights from recent years Think Like a Man (2012), Top Five (2014), Birth of a Nation (2016), Break In (2018) and the BET series Being Mary Jane (2014-19).
Now, the Union is drawing early awards for its punitive role The Inspectoratewhich could mark a career-best performance.
“I think that hurting people are hurting, and that healing people have the ability to help others heal,” Union says in the film’s message. “You just have to want to do different things and love in a different way and you have to know that you’re not completely missing anything in love.”
The Inspectorate opens Friday.
Watch the trailer: