Gabrielle Union might not look like it, but her Hollywood career has spanned nearly 20 years.
The ever-youthful actress made her name playing supporting characters in movies like She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, Bring it On and Love & Basketball but has gone on to appear in dozens of movies since, as well as leading her own TV show, Being Mary Jane.
Union is set to return to television in the Bad Boys TV series, alongside Jessica Alba, but before that, she’s proving her action chops once more in new action-thriller Breaking In.
The 45-year-old plays mother Shaun Russell, who’s returning to her late father’s home in order to sell it, only to have violent robbers take the house – and her kids – hostage. Of course, Shaun wasn’t going to keep mum, so she takes them on, John McClane style herself. The gripping film follows her as she attempts to thwart the criminals single-handedly.
Yahoo Movies spoke to Union about how the film empowers women, wanting women of colour to appear in Middle-earth and when we can expect her Bad Boys TV show to air…
Yahoo Movies: It feels like the biggest injustice that it’s taken so long for you to lead a movie like this – why has it taken so long?
Gabrielle Union: I think after I did Bad Boys II and Cradle 2 the Grave I just knew that I was the action hero of the future and that was it and I didn’t do another one until Breaking In. So it’s a return to a genre that I absolutely love.
I think we assume that action heroes and women capable of doing them are in their twenties so I love that we’re reimagining what a superhero can be, and it really celebrates the superhero that lives in all of us.
I love that Breaking In only shows you and your daughter really doing anything to save the day. Does it feel important to you to show that women are as capable as taking care of themselves as men who dominate this genre?
Yes, now that I’m at this stage of my life I’m around more caregivers and people over 40 who are getting pushed out of their jobs. There’s also this notion that you’ve got to “lean in” and create more space for her younger sisters, but we never really talk about women over 40 who, sometimes, their worlds start to shrink and they start to be seen as not as capable, viable or sexy.
And we’re always underestimated, so I thought what a time, what a perfect time to showcase how a mom, how a woman over 40 can be the hero that she pays to see on the big screen in her normal life but is capable of doing that in our own daily life.
Whether anyone notices amongst our families, or co-workers, or hopefully millions of viewers who see this film, we’re still kicking ass, taking names and not going anywhere. So please give us more movies to show that, and if not, all good, I’ve got a production company to do that. We will create it.
This year feels like a stellar one for black-led films with your film, Black Panther, Proud Mary, A Wrinkle in Time and others. Obviously, plenty have paved the way for this but does it feel like a watershed moment for black cinema?
I think we as a black community are so used to our excellence it is more about getting other people to catch up with us. We’re like: ‘We’ve been amazing forever! Y’all are just late to the party but the water’s warm, come on in, strap up we are ready to continue our excellence!’
I’m just continuing on a very long road that has been paved for me, not just this year but for decades, and centuries of us being excellent. Hopefully, I won’t drop the baton. That’s a lot of pressure.
You’re a producer on the film and have said you want to ensure women over 27 get to work. Are there any people, in particular, you plan on working with in future?
Oh, my god, can you imagine me, Taraji P. Henson, Regina Hall and Regina King and Viola Davis if we were all superheroes? And we create our own mythology, or if we show up in Middle-earth with the hobbits?
I don’t think we’ve tapped into expanding our minds to include people of colour and women over 40 in certain tentpole movies. I want to be everywhere, I want to do more action movies and put more people to work.
I want to work with people we haven’t even discovered or even Cecily Tyson, she’s still killing it! She’s like late 80s/90s, I want to get a meeting, though I hear she’s booked for the rest of the year! I would love to continue to put super talented people to work and also find new talent out there, but I don’t want to put any limits on it.
Anyone out there who is trying to kick ass I’m trying to find you and work with you and I’m open. Big names, small names, still living in your mama’s basement, I believe in you.
And finally, what’s the latest on the Bad Boys TV show?
It’s awesome, at this point it’s up to NBC and hopefully we make it on air. I’m just really lucky that Jessica [Alba] wanted to come play with me and kick ass with me in her downtime. She runs a billion dollar company and she’s about to give birth to her third human being, so I was like “ahh, I know you’re a little busy but can I add a little bit more to your plate?”
It’s just so empowering to be at work with such a boss and for us to be executive co-producing and be a part of the entire creative process. It’s a different space for both of us and we’re just really excited, we have high hopes, and it just looks freaking kick-ass so hopefully, NBC agrees and you’ll see us on the fall line-up.
Breaking In is in cinemas this Friday, May 11