While many who have seen her perform mention her beauty, natural ability, and star quality, Gabrielle Union did not set out to be an actress. After an internship in the office of a modeling agency during her college years, Union was invited to get in front of the camera. She gave it a try, and the modeling soon led to small roles in television shows. Those in turn led to small roles in feature films, and by 2000, just a few years after her first television appearances, Union had won a major role in the popular movie Bring It On, starring Kirsten Dunst (1982–). Since then she has been offered significant parts in a steady stream of films, includingTwo Can Play That Game (2001), Deliver Us from Eva (2003), and Breakin'All the Rules (2004). She costarred alongside Martin Lawrence (1965–) and Will Smith (1968–) in the 2003 blockbuster Bad Boys II. Not a bad resume for someone who had never studied acting and who once told Jeffrey Epstein of E! Onlinethat she used to think acting was a "cheesy profession." Her list of accomplishments is even more impressive considering the general lack of decent roles for African American actors. In spite of poor odds, Union has forged a successful career, scoring one good role after another while at the same time maintaining a level head and a sharp sense of humor.
"Hey, I'm just riding this train as long as I can. As long as I'm having fun, I'll do it. When it stops being fun, I'll try something else. Maybe I'll open up a chain of Popeye's Chicken."
A Midwestern gal
Gabrielle Monique Union was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1973, the middle child in a family of three daughters. Her parents, Sylvester and Teresa, both worked as managers for the telecommunications company AT&T; her father also served in the military, reaching the rank of sergeant. Union's early childhood years were spent as part of a rich black community and as part of a large family that had been in the Omaha area for many generations. Her sense of belonging and connection to the community changed when Union was about eight years old. In 1981 her father was transferred, and the family moved to Pleasanton, a predominantly white suburban neighborhood in northern California. Union's mother made sure her daughters received an education in black culture and history, but Union still longed to have the companionship of other black girls. She told Savoy magazine, in an article that appeared on the Gabrielle Union Fan Club Web site, "I wanted the camaraderie. I can tell you anything you want to know about any [black] writer or about any event, but I didn't have the friendships." Her parents felt strongly that their daughters should hold onto family ties, and they often returned to Nebraska during her childhood summers. In spite of the fact that she has spent most of her life in California, Union still considers herself a Midwesterner.
During her high school years Union was a talented, hard-working athlete, excelling at soccer, track, and basketball. She also performed well in the classroom, making the dean's list at Foothill High in Pleasanton. Much of her motivation for success came from her father, who continually pushed her to improve. She recalled toClarissa Cruz of Entertainment Weekly the type of lecture she often heard from her father: "You are the only black person in your whole class. You're gonna have to prove to them every day that you're just as smart, if not smarter. Just as good, if not better. Just as fast, if not faster." This placed twice the pressure on Union to succeed, as she told Entertainment Weekly , "So not only am I trying to beat all my classmates, I'm trying to prove to my dad that I'm living up to his expectations." After graduating, Union returned to her childhood hometown, attending the University of Nebraska in Lincoln (UNL). She went back to California after one semester, however, finding it hard to fit in socially at UNL. She attended one semester at…