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, including Two 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! Online that 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 to Clarissa 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 Cuesta College in Southern California, but then dropped out, unsure what direction her life would take. In 1992, while trying to figure out what to do next, she took a summer job at a Payless shoe store, which would become the site of a horrifying incident.
One evening, as Union and another employee were closing the store, an armed man entered the store, emptied the cash register, and sexually assaulted Union at gunpoint. At one point she was able to get the gun, and attempted to shoot her attacker. The gun jammed, however, and the man beat her and then left the store. He later turned himself in, and Union eventually learned that he was an employee of another Payless store who had robbed several stores and previously raped another Payless employee. He was convicted of his crime against Union, and she went on to successfully sue Payless for their negligence and failure to warn employees of the man's prior crimes and his potential danger to other female workers. Traumatized by the attack, Union sought comfort from her oldest friends. She began meeting with a group of other sexual assault survivors, and for many years she gave talks in support of other victims.
Graduating to the silver screen
Union then moved on to complete her college education, graduating from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1996. During her senior year at UCLA, Union sought to add additional credits to her regular class schedule by finding an internship. She became a temporary office worker at a modeling agency, where clients repeatedly mistook her for one of the models. After she graduated, the agency invited her to sign on with them as a model and Union agreed, eager to begin paying off her student loans before entering law school. She soon found herself gracing the pages of publications such as Teen magazine. After modeling for a short time, Union decided to try her hand at acting. Her first audition, in 1996, resulted in a guest part on the television show Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Over the next few years, Union won a succession of guest roles on such programs as Moesha, Sister, Sister, and ER. She had a recurring role on Seventh Heaven, and in 2001 made a landmark appearance on the long-running sitcom Friends. Union, playing a woman who dates both Joey and Ross, had the distinction of being the first minority love interest on the show.
In the midst of her steady television appearances, Union also began winning small roles in feature films. She appeared in a string of teen-oriented movies, including She's All That, 10 Things I Hate about You (both released in 1999), and Love and Basketball (2000). With her role as cheerleading captain Isis opposite Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On (2000), Union crossed over into movie-star territory. She trained hard for the role—gaining new respect for cheerleaders—and brought to the character a sense of uncompromising inner strength. The movie was a big hit, and Union found herself with millions of new fans. Around the same time she scored a lead role on the short-lived television series City of Angels. Union enjoyed her character, a surgical resident in a Los Angeles hospital, but when the series was canceled, her schedule could more easily accommodate film roles. And the roles kept coming, with Union appearing in two major films in 2001. Both films, The Brothers and Two Can Play That Game, featured black casts and dealt with issues of romance, commitment, and faithfulness. In the midst of her busy schedule, Union managed to fit in her wedding to Chris Howard, a former running back for the Jacksonville (Florida) Jaguars. Howard had moved to Los Angeles after his football career ended, in order to be closer to Union. He became a sports therapist and worked for the Fox Sports network.
Union encountered another busy year in 2002, appearing in two films. In Welcome to Collinwood, which stars Luis Guzmán, William H. Macy, Isaiah Washington, and Patricia Clarkson, Union portrays a young blind girl named Michelle. To research the role, she spent time with a blind woman at the Braille Institute. In Abandon, a campus thriller starring Katie Holmes and Benjamin Bratt, Union portrays a friend of Holmes's character. While both movies offered Union a chance to explore new types of roles, she longed for a more significant movie part.
The following year she got that role, playing the title character in Deliver Us from Eva. The film, loosely based on the play The Taming of the Shrew by English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564–1616), tells the story of eldest daughter Eva, who takes over as guardian of her three younger sisters after the death of their parents. She continues to exert control over their lives even as they reach adulthood, much to the dismay of their husbands and boyfriends. The men hatch a plot to stop Eva from meddling in their affairs. They pay a local ladies' man, portrayed by rapper/actor LL Cool J, to date Eva, make her fall in love with him, and then take her out of their lives. Naturally the plan is complicated when the playboy falls in love with Eva, and she with him. While reviewers offered only lukewarm praise for the film, it met with success at the box office, earning close to $20 million. The film's director, Gary Hardwick, offered warm praise for Union in an article in Jet: "She's a wonderful actress, very gifted and with marvelous comic timing. She's sexy, and she can make you laugh or she can make you cry. You want to watch her to see just exactly what she's going to do next. She has all the tools of a leading lady."
Also in 2003, Union appeared in Cradle 2 the Grave, an action movie starring martial arts star Jet Li, rapper DMX, and comedian Anthony Anderson. She also scored a significant role in Bad Boys II, one of the biggest hits of the summer of 2003, in which Union played the role of Syd, the half-sister of Martin Lawrence's character and the love interest for Will Smith's character. Union returned to the romantic comedy genre in 2004 with a starring role in Breakin'All the Rules. Also featuring Jamie Foxx and Morris Chestnut, Rules is a mistaken-identity romp that examines the absurd behavior of those desperate to maintain or get out of a relationship. Joe Leydon listed Union's charms in a Daily Variety review of Rules, writing that "Union once again evidences (as in Deliver Us from Eva ) impressive range and star presence as she comes off smart and sexy, feisty and vulnerable."
Despite her increasingly high profile, Union has retained her down-to-earth personality. She appreciates the salaries she earns for her film roles and the recognition given for her work, but has tried to keep things in perspective. She shared advice for other young actors with Lori Talley of Back Stage West: "Don't just concentrate on the business.... Have a life outside of this and have other interests, because those are the things that keep you working."
Cruz praised Union's "Midwestern-girl-next-door sensibility that sets her apart from the fleet of glamourous starlets that regularly dock on Tinseltown shores." Union and her husband share a modest Los Angeles home with a mortgage that will still be manageable if the film roles suddenly dry up. She told Tom Gliatto of People: "If I had to go work as a social worker, I could still afford it. We squirrel away a lot. I don't live for today. I live for twenty years down the road." While Union prepares for plan "B"—saving money for her post-acting days—many fans and industry insiders look ahead with certainty to the day in the near future when Union will rise to the position of an A-list movie star.
For More Information
Cruz, Clarissa. "And They Call It Buppie Love." Entertainment Weekly (April 25, 2003): p. 70.
Gliatto, Tom. "Union's Dues." People (August 11, 2003): p. 75.
Leydon, Joe. "Breakin'All the Rules. " Daily Variety (May 14, 2004): p. 2.
"LL Cool J & Gabrielle Union Star in Romantic Comedy Deliver Us from Eva. " Jet (February 17, 2003): p. 58.
Talley, Lori. "Proud Model." Back Stage West (March 29, 2001): p. 7.
Epstein, Jeffrey. "Gabrielle Union: Bring It On." E! Online. http://www.eonline.com/Celebs/Who/gu.html (accessed on August 12, 2004).
"Gabrielle Union." Savoy (February 2000). Appears at Gabrielle Union Fan Club. http://www.gabrielleunionfanclub.com/articles/savoy.htm (accessed on August 12, 2004).
"Union, Gabrielle." UXL Newsmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/union-gabrielle
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Union, Gabrielle 1973–
Gabrielle Union 1973–
Gabrielle Union is an actress who never intended to become an actor. Despite the fact that she was not involved in the theater during her high school or college years, and never had academic training in acting, Gabrielle Union has become one of America’s top young actresses. She has had guest appearances on several television series and landed a major role on Steven Bochco’s City of Angels. Union has also appeared on the popular television show Friends, portraying an African-American character involved in a romantic relationship-a first for that particular show. After appearing on several television shows, Union tried her hand at acting for the big screen. After playing some minor roles in several well-received movies including Ten Things I Hate About You and She’s All That, Union was cast as a major character in movies such as Bring It On and The Brothers. Since the beginning of her acting career, in 1996, she has had a steady stream of acting jobs that have revealed her integrity and talent.
Union was born on October 29, 1973 in Omaha, Nebraska, but was raised in Pleasanton, California. Though the small town was populated by mostly white people, Union’s mother made sure that Union and her siblings learned about their Black heritage. As a high school student Union was a member of several sports teams, including basketball, soccer, and track.
After finishing high school, Union attended the University of Nebraska, where she was a member of the soccer team. However, her Pleasanton background caused friction between her and other African-American students. She endured harassing phone calls because other students felt “she was too friendly with white students,” according to Savoy magazine.
After one semester, Union transferred to Cuesta College in southern California. She only lasted a semester before returning home. Disillusioned and full of self doubt, Union found work at the local Payless Shoe Source. Though most of her friends worked there, this store would be the place where Union would go through one of her most painful moments.
One night, while Union was closing the store with another woman, a man entered and pulled out a gun. He cleaned out the register and forced Union into a storage
At a Glance…
Born on October 29, 1973, in Omaha, Nebraska. Education: Attended University of Nebraska; Cuesta College; UCLA, sociology.
Career: Began as model; actress. TV: Moesha, 1996; Malibu Shores, 1996; Saved By The Bell, 1996; 7th Heaven, 1996-99; Goode Behavior, 1996; Sister, Sister, 1997; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1997; Guys Like Us, 1998; Clueless, 1999; Grown Dps, 1999; ER, 2000; The Others, 2000; Zoe, Duncan, Jack & jane, 2000; City of Angels, 2000; Friends, 2001; TV movies: H-E Double Hockey Sticks, ABC, 1999; Films: She’s All That, 1999; 10 Things I Hate About You, 1999; Switch, 1999; Love & Basketball, 2000; Bring It On, 2000; The Brothers, 2001; Two Can Play That Game, 2001.
Awards: Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actress (Bring It On), 2001.
Addresses: c/o Sutton, Barth, and Venari, 145 S. Fairfax Avenue, suite 310, Los Angeles, CA, 90036
area where he raped her. He laid the gun down next to her and once he was done, asked her to hand the gun to him. Union grabbed it and tried to shoot him but the gun jammed. Her rapist then beat her into a bloody mess. Police later discovered that Union’s attacker had been employed at another Payless and had actually robbed other Payless stores and raped another woman. Union sued Payless for not informing its employees of the robberies and won. She then began the long road to recovery. She also encourages other rape victims to overcome their experience and move on with their lives.
She later transferred to UCLA, where she graduated with honors, earning a degree in sociology. In her junior year, Union, who at that time was contemplating law school, took a modeling internship to cover some of her college expenses. Modeling naturally led to acting. Union explained to Jeffrey Epstein of E! Online: “I didn’t want to act. I thought is was a cheesy profession-but when I was a junior, I got an internship at a modeling agency. When my internship ended, they said, ‘We’d be interested in representing you. I was like, ‘If you think someone will pay me to be cheesy, sure, whatever’!” Her first modeling job was for Teen Magazine and her first television roles were on Saved By The Bell and Moesha, both in 1996. She has also appeared on such shows as Dave’s World and the Steve Harvey Show, and also had a recurring role on 7th Heaven.
Although Union initially regarded acting as “cheesy,” she eventually ended up taking the profession very seriously. Union, who uses the set as her “acting class,” admitted to Venice magazine’s B. Jade Landry, “I used to feel like a fraud, and I would have this urge to act, but it just looked so forced.” However, professionals did not view her as a fraud. For example, actress Jenifer Lewis told Gabrielle, “Whatever it is that you’re doing is so completely honest, don’t change a thing,” she recalled to Venice. Furthermore, Union is known for paying attention to detail and is not afraid to ask questions of other actors. Before filming Bring It On, where Union plays the captain of an inner-city cheerleading squad, she and her “team mates” went off to cheerleading camp. Although Union was a cheerleader in eighth grade and an active athlete during high school, she finished the cheer camp smelling of Ben-Gay and with a new respect for the young men and women who are on cheerleading teams. Before playing surgical resident, Courtney Ellis, on City of Angels, Union made attempts to visit some hospitals. However, after the entire cast witnessed a death in a South Central L. A. hospital, she instead studied other medical shows on television and also talked with the medical consultant hired by the City of Angels.
Union modeled herself after veteran actors that she admired. Interviewer B. Jade Landry wrote, “One thing about Gabrielle—she doesn’t find soul in the hoopla of stardom. She wishes to make her mark as a lady of authority and independence, worthy of carrying herself in the manner of her mentor, screen goddess Diahann Carroll.” As a young girl, Union loved to watch Carroll on the dramatic television series, Dynasty. A fan of Carroll’s, Union studied other parts that Carroll has played, including her role as a Vietnam widow and single mother who worked as a nurse in the television series, Julia, that aired before Union was born. Discussing Carroll with Essence magazine, Union said, “She has never compromised herself on screen—ever. From Julia to Dynasty.” In a review of The Brothers in the Los Angeles Times, Union’s style was compared to the “pluck, gravitas, and beauty of actress Alfre Woodard.”
The Hollywood environment is extremely competitive, with numerous actors vying for the few available roles. Although there are even fewer roles for minority actors, Union does not accept any offers without careful consideration. When Union was asked to play the role of a “love interest” on Friends, she hesitated, but her peers urged her to accept take the role, arguing that her participation in this popular show would lead to opportunities for other minorities. Union accepted the offer and had a very positive professional experience. She was particularly impressed by the professionalism of Friends cast members David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc. Union told Venice magazine, “… it was a huge deal for minorities because if felt as if we finally got asked to the dance—and we were able to dance.”
Union, whose favorite past-time is an impromptu game of flag football with some friends in an empty lot rather than an athletic field, is engaged to Chris Howard, a running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Describing Howard as the down-to-earth type, she remarked that what really attracted her to him was the fact that he has his own Scrabble board and Boggle game. In 2000, E!Online’s Epstein asked Union what she wanted to do next—“I want to be Miss USA or Miss America. I would bring the trophy back to Nebraska. My interests are agriculture and corn. Hey, I’m just riding this train as long as I can. As long as I am 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.”
She’s All That, 1998.
10 Things I Hate About You, 1999.
Love and Basketball, 2000.
Bring It On, 2000.
The Brothers, 2001.
Made For Television Movies
H-E-Double Hockey Sticks, ABC, 1999.
7th Heaven, 1996-99.
Saved By The Bell, 1996.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1997.
City of Angels, 2000.
Essence, April 2001.
Savoy, February 2001.
Venice Magazine, www.angelfire.com/celeb/unionfan/articles/Venice.htm
—Christine Miner Minderovic
"Union, Gabrielle 1973–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/union-gabrielle-1973
"Union, Gabrielle 1973–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved February 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/union-gabrielle-1973
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Union, Gabrielle 1972–
Union, Gabrielle 1972–
(Gabrielle M. Union)
Full name, Gabrielle Monique Union; born October 29, 1972, in Omaha, NE; daughter of Sylvester (a high school basketball referee) and Theresa Union; married Chris Howard (a professional football player), May 5, 2001 (separated, October 2005). Education: University of California Los Angeles, B.S. (with honors), sociology; also attended the University of Nebraska and Cuesta College.
Agent—United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 500, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Manager—Jeff Morrone Management, 9350 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 224, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Publicist—Baker/Winokur/Ryder, 9100 Wilshire Blvd., 6th Floor, West Tower, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Actress. Also worked as a model and at a modeling agency. Appeared in television commercial for Neutrogena cleanser, 2004. Previously worked at a shoe store during the early 1990s.
Young Hollywood Award, one to watch—female, Movieline, 2001; Black Reel Award, theatrical—best supporting actress, 2001, for Bring It On; Black Reel Award nomination, theatrical—best supporting actress, 2002, for The Brothers; Rising Star Award, American Black Film Festival, 2003; Cinescape Genre Face of the Future Award nomination—female, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, 2004, for Cradle 2 the Grave and Bad Boys II; BET Comedy Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a box office movie, Black Entertainment Television, 2004, Black Reel Award nomination, best actress—musical or comedy, Image Award nomination, outstanding actress in a motion picture, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2005, all for Breakin' All the Rules; Image Award nomination, outstanding supporting actress in a motion picture, 2004, for Bad Boys II; Image Award nomination, outstanding actress in a motion picture, Black Reel Award nomination, best supporting actress—network/cable television, BET Comedy Award, outstanding lead actress in a box office movie, 2004, all for Deliver Us From Eva; Black Reel Award nomination, best supporting actress—network/cable television, Image Award nomination, outstanding actress in a television movie, miniseries or dramatic special, 2005, both for Something the Lord Made; BET Comedy Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a theatrical film, 2005, for The Honeymooners; Palm Beach International Film Festival Award, best actress, 2006, for Neo Ned.
Katie, She's All That, Miramax, 1999.
Chastity, 10 Things I Hate about You, Buena Vista, 1999.
Shawnee, Love and Basketball (also known as Love & Basketball), New Line Cinema, 2000.
Isis, Bring It On, Universal, 2000.
Denise Johnson, The Brothers, Screen Gems, 2001.
Conny Spalding, Two Can Play That Game, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2001.
Michelle, Welcome to Collinwood (also known as Safecrackers oder diebe haben's schwer), Warner Bros., 2002.
Amanda Luttrell, Abandon, Paramount, 2002.
Evangeline "Eva" Dandridge, Deliver Us From Eva, USA Films, 2003.
Herself, Behind the Scenes of "Deliver Us From Eva" (documentary short), Universal Studios Home Video, 2003.
Daria, Cradle 2 the Grave, Warner Bros., 2003.
Syd, Bad Boys II (also known as Good Cops: Bad Boys II), Columbia, 2003.
Masked woman, Ride or Die (also known as Hustle and Heat), Destination Films, 2003.
Nicky Callas, Breakin' All the Rules, Screen Gems, 2004.
Carmel Boxer, Constellation, Freestyle Releasing, 2005.
Rachael, Neo Ned, Kismet Entertainment Group, 2005.
Alice Kramden, The Honeymooners, Paramount, 2005.
Elise Carter, Say Uncle, TLA Releasing, 2005.
Dorothy, Running With Scissors, Tristar Pictures, 2006.
Daddy's Little Girls, Lions Gate Films, 2007.
Nancy, Perfect Christmas, Warner Bros., 2007.
Television Appearances; Series:
Keesha Hamilton, a recurring character, 7th Heaven, The WB, 1996–99.
Dr. Courtney Ellis, City of Angels, 2000.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Gabrielle, H E Double Hockey Sticks, ABC, 1999.
Clara Thomas, Something the Lord Made, HBO, 2004.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Felicia, Grown Ups, ABC, 1999.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Young Hollywood Awards, 2001.
Sizzlin' 16 of 2002, E! Entertainment Television, 2002.
The 34th NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2003.
Reel Comedy: Bad Boys II, Comedy Central, 2003.
Presenter, 3rd Annual Taurus World Stunt Awards, USA Network, 2003.
The GQ Men of the Year Awards, Spike TV, 2003.
Video Game Awards 2004, Spike TV, 2004.
The Second Annual Vibe Awards, UPN, 2004.
The 35th Annual NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2004.
4th Annual BET Awards, Black Entertainment Television, 2004.
The 36th Annual NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2005.
Presenter, The 2005 American Music Awards, ABC, 2005.
Alice Kramden, Showtime Special: The Honeymooners, Showtime, 2005.
BET Awards, Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
All Shades of Fine: 25 Hottest Women of the Past 25 Years, Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Shannon Everett, "The Competitive Edge," Malibu Shores, CBS, 1996.
Jennifer, "The Tall and the Short of It," Saved by the Bell: The New Class, 1996.
Carly, "Oh Dad, Poor Dad," Dave's World, CBS, 1996.
Tracey Monoghan, "Goode and Scared," Goode Behavior, UPN, 1996.
Tracey Monoghan, "Goode Golly, Miss Molly," Goode Behavior, UPN, 1996.
Tracey Monoghan, "Goode Grades," Goode Behavior, UPN, 1996.
Ashli, "Friends," Moesha, UPN, 1996.
Vanessa, "Guardian Angel," Sister, Sister, The WB, 1996.
Shawn, "Show Me the Money," Sister, Sister, The WB, 1997.
Soul, "The Godfather: Not the Movie," Hitz, UPN, 1997.
Lydia, "Don't Do That Thing You Do," Smart Guy, 1997.
Rebecca, Clueless, ABC, 1997.
Katisha Grant, "The Date," City Guys, NBC, 1997.
Naomi Parson, "The He–Man, Player–Hater's Club," The Steve Harvey Show, The WB, 1998.
Felicia, Guys Like Us, 1998.
Lydia, "Prom Misses, Prom Misses," Clueless, ABC, 1999.
Tamara Davis, "Family Matters," ER, 2000.
Lindsay, "Theta," The Others, NBC, 2000.
Lana, "Too Much Pressure," Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane (also known as Zoe …), The WB, 2000.
Kristin Lang, "The One with the Cheap Wedding Dress," Friends, NBC, 2001.
Voice of Sunny Stevens/Iesha, "Horray for Iesha," The Proud Family (animated), The Disney Channel, 2003.
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC, 2003.
The Daily Show (also known as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Global Edition), Comedy Central, 2003.
"Bad Boys II," HBO First Look, HBO, 2003.
Host, Pepsi Smash, The WB, 2003.
The Sharon Osbourne Show (also known as Sharon), syndicated, 2003.
Tinseltown TV, International Channel, 2003.
Meeshel Anders, "The Benign Prerogative," The West Wing, NBC, 2004.
Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show, syndicated, 2004.
On–Air with Ryan Seacrest, syndicated, 2004.
Last Call with Carson Daly, NBC, 2004, 2005.
Jimmy Kimmel Live, ABC, 2004, 2005.
Voice of Shauna, Family Guy (animated; also known as Padre de familia), Fox, 2005.
Perri Reed, "The Five People You Meet in Hell," Night Stalker, ABC, 2005.
Perri Reed, "Malum," Night Stalker, ABC, 2005.
Perri Reed, "Timeless," Night Stalker, ABC, 2005.
Total Request Live (also known as TRL and Total Request with Carson Daly), MTV, 2005.
106 & Park Top 10 Live, Black Entertainment Television, 2005.
The Early Show, CBS, 2005.
The View, ABC, 2005.
"Sexiest Men," TV Land's Top Ten, TV Land, 2005.
The Tony Danza Show, syndicated, 2005.
Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC, 2005.
Showbiz Tonight, CNN, 2006.
Entertainment Tonight (also known as E.T.), syndicated, 2006.
Busta Rhymes' "I Love My Bitch," 2006.
Also appeared in LL Cool J's "Paradise."
Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 31, Gale Group, 2001.
Newsmakers, Issue 2, Gale Group, 2004.
Black Men, October, 2000, p. 97.
Ebony, July, 2005, p. 172.
Entertainment Weekly, April 25, 2003, p. 70.
Essence, March, 2005, p. 142.
Interview, September, 2002, p. 73.
Jet, May 24, 2004, p. 56; November 21, 2005, p. 24.
People Weekly, August 11, 2003, p. 75.
"Union, Gabrielle 1972–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/union-gabrielle-1972
"Union, Gabrielle 1972–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved February 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/union-gabrielle-1972
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Born Gabrielle Monique Union, October 29, 1972, in Omaha, NB; daughter of Sylvester E. (a military sergeant and business executive) and Teresa (a phone company manager) Union; married Chris Howard (a sports therapist), May 5, 2001. Education: Attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln; University of California at Los Angeles, B.S. (sociology), c. 1995; attended Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, CA.
Fan mail—4570 Van Nuys Blvd., Ste. 171, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403.
Actress in films, including: She's All That, 1999; 10 Things I Hate About You, 1999; Love & Basketball, 2000; Bring It On, 2000; The Brothers, 2001; Two Can Play That Game, 2001; Deliver Us from Eva, 2002; Abandon, 2002; Welcome to Collinwood, 2002; Cradle 2 the Grave, 2003; Bad Boys II, 2003. Television appearances include: 7th Heaven, 1996–99; H–E Double Hockey Sticks (movie), 1999; City of Angels, 2000. Television guest appearances include: Saved by the Bell: The New Class, 1995; Moesha, 1996; Malibu Shores, 1996; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1997; ER, 2000; Friends, 2001; Sister, Sister; Clueless; Good Behavior; Dave's World; Hitz.
AOL Time Warner Rising Star Award, American Black Film Festival's Film Life Movie Awards, 2003.
Although actress Gabrielle Union did not intend to have a career in acting, an internship at a modeling agency in Los Angeles, California, led to a guest role on the television series Saved by the Bell: The New Class in 1995, a number of other television roles, and a promising film career. After appearing in a number of roles in teen movies such as 1999's She's All That and 2000's Bring It On, Union had roles in successful ensemble works, including 2001's Two Can Play That Game and 2002's Deliver Us from Eva. She co–starred in her first blockbuster film Bad Boys II in 2003. Union also had the distinction of being the first African–American actor or actress to appear on NBC's hit situation comedy Friends in 2001, as a woman who dated two of the male characters on the show.
Union is the middle of three daughters of Sylvester E. Union, and his wife, Teresa; she was born in 1972. Union's father served in the military to the rank of sergeant, and later worked as a manager at Western Union and AT&T. Union's mother also worked as a manager at the phone company. Union was born into one of the most famous black families in Omaha, Nebraska, a descendant of Emma Early Bryant–Fisher.
In 1981, Union's father was transferred to an office in Pleasanton, California, where she spent the rest of her childhood. Though she grew up in California, she spent her summers in Nebraska. Her heartland roots remained important to her. Union told Tony Moton of the Omaha World Herald, "From the time we left, it was important to my parents I stay familiar with my family. Basically, I didn't want to lose my Midwestern values. Home is where the heart is, and we are very much Nebraskans, rather than Californians."
In both Nebraska and California, sports were an important part of Union's childhood. She played basketball, softball, and soccer, among other sports. By the time she was in high school, she focused on soccer, basketball, and track. Union's father especially encouraged her in her pursuit of athletics, but taught her a lesson that helped her when she began acting in Hollywood. Union told Clarissa Cruz in Entertainment Weekly, "[My father] said, 'You are the only black person in the 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.' 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 from high school in Pleasanton, Union went back to Nebraska for college. She spent a semester at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, where she played soccer. She then returned to California, where she transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Union also attended Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California.
While a young college student, Union was the victim of a horrific crime. In 1992, when she was 19 years old, Union had a summer job at a Payless shoe store. As she was closing the store one night, a man with a gun came in, robbed the store, and sexually assaulted her. The rapist was an employee of another Payless store and had also raped another female Payless employee. He later turned himself in, and was convicted of the crime. Because Payless had not told its employees of the potential problem, Union was able to win a lawsuit against the company for gross negligence. Union was able to overcome the emotional trauma of the assault with the help of a college rape survivor group, and she later spoke out in support of rape victims after she began her acting career.
Union studied sociology at UCLA, and intended to go to law school after completing her degree. During her senior year, she had an internship at a modeling agency, where she was often mistaken for a model. After Union earned her bachelor's degree, her former employer asked her if she wanted to try modeling. Facing the burden of student loans and still hoping to go do law school, she agreed. This led to an acting career. Though she had no training in drama, Union soon had an agent and was auditioning for acting roles.
On Union's first audition, she impressed the casting agent and landed her first television role: a guest spot on the syndicated show Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Union continued to work in television in the late 1990s, primarily in guest–starring roles on programs such as Sister, Sister and Moesha. In 1996, Union had her first recurring role on television, playing Keesha Hamilton, the eldest daughter of the Reverend Hamilton, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, on the family oriented drama 7th Heaven. She credited her success in acting in part to her photographic memory as well as her outgoing personality.
In 1999, Union landed her first film role in the teen comedy She's All That, as Katie, the mean friend of the lead played by Freddie Prinze, Jr. Many of Union's early film roles were as teenagers, though by this time Union was in her mid–twenties. Despite her age, she was believable in these parts because of her youthful appearance. Other roles Union played in the teen genre included Chastity in 1999's 10 Things I Hate About You and a groupie after Omar Epps' character Q in 2000's Love & Basketball.
Many of Union's teen roles were as mean–spirited girls. In 10 Things I Hate About You—a modern teen version of William Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew—Union's Chastity betrays her best friend Bianca (played by Larisa Oleynik) by stealing her boyfriend. Of her roles as the bad girl in teen movies, Union told the Omaha World–Herald's Moton, "I would rather play a snobby black girl going to school and being [cruel] rather than being a drug dealer's pregnant girlfriend. I don't want to be involved in anything that perpetuates stereotypes of minorities."
In 2000, Union appeared in her breakthrough film, Bring It On. While this was again a teen flick, it was also athletic, focusing on cheerleading, and Union had a leading role. She played Isis, the head of an inner–city cheerleading squad, the Comets. She and her team aspire to make the national competition with their flashy moves despite the lack of funds to get there. Even though Union had been athletic for much of her life, she found that training for the role was demanding. Her hard work paid off when her performance was praised in the press, and Bring It On did well at the box office.
After this teen film role, Union briefly returned to television for her first lead in a television series. She played Dr. Courtney Ellis on the short–lived medical drama series City of Angels on CBS in 2000. Though the show was cancelled after a half season, Union was the primary female and it was her first real adult role. The following year, she had a breakthrough role as the first black character in her guest–starring role on the long–running NBC hit situation comedy Friends. Her character dated two of the male leads, Joey and Ross, on the show.
When Union returned to film in 2001, she appeared in adult roles in several ensemble films featuring primarily African–American casts. In 2001's The Brothers, a film about four men and their relationships with women, Union played freelance photographer Denise Johnson, an independent and self–sufficient woman. Union's Johnson is attempting to convince her boyfriend, a pediatrician named Jackson (played by Morris Chestnut) to commit to a relationship, though this was something he has desperately shied away from as he preferred to play the field. Later that year, Union appeared in the ensemble comedy Two Can Play That Game as Conny, a woman attempting to steal Keith, the boyfriend of the main character and narrator, Shante Smith (played by Vivica A. Fox). Smith declares war to win back her man from Conny, her professional nemesis.
As Union's professional life continued to soar, her personal life was also blossoming. On May 5, 2001, she married Chris Howard, a former professional football player who had played for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The running back became a sport therapist and worked for Fox Sports after his athletic career ended. The pair had met at a party in Jacksonville in 1999.
In 2002, Union had the leading role in another black ensemble comedy, Deliver Us from Eva. As the title character, Eva Dandridge, she played the oldest of four sisters who gave up her life to raise them after the death of their parents in a car accident. When the movie begins, the women are adults, but Union's Eva still rules their lives. The younger sisters' boyfriends and husbands conspire to get rid of Eva by paying Ray (played by rapper/actor LL Cool J) to romance her and get her out of town. They eventually fall in love with each other in this loose take on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.
Union's next film roles were smaller, but more challenging and diverse. In 2002, she played the best friend of the lead character played by Katie Holmes in Abandon, a psychological thriller set at a college. Union was similarly challenged in that year's Welcome to Collinwood, playing a teenaged blind girl named Michelle. The film starred William H. Macy, and her character was the younger sister of a character played by Isaiah Washington. Union researched the role by spending time with a young, blind, African–American girl at the Braille Institute. Union went to the opposite end of the movie spectrum in 2003, when she co–starred in the action film Cradle 2 the Grave, which also featured Chinese martial arts star Jet Li and rapper/actor DMX. This film, which opened at number one at the box office, focused on a jewel theft.
While many of Union's films to this point in her career had been small to medium Hollywood pictures, in 2003, she co–starred in her first Hollywood blockbuster. She had the high–profile role of Sydney Burnett in Bad Boys II, the sequel to the 1995 box office smash, Bad Boys. Her character was the younger half–sister of Marcus Burnett (played by comedian/actor Martin Lawrence) and the love interest of his Miami Police Department partner, Mike Lowrey (played by actor/rapper Will Smith). Union's character is an undercover federal agent on assignment to bust a drug dealer in Miami, whose life and career are put in jeopardy. Union's success in this film was seen as paving the way to bigger projects in the future.
Though a rising starlet in Hollywood, Union remains down to earth, enjoying shopping at Target and sipping Capri Sun juice drink. She insists on living very practically, and remains levelheaded about money. Though her future in acting looks bright, she has plans if her career ever ends, including perhaps getting a master's degree. Of her prospects in show business, Mark Brown, the director of Two Can Play That Game, told Kelly Carter of USA Today, "She just came on the scene and exploded. I think she has a very promising future, certainly as a leading lady. She has star appeal."
Celebrity Biographies, Baseline II, 2003.
Chicago Sun–Times, March 23, 2001, p. 31; September 7, 2001, p. 33; January 29, 2003, p. 39; February 7, 2003, p. 30.
Daily News (New York), February 7, 2003, p. 60.
Entertainment Weekly, April 25, 2003, pp. 71–72.
Hollywood Reporter, July 18, 2002.
Jet, February 17, 2003, p. 58; August 4, 2003, p. 34.
Newsday (New York), July 18, 2003, p. B3.
Omaha World Herald (Nebraska), July 11, 1999, p. 1e.
People, March 10, 2003, p. 37; August 11, 2003, pp. 75–76.
USA Today, September 7, 2001, p. 2E; July 18, 2003, p. 4E.
"Sizzlin' Sixteen 2002," E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/Features/Features/Sizzlin2002/Girls/union.html (December 18, 2003).
"Union, Gabrielle." Newsmakers 2004 Cumulation. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/books/culture-magazines/union-gabrielle
"Union, Gabrielle." Newsmakers 2004 Cumulation. . Retrieved February 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/books/culture-magazines/union-gabrielle