Every Tuesday night, Gabrielle Union creates a slick-talking, about her business boss chick in the title role on BET’s hit series Being Mary Jane. Scrolling through her film catalogue, it is not hard to find a gallery of raw, layered and complex characters stretching back to 2008’s Cadillac Records and even farther.
But, there is a softer side to Gabby and all it took to bring it out of her was a little animation, a microphone and a message that encourages all to simply care and show compassion in the circle of life.
She brings it all out in playing Nala in the upcoming Disney Junior made-for-TV movie, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar, a sequel to the 1994 animated blockbuster The Lion King, which also serves as a walkup to an 2016 spinoff series for the network.
For Union, it’s a dream come true.
“I’m a diehard Lion King fan,” she gushes to EBONY. I’ve seen the show on Broadway like four times. The Lion King parade in Times Square, I’m front and center and the film, I’ve seen a thousand times!”
Come Nov. 22, fans of both Gabrielle and the Lion King will see a soft-toned and comforting side of the busy actress as she enters the pride land.
Set in the African savannah, the movie introduces Kion, the second-born cub of Simba and Nala. Full of ambition and destined to become leader of the Lion Guard, which is usually comprised of all lions. Kion ditches tradition and sets out to rally his friends, a team of the Pride Lands’ bravest, strongest and fastest animals – in Kion’s eyes, as his kingdom entourage.
EBONY caught up with Gabrielle to talk her softer side, the excitement of becoming an executive producer on Being Mary Jane and other movie projects, and her adoration for the Lion King.
EBONY: You are absolutely killing it on Being Mary Jane. How much fun are you having right now and how is it further fueling your creativity and artistry?
Gabrielle: What I love about season 3 of Being Mary Jane and A Meyers Christmas is that I’m executive producing. We started last year with ‘With This Ring’, me and my producing partner, Nzinga Stewart, and it’s just sort of continued with BMJ and A Meyer’s Christmas. Being able to help provide opportunities for so many undervalued talent and actors is huge to me. So just being able to be a more active participant in my future and career has been a huge blessing. Looking for projects that I can not only have a part in, but also play a part in how it’s being brought to life is such a huge blessing.
EBONY: Speaking of 'A Meyer's Christmas' slated for 2016 , can you give our readers a little insight into your character and premise of the movie?
Gabrielle: I play Rachel. She’s one of the four Meyer’s kids- the middle daughter – and she’s gone through a divorce because, not only did they grow apart, but she just stopped evolving. She was one of those people that was ok just being pretty and never tried to be anything more than attractive and an appendage to her husband and he outgrew her. So she’s on this journey of trying to figure out exactly who she wants to be. She’s going to law school, working and struggling financially but finally finding her footing.
EBONY: Ok, so now you're tapping into the world of animation and playing Nala in The Lion Guard. What intrigued you about this project and doing voice over work?
Gabrielle: Sanaa Lathan is one of my closest friends and she did voice-over work on the Cleveland Show and she was like ‘yo, it’s one of the easiest jobs, I can go in my pajamas.’ (laughing). You’re able to create without hair and makeup, so I was like “sign me up!” I’ve done a couple of voices on other projects but this is the first time I had the opportunity to be apart of the whole series, from the film to the show. It’s just a huge opportunity because I’m a diehard Lion King fan. I’ve seen the show on Broadway like four times. The Lion King parade in Times Square, I’m front and center and the film, I’ve seen a thousand times so when the new creation came up, I was like this is huge and they want me to be Nala?! That’s awesome, so I jumped at the opportunity.
EBONY: Your personality comes off very down-to-earth and free-spirited. How much of that were you able to bring to this character?
Gabrielle: It’s for Disney Junior, so I made sure that Nala was very family-friendly. Stern, but loving, compassionate and very caring. I’m a lot softer as Nala than I’ve been in anything, probably, since Cadillac Records. (laughs)
EBONY: Definitely. Lion King is one my ultimate favs, as well. What do you think the universal story of Lion King represents in a human nature?
Gabrielle: The circle of life, we see it play out over and over again. The general idea of you take care of each other, the land and the animals. Everything is biblical and it starts with caring and loving. You give the love, you receive the love and what can happen when we don’t put love first. Whether that be for the animals, the land, and of course, humans.