After a wildly successful debut season of VERSES & FLOW, LEXUS decided to extend the season by visiting three different cities, kicking off in Chicago, with Philadelphia and Dallas to follow. In each city, a spoken word audition/competition was held, as well as a live performance. In Dallas, LEXUS presented actress/philanthropist GABRIELLE UNION with their prestigious Pursuit of Perfection Award, celebrating her unyielding work both on the big screen and within her community. We spoke with Union about the award, as well as her feelings on returning to Dallas, how a trip abroad impacted her, and how her year is shaping up.
LA: You were recently in Dallas for Verses & Flow Live. Tell us what it meant to receive the LEXUS Pursuit of Perfection award.
GU: I love Dallas, and it's good to be back here on good terms, especially after being here for Game 5 [of the 2011 NBA Finals] wasn't such a good time [laughs]. It's a great city and I have some really good friends here. And as for the award, it's always weird for me to be recognized for being a human being, for doing things that we should do. It's very, very humbling.
But seriously, you've done a lot of good work. Like your work as an ambassador for the Susan G. Komen Foundation and its Komen's Circle of Promise. When speaking with others, though, what are some facts about which people are most misinformed?
There's so many things that women need to know. Every time I speak to a group, the most important thing I tell them is that early detection is key. And that's especially true for women of color, since they're 37% more likely to die from breast cancer than their White counterparts. Another thing I can't stress enough is the importance of being your own best advocate. Be proactive, go for annual mammograms. And if breast cancer is in your family history, don't wait until you turn 40. You should definitely go sooner rather than later.
Talk to us about "A Step For Success" and the impact it's had here in Los Angeles.
It was a group of girlfriends here in LA, made up of bank presidents, teachers and PR professionals that made up "A Step For Success," which is a non-profit organization, in 2004. Our mission was to supplement the slashed budgets of the LA school system, and we started with the Kelso Elementary School here in LA. We've been able to establish music programs, re-stock the libraries with books the kids need, and also set up parent programs. Seeing the changes we've been able to help implement has been incredible, and we hope to continue making a difference in that community.
Speaking of education and philanthropy, you recently traveled to Vietnam as part of the Half The Sky project and made a special connection with some very brave women. Sounds like a life-changing experience.
It really was. As part of the project, one of the two issues I was to focus on was education. The young women there go to great lengths to make sure that they're educated. It was amazing to spend time with them and see what they go through on a daily basis just to be able to read and learn new things. They have a huge appetite for knowledge, but are not given the same opportunities we have in the States to attend school. In fact, it's just the opposite there, where young girls are encouraged to stay at home. It just reminded me that education is not a given, it's not promised and no one is entitled to learn. It's a gift not to be taken for granted, and the fact that they fight to learn is what impacted me the most.
That sounds like an amazing trip. And it's also amazing that you found time to make it, especially with all of the projects you're involved with here. Three films that are either currently in theaters (Good Deeds, Think Like A Man) or rapidly on their way (In Our Nature) is an embarrassment of riches. Congratulations on that. Give us a quick overview of all three.
Well, in Good Deeds, I play Tyler Perry's character's girlfriend, and we have a relationship that is perfect on paper, but pretty stale. Everything is a routine. At a point in the film, my character reaches a crossroads, and has to decide what to do with her life. Does she make decisions based on what is expected, or based on what she wants? It was a great role and while I won't say which conclusion my character reached, I will say that the moral of the film is to follow your own dreams and passions.
Think Like A Man was just fun, and felt like stealing to get to work with all of my friends. "Black Hollywood" is a small, tight circle already, so having a lot of us on one set made it not feel like work at all. It's one of the few sets I've been on where folks would come to work even on days they weren't shooting.
I have to say, I did read the [Steve Harvey] book ["Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man"], and did get together with girlfriends to do interpretive readings of it [laughs]. It's basically common sense, and a reminder of things we already know. As for the film, though, I must say that it's not a chick flick. At all. And most importantly, it's funny. A laugh out loud comedy. Seriously, it's really, really funny!
In Our Nature is an independent film, and it debuted at this year's South by Southwest film festival. It's a story about an estranged father and son who go to their summer home with their significant others. I play John Slattery's girlfriend. It's definitely an awkward weekend, where scabs are pulled off and new injuries pop up in their relationship. So it's basically, where do you go from there? How do you piece it all back together?
Wow. Sounds like an intense film. And yes, you definitely have a lot going on this summer. Even with all of that, what's next for you?
I just signed on for my own sitcom on BET. It's called Being Mary Jane, and it's about a journalist who's also an on-air personality on a CNN-like show. The show will deal with that, as well as being the atypical "black sheep" in her family, which means that she's actually doing well and her family's reaction to that. We're going to start shooting that this summer. It should be fun.
Good Deeds and Think Like A Man are currently in theaters now. In Our Nature is due in theaters this fall.