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An accidental path to stardom

On her way to law school, 'Eva's' Gabrielle Union stumbled into acting. Film work still surprises her.

February 07, 2003|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

For Union, that's literally so, as she was originally cast as one of the supporting sisters to Berry's lead in "Deliver Us From Eva." Once Berry won her Academy Award, with the requisite hike in her fees, she dropped out of the project, making way for Union to take over the title role.

"Once she started really getting paid, she was more than the entire budget of our movie," Union says. "I was the economical, next-best-thing, blue-light-special choice.

"Let me just say," she quickly adds, "the fact that we're still talking about firsts -- first Oscar, first love interest on 'Friends,' whatever -- that's a sad reality. Those questions always come up, and the reality is we shouldn't be in a position where we're having these conversations anymore."

Off-handedly mentioning the LSATs, Union seems surprisingly comfortable with the idea of a life outside acting. She gives her husband, Chris Howard, partial credit for her grounded outlook. A former player with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, Howard had his career cut short by an injury and has since returned to college to finish the degree he abandoned for the pro draft.

"When he was playing, I was just the wife," she says. "We were living in an apartment in Jacksonville, Florida, and when I wasn't shooting, my days were spent at Target or thinking about curtains and bed ruffles. It's good to have a reality outside the movies. And he makes sure my head stays appropriately shrunken."

His injury also gave her a new perspective on her own longevity, she says. "To see someone work so hard for something and still have it taken away, you just never know what might happen," she says. "Who knows what could be my equivalent to a torn ligament? I've already heard people say, 'She's like a younger Gabrielle,' and I'm thinking, Wait, I'm still here!"

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