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Upon landing on the west coast to promote a movie the other week, Gabrielle Union had one mission.
“I’m eating tacos right now so I’m amazing. That was my first order of business. Tacos aren’t that unhealthy,” she says.
Union doesn’t suffer fools and goes after what she wants. The same decisiveness applies to her sense of style, which vacillates from a Dion Lee tuxedo dress to slouchy, easy Marc Jacobs separates to super-sexy, fierce black Kenzo.
“Every day it’s different. I allow myself the freedom to evolve on a daily basis. This morning when I got up, I put on D’s jacket and dope boots. Tonight I’ll wear a low-cut plunging gown to the premiere. Each makes me feel as good as when I’m home with no makeup on, wig off, in some sweatpants and no bra,” says Union. “I feel dope. I feel like whatever my mood is, it’s going to influence what is going to make me feel beautiful. I’m in a good place. I’m in a freakishly confident place.”
She’s come a long way since hitting what she calls “rock bottom” in 2005. Her marriage to Chris Howard had collapsed. Her ABC series, Night Stalker, was cancelled after six weeks. And life was the opposite of zesty and tasty and fulfilling. So Union decided to change things up.
“I wanted to live differently,” Union tells YAHOO Style. “I wanted to be happy and know what that meant. I started working with a life coach. She said, ‘If you don’t know what makes you happy, why would you think someone else knows what makes you happy? You’ve got a lot of work to do on you.’ From those initial steps from learning what made me happy — I started out not turning down any opportunities to travel the world. I went to Egypt. I went to South Africa. I learned about myself. I had such a low sense of self.”
You’d never know it after being around her. “When you’re in Ghana and someone is thanking you for speaking out for being raped — I realized I’m a lot stronger than I ever gave myself credit for,” says Union, who’s been vocal about her sexual assault at age 19 while working at a Payless shoe store.
She’s married to NBA player Dwyane Wade of the Chicago Bulls. And she’s the star and producer of the BET hit Being Mary Jane, now entering its fourth season Tuesday night. Maybe this go-around, the brash reporter she plays on Mary Jane may also find a small semblance of personal happiness, after a series of romantic and professional disasters lead her to move to north to the Big Apple.
“She’s starting over. She’s getting all the assignments no one wants. She’s knocking on the door at 40. There’s no love interest. She’s trying to turn New York into a whole new mind-body-soul experience. And oh, does she,” says Union. “In her mind, she was following some self help book she didn’t actually read. She decides to get a matchmaker to try and change. She’s going a different route with her love life that we are not expecting that’s sweet. You see her be courted.”
Union seems much more poised than the perpetually impetuous Mary Jane. But, says the actress, “I was her a lot of times. It was me 10-15 years ago, not yesterday. I have experienced it or I have a front row seat to it. It’s still very personal to me. We know our problems but don’t do anything about them. That’s where she’s stuck at.”
Her self-reliance is hard-won. The Nebraska native and vocal Cornhusker was raised in California and graduated from UCLA. During her freshman year of college, her dad stopped by her apartment and while she was in class, rearranged the furniture. No, thank you, said Union, only not in those exact words.
“I told him, ‘Then don’t pay my bills.’ I paid for my own college education. I got a student loan. I never want to be under someone’s thumb. They say that when you marry for money, you earn every penny. When you have your hand out and someone has control over whether you eat, you are under their complete control and I never wanted that. That will never be me,” says Union. “I’ve been financially independent since I was 19. Every relationship I’ve been in, I’ve been financially solvent. That frees you up to be interested in someone for who they are. I wanted a partner. I didn’t want a savior. I’ve never been interested in being saved.”