Gabrielle Union Celebrates Vegas Magazine Cover in Vegas

On “Groomzilla” Dwyane Wade and Saying Yes to Multiple Dresses

And how about the wedding? “Well, it will be smaller than the one in the movie, but it’s definitely not toned down, per the wishes of my groomzilla. D’s very involved in every detail. My dude is having a princess moment. Me? I did the wine tasting, and I’ve said yes to the dress. In fact, I’ve said yes to a few of them. That’s the joy of getting married to a man who loves clothes and wardrobe changes: You can have more than one dress.”

Apparently you can have more than one home, too. Union’s bi-coastal life involves nonstop travel back and forth between Los Angeles and Miami, where she lives with her fiancé, then on to Atlanta, where she films the popular BET series Becoming Mary Jane, which has been renewed for a second season. Her character is a successful newscaster who, like the actress, is coping with the impossibility of having it all.

On Feeling Like an Outsider and Hitting Rock Bottom

By her own admission, from a very young age Union was determined to have everything she could, at any cost: “My dad told me, ‘You gotta be bigger and badder and better than the next woman, just to be considered even.’” As one of just a handful of African American girls at her high school in Pleasanton, California, she grew up feeling isolated. “I felt like I had to become a chameleon,” she says, acting one way with her white friends and another for people in her community. “Even as a popular girl, I was always looking through the window and very afraid of being exposed. I just wanted to assimilate and fit in.”

But as Union was making her way in Hollywood, winning parts in movies such as Bring It On and Ten Things I Hate About You, her self-described “slick mouth” and penchant for “bagging on others” were earning her few friends in the business. Her outspokenness damaged her reputation, which was further compromised by a perfect Tinseltown storm. In 2005, her first marriage, to NFL star Chris Howard, began its descent into divorce; her network series Night Stalker was canceled; her agent’s phone was no longer ringing off the hook; and she felt she had hit rock bottom. “I felt destroyed,” she says. “I literally went under the bed with my dog and just stayed there.”

The Strong Women Who’ve Shaped Her

Union also has high praise for Viola Davis, an actress who mentored her, teaching her that she had a voice—and how to steal a scene: “We were on this medical series together, City of Angels. She played a nurse, and I would watch her file papers. And she was mesmerizing. Her filing papers was pulling focus from Blair Underwood doing surgery. She is incredible.”

Union’s transition to activism was fully realized when her best friend from high school, Kristin Martinez (aka Sookie), died at 32 from metastatic breast cancer. “At the end, Sook turned to me and whispered, ‘Don’t let my death be in vain. I’m passing the baton. Don’t drop it, bitch.’” Union promised her BFF that she wouldn’t and, true to her word, she became a Circle of Promise national ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, speaking up all over the world for women living with breast cancer.

Mention her mother, Theresa, and Union’s voice gets soft, her eyes teary. “For years I didn’t get her,” she says. “But it was my mom who got up the courage to walk away after 30 years of an unhappy marriage. She handled her divorce with dignity, and she never asked my father for a dime. As her daughter, I asked, ‘Why? You’re gonna start over?’ And she said, ‘I went from my father’s house to your father’s house. I want to get my own house.’ I learned a valuable lesson: Take the high road and move on.”

And that is exactly what Union has done.