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By Stephanie Frederic, Sentinel Entertainment Editor
Gabrielle Union’s got jokes. The 35-year-old star loves to laugh and doesn’t mind making fun of herself and others - but mostly herself.
When she landed a role in Eddie Murphy’s new sci-fi comedy “Meet Dave,” she thought she’d hit the acting jackpot. But very quickly, it seemed her hot Hollywood career almost hit the skids when she decided to improvise a bit to bring own her brand of humor to the scene.
“I love comedy and that’s where I feel most at home, “ she tells the L.A. Sentinel. Unfortunately, her jokes almost got her sent home for good. (More on that in a moment)
First, let us tell you about the film: In “Meet Dave,” Union plays No.2 cultural officer, a two-inch tall woman from another planet. She and her vertically challenged outer space friends are on a mission to Earth to recover a small object that will save their planet. Their method of travel - a spaceship made to blend in with the masses so they appear in the form of the body of Eddie Murphy (Dave). Union and her co-stars actually live in Murphy’s head and it’s what they discover while on planet Earth 2008 that is quite comical.
“You have to consider we’re entering an Earth that is very influenced by MTV, BET and all of popular culture and sometimes when you look at us from the outside, we’re quite humorous,” laughs Union.
Union was thrilled to be cast in an Eddie Murphy movie and she describes Murphy as an “absolute genius.”
“Eddie Murphy is my all-time favorite. I think each generation has its own all-time-favorite, the late great George Carlin, Richard Pryor. My generation is Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence and now it’s Dave Chappelle and Katt Williams,” she says.
“For me getting to work with Eddie Murphy after working with Martin -- I could probably die right now and be incredibly happy.”
She was happy until the day the Omaha, Nebraska native decided to spread her comedic wings and go off script.
“I guess I was supposed to fake slap Eddie and I kinda got caught up in the take and I really slapped the piss out of Eddie,” she recalls in our one-on-one interview. “I certainly didn’t mean to slap him that hard. I smacked him on the back of his head and everybody - the whole cast and crew just froze and then people started to give me that you’re in trouble now look.”
You know that look. The shocking stare like did she really do that? No one intentionally puts a hand on the movie’s star especially an A-lister like Eddie Murphy. And then her mind started playing tricks on her. “You know, well it was good working with you Gab and now I’m going to be fired,” Union kept hearing those words in her head. “They kept staring as if to say she slapped the piss out of Eddie and it was so not in the script. This will be her last movie - ever.”
The silence continued for what seemed like forever for Union.
“And then all of the sudden Thank God, Eddie starts laughing,” she says. That famous laugh was her saving grace. Gabrielle Union was back in everyone’s good graces - especially Mr. Murphy’s.
“Eddie is about the joke and if it’s funny - he’s like - let’s do it and he apparently thought it was funny.”
And that’s whats cool about Union. She’s fresh, very intelligent and not afraid to be different.
“It’s certainly what came to mind for the moment,” says the courageous Union. “It certainly didn’t feel bold right after I did it. I sort of panicked, like why isn’t anyone laughing. I thought it was hilarious.”
Filmmakers loved it and so too did Eddie Murphy. Now - months later - everyone thinks it funny. So much so, the scene of Gabrielle slapping Murphy upside his head is part of the movie’s big promotional push. It’s in the trailers, on entertainment news shows and the Internet. Director Brian Robbins decided to keep the original take because its clear Murphy was caught off guard - it was an authentic moment for both Murphy and Union.
Not bad for the ULCA honors grad who only ventured into modeling as a way to payoff her college loans. Union has a degree in sociology, but a modeling job led to acting and acting on shows like “Saved by the Bell,” and “City of Angels” - the short-lived all Black hospital drama and TV has now lead to movies. Big movies.
Union is considered to be in the “it” club in Hollywood. She’s seen at all the right parties with all the right people. On any given night, she’s on somebody’s red carpet. These are tough economic times for everyone and she knows she’s in a great position right now. Her phone is ringing - even now.
“I’m extremely blessed and lucky to work and book jobs,” she says. “There are people who are way more talented, way better looking who cannot buy a job right now. I feel blessed I work, my bills are paid and I haven’t lost my house.”
As for what she would do if she wasn’t acting? “I’m not the damsel in distress actress, if this doesn’t work out, I ain’t got nothing.” Union reminds us she has a degree and she’s not afraid to use it.
“I love the work my Mom does as a social worker and the work she’s doing in the community. I would love to do that or work for a non-profit organization.”
But in the meantime, Union’s slate is pretty packed. Next up: the Etta James story in “Cadillac Records” starring Jeffrey Wright, Beyonce’ Knowles, Idris Elba and Mos Def. “What the movie “Ray” did for Ray Charles’ legacy and finding and developing his fans, we hope this film will help find new Blues fans.”
As for her recent controversial photo spread in ALLURE magazine, a gorgeous Gabrielle sitting not quite nude, but covered in just the right places with flowers, Union says she’s received mixed reviews. “For most men, they thought it was a copout saying, ‘how ya goin’ to say it’s nude and we can’t see anything.”
“I don’t personally have any hang-ups about my body and about being nude - so it’s more about the respect for my parents and them as working people and the job they do. You can’t be a moral authority for somebody else’s kids when yours is running around naked,” Union says.
And in her typical joking manner - she’s makes her point very clear, “You’re not ever going to see my kibbles and bits.”
You can see Gabrielle Union all covered with Eddie Murphy in “Meet Dave” in theatres July 11.