Gabrielle Union Dishes on Marriage, Race and a Soapy New Season

Gabrielle Union
Being Mary Jane

She has it all…or so it seems. Mary Jane Paul, the drop-dead gorgeous news anchor played by Gabrielle Union on Being Mary Jane, boasts a bodacious bank account, an eye-popping home worthy of a spread in Architectural Digest, and a public forum on cable TV where her insightful, whip-smart editorials–often about life in the African-American community–can inspire a nation. So why is she such a freakin’ mess? In Season 2 of the hit BET drama (2014’s highest-rated new cable series in advertisers’ dream 18-49 demographic), an increasingly boozy Mary Jane is reeling from the news that her ex-lover David (Stephen Bishop)–whom she still wants desperately–is expecting a baby with his new, oh-so-white live-in girlfriend. Last year, in a demented twist, Mary Jane stole some of David’s semen and actually had hopes of becoming pregnant via turkey baster. (We’re not making this up!) Alas, she was ratted out by a close friend and–after a confrontation with David–she returned the purloined swimmers. But the madness will not end there. Union gives us a preview of the soapy shocks to come.

Mary Jane is the queen of self-sabotage. What the hell is wrong with her? And what the hell is wrong with us that we get such pleasure out of seeing her screw up?

We do get off on that! We love seeing rich and famous people be normal. It’s like that section in Us Weekly–”Stars, they’re just like us!”–only this isn’t “Oh, look, Jennifer Lopez pumps her own gas!” This is watching a successful woman crash and burn and somehow feeling better about ourselves in the process. That’s pop culture. On one hand, we feel bad for celebrities when they’re dealing with divorce or scandal. On the other, we’re thinking, “Ha! They’re not any better than me! They’re going through the same damn crap I am!”

Is stealing David’s sperm as low as Mary Jane will go? Or does it get worse?

She will do a lot of insane, irresponsible things this season, though I think many of our fans on social media will be saying, “It’s about time. You go, girl!” Let me just say that she will be having a lot of sex. Even I’m shocked. [Laughs] In fact, after this, I can’t imagine being shocked by anything else she may say or do in the future!

Would you classify your character as crazy?

Well, we’re all a little bit crazy these days, don’t you think? But I believe Mary Jane’s biggest problem is her ego–and the bigger the ego, the harder the rejection. When you have as much pride as she does, it’s hard to comprehend being dumped. It’s turned her into a borderline stalker.

Being Mary Jane
Guy D’Alema/BET Networks

And David knocking up a white woman makes it even worse?

Oh, yes! Being passed over for a white woman is a hot-button issue for women of color. A whole host of emotions come into play. It adds so many more layers to the rejection. If your replacement kind of looks like you, women can say, “Well, he’s really still attracted to me. There’s just some element of my personality he doesn’t like.” But when you’re replaced by someone so dramatically different, you start to question everything–your looks, your very being. Did he ever really love me? Did he see my brown skin as somehow deficient?

Also this season, 40-something Mary Jane will agree to freeze her eggs and document the experience on her cable show. Why parade her insecurities this way?

She’s not thinking. She’s consumed with woulda-shoulda-coulda regrets. She feels she’s a failure if–at this point in life–she doesn’t have a husband and kids. In her mind, the baby David’s girlfriend is expecting should be her baby. And then we drop a bombshell that Mary Jane was once pregnant with David’s child and had an abortion.

You’re in a new marriage to Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade. If you took Mary Jane to lunch, how would you advise her on matrimony?

I wouldn’t even try! Mary Jane is the friend you can’t help. Sure, you can go out and have long, drunken lunches and hear all about her drama, but then you get in your car, head home, and go, “Whew! So glad that’s not me!” Even if I were to say something to Mary Jane, she wouldn’t listen. She has all the answers. She knows everything. She doesn’t want to hear that marriage isn’t the answer to everything. And I can relate.

How so?

As someone who failed miserably at her first marriage [to NFL running back Chris Howard], I was not unlike Mary Jane. I rushed through the vetting process of my “forever” person and ended up making a terrible mistake. Ask women who’ve been divorced what they’d do if they had it to do all over again. I guarantee most would say they’d put a lot more time into picking a partner than they did picking out the dress and the centerpieces.

Who tosses back more red wine, Mary Jane or Olivia Pope?

It’s pretty close. They’re both big guzzlers! But Olivia has a much better reason to drink, juggling a love affair with the president and world peace. Mary Jane just drinks because of David.

Didn’t you come close to landing the lead in Scandal? How are you feeling about that these days? Did things turn out for the best?

Oh, my gosh, yes! Mary Jane is a dream role. I couldn’t ask for a more thrilling, complex, maddening character to play. And, frankly, being on cable and shooting a third of the episodes they do on network TV has allowed me to have a full personal life, a lot of time to do nothing, and the chance to get film work. My hat’s off to Kerry Washington, because she has pulled it off beautifully. I don’t know that I’m that strong or talented to do a network drama and still maintain a quality of life.

Since the success of Scandal, several series now have black female leads. Do you see this as yet another TV trend, or is this the future?

I certainly hope we don’t backslide. We have Nicole Beharie on Sleepy Hollow and Viola Davis on How to Get Away With Murder. Taraji P. Henson was totally wasted on Person of Interest, but now she’s body slamming through every scene on Empire in a tour-de-force performance that has me hooked! Things are working out so well for so many of us. It’s going to lead to even more black women being allowed to take the reins on TV. And it’s about damn time!

Being Mary Jane, Season premiere, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 10/9c, BET