Gabrielle Union: In Demand

Since co-starring in 2000's hit comedy "Bring It On," Gabrielle Union has gained a reputation as one of Hollywood's hottest rising stars.

In her latest film, "Bad Boys II," Union plays an undercover DEA agent who can't let two very important Miami cops — her brother, played by Martin Lawrence, and boyfriend, played by Will Smith — know her assignment.

"She's filled with intrigue," says Union to The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler. As agent Syd Burnett, Union finds herself in deep trouble after investigating a ring of ecstasy smugglers. But with the help of her brother and boyfriend, the three bring the drug smugglers to justice.

And then, there is the personal aspect of the story. Syd Burnett wants to make her relationship with Lowrey (Smith) more public, at least she wants to share that with her brother (Lawrence). But Lowrey is "trying to keep it on the d.l. I think a lot of women have that problem," Union explains, noting that d.l. stands for on the down low.

As for working with Smith and Lawrence, Union says, "I have never laughed so hard in my whole life. I just had the best time for five months."

Even her husband Chris Howard, a former NFL runningback, did not complain as much about the kissing scenes she had with Smith. Union says, "Will is very sweet with his kisses. You also know that Jada is not having too much of that. But [at my other] other movies, he's been just mortified. I don't tell him until the premiere and he's sitting in the theater absolutely shocked and appalled."

The actress has come a long way in her career. She was a college coed when she saw the first "Bad Boys" movie. Union says she never thought, as a student, she would be starring in the film's sequel.

So what is it like to be a young black woman in Hollywood these days?

"Tough. In a word, tough," says Union. "You have to be resilient. You have to develop a very thick skin. And luckily, I have a good group of girlfriends, so we can get together and vent, other actress friends. We vent and complain and kind of pull faith and hope from one another and get out each Monday and hope that it gets better."

She notes that the roles she goes after often vary. Union says, "Sometimes it's not even a role that's specifically written for a woman. It could be a role written for a white man or Asian man, or Latino. If it's something that I feel I could do well, I go after it. Especially if it's nothing that has to be gender or race specific, I'm all over it.

"It's a challenge," she adds. "We're toward the bottom of the peck order. I'm hoping if this movie makes money. Generally people respond to cash. If 'Bad Boys' makes money, they'll see the dollars and cents behind the diversity."

Some Facts About Gabrielle Union

  • Born in Omaha, Neb. on Oct. 29, 1973
  • While in college, Union interned at a modeling agency, later landing a contract
  • In 1996, Union made a guest appearance on episodes of UPN's "Moesha" and NBC's "Malibu Shores"
  • From 1996 to 1999, Union had a recurring role on "7th Heaven"
  • In 1997, the actress had a two-episode recurring role on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"
  • In 1999, Union made her feature debut in the teen comedy "She's All That"; she co-starred in "10 Things I Hate About You"; and she was featured in ABC's "H-E Double Hockey Sticks"
  • In 2000, Union worked on an episode of NBC's "ER"; she appeared in "Love & Basketball"; and the actress made a big impression as a rival cheerleader in "Bring It On"
  • In 2001, Union was cast in the first major African-American role on the NBC sitcom "Friends"; she starred in "The Brothers"; and she had a prominent role in the romantic comedy "Two Can Play That Game"
  • In 2002, Union co-starred in the college-set thriller "Abandon"; and she played Michelle in the comedy "Welcome to Collinwood"
  • In 2003, Union co-starred opposite LL Cool J in the comedy feature "Deliver Us From Eva"; and she was featured in "Cradle 2 to Grave"
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