By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
On Mother’s Day earlier this year, the undeclared king and queen of South Florida prepared for a video selfie.
“Happy Mother’s Day!” they began on the clip uploaded to Twitter.
On the right is actress Gabrielle Union, holding the phone steady in the back seat of a car as it speeded along. She will turn 46 in October, but you’ll be excused for thinking she’s half that age. She’s wearing a white ball cap and collared sleeveless denim top, her gold hoop earrings occasionally catching the sun.
“All right, listen up, Miami,” she begins. Next to her is Dwyane Wade, by day the point guard for the Miami Heat but here taking on the role of No. 1 fan to his wife.
Union explains that they have bought out two Aventura showings of her recently released movie, Breaking In, which would soon go on to do far better at the box office than anyone predicted.
Near the end of the video, there’s an explanation of how to get the free tickets. Wade starts, “All you got to say is,” and then the two of them continue in unison, “the Wades sent you.”
It’s hilariously corny and choreographed, like an old-school answering machine message. You watch and forget they’re famous, feeling more like a selfie shot by that darling couple down the street. The video is 37 seconds of proof of why Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade have become the first couple of South Florida.
There’s a good chance that up until this point you’ve been wondering where you know the name Gabrielle Union. Chances are you’ve seen her in some things, perhaps lots of things, even though she was never really planning to be an actress.
Union grew up in Omaha until she was 8 years old, when the family moved to Pleasanton, Calif. Union ended up at Foothill High School, where you’d no doubt recognize faces from the yearbook. During high school, Union dated Jason Kidd, the future NBA all-star. They broke up right before Union’s junior prom.
Union counted Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter (before she was just Beyoncé) among her childhood friends. “Beyoncé is quiet and reserved, very Southern, sweet and polite,” Union told People. “If someone told me that girl was gonna go on stage and do the kind of performances that she does, and be so fiery, and this quintessential and iconic entertainer, I’d be, like, ‘Yeah, okay!’”
During college at UCLA, Union landed an internship at a modeling agency, something she saw as a way to build up experience before heading off to law school. But then the agency started booking her in modeling shoots. Then they figured out she could act.
She got speaking roles in Family Matters, Moesha, and Malibu Shores. She appeared in multiple episodes of 7th Heaven and Saved by the Bell: The New Class. She landed bit roles in big shows – Friends and ER – and starring roles in shows that came and went – City of Angels and Sister, Sister.
She was, by the early 2000s, building up an impressive IMDB page of mostly one-off appearances, something she never expected from growing up in Nebraska.
For most of her own career, Union was often the name that ran deep in the credits, like the sister of Martin Lawrence’s character in Bad Boys II and a supporting role in The Birth of a Nation.
But this year? After 25 years in the business, and at an age where many women in Hollywood say roles are scarce, things are on the upswing for Gabrielle Union.
If you’re wondering how she met Dwyane Wade, it is, as you’d expect from that cute couple down the street, a funny story.
Union had a run-in with Prince, famous for his weird run-ins with celebrities, and this one was certainly just that. As she met Prince at a party, she noticed passed appetizers go by. Struggling with something to say, she panicked a little. “If I had known there was food, I would’ve brought a tuna casserole,” she said, according to the story she recounted on The Tonight Show. “I do make a great tuna casserole, but why would I say that?”
But it was during that same party that she shared an elevator with Dwyane Wade’s brother, Donny, who suggested the two of them should get together. Up until then, Union’s romantic past had been troubled. She met her first husband, Jaguars running back Chris Howard, at a party in 1999. He proposed to Union unexpectedly one day, she says in her book, We’re Going to Need More Wine. Howard had the ring in one hand and a KFC potato wedge in the other, one of many clues she says she should not have ignored. She says in the book that he cheated on her the next day, the first in a long line of sorrows from a “prolific cheater.”
She had been divorced two years when she met Wade in 2007. She has said she didn’t take him seriously at first, and they didn’t start dating until two years later. But they became best friends quickly, she says, and she started calling him “D.”
“We were talking about something completely unrelated to us, and I looked at him and I just knew: I didn’t want to be on this planet without him,” Union writes in her book. “I didn’t want to not bear witness to him succeeding. I chose him.”
They married in August 2014 at an $11 million Miami chateau that appears to float in the middle of a five-acre moat-lake. The locale was kept quiet beforehand, but a documentary-style video was later uploaded online, with flashes of the NBA and Hollywood stars who attended and a performance by John Legend. It’s fairytale-like but also unique: men wore black and women wore white because the couple wanted them to feel like they were all sharing in the day.
The newlyweds honeymooned in Tanzania and the Maldives. Then Union became stepmom to Wade’s three kids. But she also wanted one of her own. That began a string of heartbreaking miscarriages and failed IVF treatments, she writes in her book. “For three years, my body has been a prisoner of trying to get pregnant — either about to go into an IVF cycle, in the middle of an IVF cycle, or coming out of an IVF cycle,” she writes. “For as long as I can remember now, Dwyane and I have lived in a state of extended expectation.”
Meanwhile, Union’s career seems to have taken a turn. Made for just $6 million, Breaking In scored $43 million worldwide. Reviews ranged from mixed to awful, but her first starring movie role earned Union praise from critics who wondered why she wasn’t headlining more. The New York Times explained: “This actress knows how to mix strength with a touch of uncertainty — a worried look or a slight hesitation — to make her character all the more sympathetic as she battles the bad guys.”
She has also shot the TV pilot of L.A.’s Finest, a spinoff of the Bad Boys movie franchise. She co-stars alongside Jessica Alba, and after 20 years, it just might be the role that finally puts her name at the top of the credits. For now, though, NBC, is still mulling whether it’s ready.
“Hopefully L.A.’s Finest will see the light of day and people get used to seeing me kicking butt,” Union told her hometown paper, the Omaha World-Herald. “Just female empowerment oozing out of the big screen and small screen to the sound of applause.”
And in this era, who better to be the queen of South Florida than an actress, stepmom, and wife who oozes female empowerment?