Gabrielle Union believes that too many people are too obsessed with pleasing others. In the new film, Top Five, the beauty stars as Erica Long, a high-strung reality TV star who is obsessed with her upcoming wedding to comedian Andre Allen, played by Chris Rock, who wrote and directed the film. Union says that our criticism of reality star’s constant attention-craving ignores our own tendencies to exhibit the same behavior in our daily lives.
“There’s an addiction to please and to want to be liked and to be validated by other people,” Union explains. “In the film, you have this girl who doesn’t have any quantifiable talent except who she is and that people have decided they like her and her sisters and they are interested in her wedding.
“There’s this addiction to constantly feed the beast. “How do I stay relevant? How do I stay liked? How do I keep it going? How do I avoid unemployment?’ I think that becomes addicting both in our industry and in life. We talk about the chase of fame or this chase of outside validation and wanting to be liked, but I think that’s something everybody can relate to—wanting to be liked and wanting to be chosen.
“With reality TV, [it’s taken] it a step further — to be publicly chosen. But in our own lives, we want to be chosen. We want to be picked. [You] want your boss to say, ‘Good job.’ You want a good evaluation. These are common threads that are addictive. And I think everybody can relate to that.”
Union knows a thing or two the need to please the public. She’s been starring in films since the 90s and is one-half a very high-profile celebrity couple (she married Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade last year.) But she retains that likable goofiness and a certain clear-eyed perspective on fame.
In Top Five, Union gets to tap into a host of insecurities to play the neurotic and demanding Long. Working with a comedy guru like Rock was a positive experience for Union, who says the actor-director gave her plenty of room to showcase her own woefully undervalued comedic timing.
“We started in one place and then he’d say ‘OK, we have what I wrote, let’s see where it goes,’” she explains. For Union, the flexibility Rock showed with his script, characters and ideas made the entire filmmaking process a joy and elevated the film itself.
“He gave us his script, his baby — and he wasn’t like ‘My baby is perfect. I’ve got the most genius baby,” says the actress. “He doesn’t assume that he’s created the next Schindler’s List. ‘Give me real feedback.’ He started that way and he continued the whole process that way. “