Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union's dynamic partnership: “You create the change you want to see and bring on people who believe the same thing,”
Gabrielle Union & Jessica Alba take charge of their own ‘super-hero origin story’ within the Bad Boys universe
By Natalie Jamieson
“It was always going to a female partner, no one suggested otherwise,” Gabrielle Union states about her role in creating and starring in LA’s Finest.
“The only person that everyone agreed on was Jessica Alba; it was a matter if you could get Jessica Alba.”
Thank goodness Union got her, and the pair are not only starring as cops in Bad Boys’ television spin-off, L.A.’s Finest, but they are also calling the shots as executive producers. “For me, there's no point in getting a seat at the table and then slamming the door shut, locking it behind me and standing in front of it like, 'no more women!'” continues Union, getting into her stride. “I was trying to further the movement rather than having a personal moment.”
“It's funny, people were like 'oh, you know, because you were an actress it must have been so much easier for you to start a business' and I was like, 'all it did was open the door for late night drinks with creepy people who wanted to 'invest' in my company but that's about it'“ Jessica Alba
Trouble was, Jessica Alba had been more focused on business than acting of late, having co-founded Honest Beauty in 2012: And just in case you wondered whether being a globally famous actress who starred in Dark Angel, or Sin City gave you an edge in a start-up skincare business, then think again.
“Nobody took me seriously,” Jessica Alba tells Electra. “It's funny, people were like 'oh, you know, because you were an actress it must have been so much easier for you to start a business' and I was like, 'all it did was open the door for late night drinks with creepy people who wanted to 'invest' in my company but that's about it'. Other than that, nope, not at all, doesn't work for you at all.”
Instead, traditional hard work, and I sense being a decent person, appears to have paid off; Honest Beauty has reportedly been valued at $1billion, and as a bonus, L.A.’s Finest has already secured a second series.
“So actually, working on this and working with Gab was a nice break,” says Alba. “It was really fun. I get to run around and take down the bad guys, it was like ‘yes, I need this break’.”
“One of our biggest pet peeves is like they'll want to back up (the car) for us. Like we couldn't possibly reverse.” Gabrielle Union
This being a police procedural, there are one or two car chases, but doing some stunt driving was part of the fun for Union and Alba; the latter especially enjoying ‘peeling off at speed’ as the driver and occasionally freaking Union out in the process.
“One of our biggest pet peeves,” though adds Union, “is like they'll want to back up (the car) for us. Like we couldn't possibly reverse.” Alba adds that she thinks if people “are not as familiar with women who know how to do stunts, they just had to get schooled”.
If you remember Union’s Syd from Bad Boys II, starring alongside Will Smith’s Mike and Martin Lawrence’s Marcus, then you may recall a few plot niggles concerning her character. “The last time we saw Syd,” explains Gabrielle Union, “we knew that she's Marcus's little sister and Mike Lowry's lover and she has some kind of job with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) that she clearly had to be capable enough to get, but then magically she can't save herself, and her brother and her lover have to come save her.”
The age-old Hollywood damsel in distress scenario was clearly still alive and well in 2003. “We have no clue about her,” adds Union, “so I thought Syd should get a do-over.”
Which is what she set out to do with L.A.’s Finest, with the backing of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who also happens to be behind 2020’s Bad Boys for Life. However, Syd won’t be appearing in that movie, and neither will Smith & Lawrence be extending their side of the Bad Boys world into Union & Alba’s TV show. With L.A.’s Finest though, they did get a “dope big-budget and support of the studio” as Union puts it, and crucially this time the women “get to do the saving”.
“I sort of look at this first season as a super-hero origin story,” says Gabrielle Union, “and she (Syd) deserves that, she probably deserved it in (Bad Boys) II but all the better to create your own show so you can slowly unspool it.”
We try to bring as many female directors on as possible, but because there are so few, they are booked! They are on all the shows and they are obviously really good at what they do because they are in high demand.” Jessica Alba
The joy of creating a production from scratch also meant that Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union got to do things their way. Union says that Alba was one of the first people she told “that we (Union & husband Dwayne Wade) were trying to have a baby via a surrogate and having so many stops and starts and heartaches, you don't really share that with everyone”, and then when her baby daughter arrived, she leant on her co-star even more.
“Normally, the way that our show works,” adds Union, “is that I have storylines that she's (Alba’s) not a part of, she has storylines that I'm not a part of, and then we have the things that we do together. But if I'm not there, it's all on Jessica and that's where the real intersectional feminism comes in.” She goes on to say that she ended up having a longer maternity leave than originally planned, “and when I came back to work, they didn't throw it all on me, they slowly introduced me back into the fold and she (Alba) held that down. That's why you choose a woman like Jessica Alba.”
The pair also pushed to get more women behind the scenes on their production, including that elusive creature who is rarely spotted in the wild, the female director. “We try to bring as many female directors on as possible,” says Jessica Alba, “but because there are so few, they are booked! They are on all the shows and they are obviously really good at what they do because they are in high demand, so we try to get as many as possible and then we are lucky and fortunate enough that a few got to come back.”
“But it's a competition to get women,” continues Gabrielle Union. “Ava DuVernay, she creates this grid for when people are like 'I want to hire a woman but there just aren't any' she's like 'bullshit, hold on’. I reference Ava's list and I call all of my friends who are also executive producers, as well as talent, to ask 'who did you love, who kicked ass, who was amazing' but everyone is making these calls.
“This is a truly great time to be a creative and there’s never been more opportunity but it's also a great time to start to promote some women and people of colour who have remained junior in the same way we take a chance on guys, let's take a chance on more women.”
“I think in order for there to be change,” says Jessica Alba, “it's not only, not to have the same expectations that you have for women as you do for men because obviously it's just not fair and it won't be fair until the other half of the population, not just women, are championing women. But men need to also be comfortable with women coming in and sharing in the dialogue, in the power, and having a seat at the table and a voice, so men have to also be comfortable with that.”
The pair remain optimistic though; “You create the change you want to see and bring on people who believe the same thing,” states Gabrielle Union. “It's a lot easier and a lot cooler. You lead by example so hopefully other productions follow suit and make sure every production is family friendly and then you actually allow people to be active parents, or active singles, or see their pets, but you approach the creation of art as a truly collaborative effort and a respectful effort where you value everyone's time and everyone's abilities and you also do it as efficiently as possible, so people can have a frickin' life.”
L.A.’s Finest premieres on Wednesday 10th July at 9pm on FOX.