Four million viewers got a taste of BET’s first hour-long drama series Being Mary Jane, from Girlfriends creators Salim and Mara Brock Akil, last summer with a TV movie. Now Gabrielle Union returns on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. for Jane‘s first full season as the titular Atlanta news anchor who struggles with her loved ones (including a friend who tries to kill herself), romance (she’s torn between a married suitor and a playboy), and career (contending with journalistic ethics in the face of a Katrina-like disaster). Not exactly lightweight fare.
“I’ve shot a lot of stinkers, and you’re just like, ‘Eh,'” admits the star. “But this one, every day I was like, ‘This is so good.'” She adds, “It’s authentic and it’s brutally honest. You’ll see characters that within an episode you may love, you may hate, you may cry with.”
EW talked to Union, who just got engaged to NBA star Dwayne Wade, about playing such a complicated woman and Jane’s many sex scenes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this role come to you?
GABRIELLE UNION: When I was auditioning for Scandal [Union was up for the role of Olivia Pope which ultimately went to Kerry Washington], Shonda Rhimes had us all drink the kool-aid. She created such an amazing world for us to even try. Just the material we were able to work with, the way she treated us. I was just like, “Life is too short. I’ve invested very well. I don’t need to deal with bulls***. I’m not willing to settle for anything less than the way I was treated by Shonda Rhimes.” Cut to here comes Mara with this amazing script that I was like, “This is stuff I’m good at. Like this is in my wheelhouse. This is right up my alley and it’s so freaking good.” I had met with Salim a couple years before that on a different project and we ended up talking for a couple of hours. He was like, “When we get the right thing, it’s going to be magic.” And here it is.
What drew you to Mary Jane? She’s a complicated lady who can even be unlikable at times.
She’s not a caricature. That was the first thing. I wanna see people who I know reflected accurately and authentically on screen. The thing about her is she doesn’t get it right—she doesn’t even get it right like 50% of the time which is life! Most people are jerks on Tuesdays and then Wednesdays they can be saints. That’s the reality of human nature but it’s very rarely reflected accurately on screen.
This show is pretty sexually frank, like sex scenes at the gym.
Oh yeah—sex at the gym. I’m masturbating at my desk at work.
Are you a modest person?
No not at all. I felt like Marilyn Chambers towards the end with the sex scenes. Everyone’s like “Clear the room.” And I’m like, “Look honey. You can google it on the Internet. Let’s just shoot it. We’re losing the light.” If you’re excited about seeing my butt, you have bigger issues.
Speaking of that, you have not aged. Have you made a deal with the devil? What’s your secret?
Oily skin I think is not generally thought of as a blessing but has turned out to be embalming fluid basically and I think has kept me youthful looking. Not so great when you’re 15 but when you’re 41, it’s coming in handy!
Mary Jane is having an affair with Andre, a married man. Will that continue to get complicated?
It will absolutely continue to get complicated. And then there’s always David, otherwise known as Never Answer #1. He’s the guy who you’re supposed to marry and supposed to love and that goes in and out all season. You know what the right answer is but she just fights it. It kind of coincides with her work ups and downs and her friendship ups and downs. You really get to see into [Mary Jane’s] world and then those worlds begin to live on their own.