“The Perfect Holiday” is a Christmas comedy that pairs Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut. And after filming it, the handsome and dashing Chestnut had this to confess about playing somebody attracted to Union, 35:
“Not a lot of acting called for there,” he laughed. “I mean, she’s stunning, right?”
But looks aren’t all she is known for. Union, a friend of Oprah and a Hollywood star since 2000’s “Bring It On,” typically plays the straight woman, the no-nonsense lawyer, the smart cookie. Think of her in “Something the Lord Made,” or “Deliver Us from Eva” or “Daddy’s Little Girls.” She talked about that comfy pigeonhole—and Hollywood’s discovery that African-American families celebrate Christmas too—when we reached her in Los Angeles.
Any holiday traditions that your family passes down, year to year?
Actually, we’re one of the few, the proud, the rare, the spotted owls. We’re black Catholics! We go to midnight mass and we open our gifts the night before.
Another tradition? We eat all sorts of pork products. Anything with ham, bacon, sausage, anything we can put ham in, we do it. It’s Christmas!
And we started a new one last year. Limoncellos! It’s like family truth serum. I think we’re going to keep that one.
We’ve had the novelty of two black-family-Christmas movies this holiday season, yours and “This Christmas.” Do you see much of a racial difference in the ways Christmas is celebrated in America?
The great thing is, Hollywood putting a different face on a holiday that so many people, of all races, celebrate. We did it in a lighter way. “This Christmas” is, I understand, more of a dramedy.
Every family’s tradition is different, and while you might have ham-hocks and collard greens in some houses, and African-American families might be more inclined to incorporate church into their celebration, we’re all the same. Americans celebrate the holiday the same way.
But the movies show us how we’re supposed to look. And for years and years, that look has been New Yorkers in “Miracle on 34th Street,” or the white “Family Stone” or Tim Allen in suburbia in “The Santa Clause.”
Maybe by next year we’ll have Asian Christmas movies, or Latino ones. Movies like this really do capture that we’re not really that different. We’re just marketed to differently! Haha! “This Christmas” didn’t make all that money just by pandering to a black audience. People like Christmas. That’s all there is to it.
Playing the straight woman. A thankless job in a movie where Katt Williams and Faizon Love and Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard, even, are scoring the laughs?
Oh, I tried to bring some laughs to this. I just modeled my character on my mom, my sister and a girlfriend, all of whom have three kids. These are women who put everything into their kids, and when I told them about this character being so much into motherhood that “a compliment would be nice,” oh, they got it. Better than me.
I see her as a lady on a journey, trying to find balance in her life.
What is it about you that is so uptown? Hollywood loves casting you as characters who have it all together, at least professionally.
Maybe the fact that when I audition, not one double-negative crosses my lips! I’m OK with these roles, really. Somebody’s got to be “the smart one.” I’m cool with that.
I don’t do “victim” well. It’s uncomfortable to portray or to have my family see me that way. I like to play characters I can respect. So if I come off as strong, college-educated, intelligent, maybe flawed in most roles, that’s because that’s what I like to play.
I have to play people I can relate to. I don’t want to play characters in movies that make me feel I need a 12-step program to recover from. “Very moving.” I get it.
I do the occasional dark indie thing. I was in “Running With Scissors.” But I tend to go for movies that have levity, that maybe promise a little joy. For instance, my next film, “Starship Dave,” was a gift. I got to play Eddie Murphy’s two-inch tall Martian love interest. We’re on board this spaceship from a tiny little planet which is visiting Earth, and our ship is shaped like a human, who is also played by Eddie Murphy. So I got to work with Charlie Murphy (he plays her ex in “The Perfect Holiday”) and Eddie. It doesn’t get much lighter than that.