Hollywood chit chat In conversation with: Gabrielle Union and Rebecca Romijn
The duo dishes on growing up in the East Bay, high school versus real life, and their new movie together.
Rebecca Romijn and Gabrielle Union have more than just Hollywood in common. Both are 39 years old, graduated from East Bay high schools, and found success as models, which led to big careers in movies and television. Their celebrity relationships have been followed by paparazzi. And this month, they share the screen in Tyler Perry’s latest drama, Good Deeds. In the film, Romijn and Union play best friends—and as you’ll begin to suspect, they’re pretty tight in real life, too.
October 29, 1972.
East Bay School:
Foothill High, class of 1991.
College internship at a modeling agency led to modeling gigs, which led to acting.
10 Things I Hate About You, Bring It On, Bad Boys II, Daddy’s Little Girls.
7th Heaven, The West Wing, Ugly Betty, Flash Forward.
Dating Miami Heat basketball star Dwyane Wade.
November 6, 1972
East Bay School:
Berkeley High, class of 1990.
Cover model for French Elle and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Supervillain Mystique in the X-Men movies; star of Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale.
MTV’s House of Style, Pepper Dennis, Ugly Betty, NTSF:SD:SUV.
Married to actor Jerry O’Connell, the couple have twin daughters, Charlie and Dolly.
Diablo: Good Deeds marks the first time you’ve been on-screen together, but you knew each other before the film, right?
Rebecca Romijn: I feel like Gabrielle and I have been orbiting each other our whole lives. We’re both from good Bay Area stock. And now, we’re neighbors in Southern California, and we’ve been going to the same nail salon for 15 years.
Gabrielle Union: That’s right. We both get our nails done at Passion Nails. [Laughs]
Rebecca: Tony, the guy who owns this little nail shop, has a wall of fame. The only people on the wall are Gabrielle and I. I would love to tell you that he asked for beautiful 8-by-10 head shots, but he just took digital photos of us—which he enlarged and framed. Now, when you’re going in to get a pedicure, you don’t put makeup on or powder your forehead.
Gabrielle: I once did an interview for InStyle and made sure to mention Tony and Passion Nails, hoping that he would put the article on the wall instead of that picture. But he will not take it down!
Diablo: You play best friends in Good Deeds. Was there a backstory about your friendship in the script? Or did you get to come up with one on your own?
Gabrielle: You mean, did we do any work or put in any effort at all? [Laughs] I’ll tell you that we play best friends who like to go out for drinks to talk about their lives. So, we were very method in our approach. Every day when we were done filming, we would really go out for drinks and keep talking. We were very DeNiro about it.
Rebecca: The backstory for my character is that she was a career woman who dropped everything to get married and have a family. When we pick up the friendship in the movie, Gabrielle’s character is getting married to Tyler Perry’s character. I’m sort of playing out the window of her possible future, what she is setting herself up for.
Diablo: Gabrielle, you had worked with Tyler Perry before. He’s been an incredibly productive filmmaker, writing and directing a hit movie or two every year for the past decade. What is he like to work with?
Gabrielle: Tyler works at a faster pace than anyone else making movies. He stays very much in the moment, keeps everything very light, and always keeps things moving. The joy of signing on for a project with Tyler is that, as long as you are prepared, you will still see daylight when you leave the set at the end of the day.
Diablo: Rebecca, this was your first time working on a Tyler Perry movie. What was your experience like?
Rebecca: Everything Gabrielle said is right on. I had never worked on such an efficient production. I had just come off working in hour-long television, where my days were never shorter than 15 hours. So, this was so much fun: Everything felt so fresh, and you’d move on while it still felt fresh. Also, Mr. Perry always puts together a great ensemble cast, so that was really fun to be part of.
Diablo: His movies are always about very normal people, families, and their issues. You are both celebrities and have very high-profile personal lives. Was it nice to play characters who don’t have that kind of life?
Gabrielle: Yes. It felt great to shed all the layers of fame and celebrity, and play the people who we are in real life. My character is like a lot of people who get faced with a choice to take the road less traveled or follow the path that family and society want you to choose. You have to ask yourself, do I want to follow my passion and follow my heart? And everyone, whether they are Kim Kardashian or Joe from Concord, has to face that kind of choice in life: Do I live for myself, or do I live for other people?
Rebecca: It is our job as actors to find the truth in these characters. But aside from that, Gabrielle and I are kind of blue-collar workers in the acting world. The work is really in finding the work: Once you have the part, you can relax and just do your job.
Diablo: Good Deeds is a drama, and you both also just filmed the Adult Swim TV show NTSF:SD:SUV.
Gabrielle: Oh, yeah! I have not seen that yet.
Rebecca: I have! It is beyond funny. It’s so crazy!
Diablo: Now that you’re friends and frequent collaborators, what would be the dream project to do together?
Gabrielle: I enjoy Rebecca’s personality and humor, so I would love to do a comedy with her.
Rebecca: A buddy comedy!
Gabrielle: Maybe we would be robbing people. Something like a 48 Hrs. or a Trading Places—but reversed. She’s the Eddie Murphy from Berkeley, and I’m the Dan Aykroyd from Pleasanton.
Diablo: Good, I wanted to talk about where you grew up. Your high schools were just 25 miles apart, but Pleasanton and Berkeley are very different places. Rebecca, you were into theater; Gabrielle, you were an athlete. Do you think you would have been friends in high school?
Gabrielle: Yes, as long as we liked the same music. Our ambition was similar. I’m so fascinated in the experience Rebecca had growing up in Berkeley. I always wondered what it was like to see black people growing up, daily.
Rebecca: Wait, you didn’t see black people growing up?
Gabrielle: Not in Pleasanton. There were like five of us, not even enough for a black student union. When I got a car, I realized I might have better luck in the romance department if I went to the other side of the hill. I would cut my AP civics class and go to Berkeley High, Skyline, Bishop O’Dowd, anywhere where I thought I had a shot.
Rebecca: Well, I’m pretty interested in the experience Gabrielle had growing up in the East Bay because all the things I’ve learned are not fit to print. Like Toenail-Gate.
Gabrielle: [Laughs] No comment on Toenail-Gate! That’s still top secret in my family. The people that know will find it hilarious when they read this.
Diablo: Did Toenail-Gate happen in the East Bay?
Gabrielle: Mmmm-hmmm. No further comments.
Diablo: So Gabrielle, if you were to take Rebecca out for a day in the Tri-Valley, what would you do?
Gabrielle: No day in Pleasanton is complete without a trip to Stoneridge Mall. And I would bring her on July 4, so we would go to the Alameda County Fair. Then a nice meal at Lyon’s for some large wedge-cut french fries and the good ranch dressing. Nothing but the best for my friend Rebecca.
Diablo: I think Lyon’s has closed.
Gabrielle: Oh no! Actually, that wouldn’t surprise me. I was back in P-town recently for my 20-year high school reunion, and I did not even recognize it as the Pleasanton where I grew up.
Rebecca: I just went to my 20-year reunion as well. Did you have a good time?
Gabrielle: I had a blast. I still have all the same friends I had in high school. They were disappointed I did not bring Dwyane.
Rebecca: A 20-year-reunion is the worst possible place to bring a date-slash-spouse to.
Diablo: Rebecca, where would you take Gabrielle for a day in Berkeley?
Rebecca: We would start with a salad at Café Med, then dinner at Chez Panisse. And dancing at Ashkenaz.
Gabrielle: I used to love going to Berkeley for Blondie’s pizza.
Rebecca: OK, we’ll skip the salad at Café Med and get a slice of Blondie’s pizza.
Gabrielle: Can we go look for albums at Rasputin? Is that still on Telegraph Avenue? [It is.] That’s where I bought my Def Leppard Pyromania album.
Rebecca: Uh-oh, I was into Prince. My first concert was Prince’s Purple Rain tour; I went with my sister, Tamara, and my stepsister, Hillary.
Gabrielle: I went to Wham, Katrina and the Waves, and the Pointer Sisters at the Oakland Coliseum. I went with my best friends, Alisa Shelley and Jennie Rees.
Diablo: You have both had successful careers in modeling and acting, which are extremely competitive occupations. What advice do you wish you’d been given in high school, which might be useful to young women who read this?
Rebecca: Perseverance and respecting a solid work ethic are so important. It’s not about letting your ego get in the way with work: If you persevere long enough, you can have a career. But when you get your feelings hurt, you have to continue to hang in there and get up the next day.
Gabrielle: Be humble; it goes a long way. Be on time; that’s huge. And the guy that you are losing sleep and losing weight over, from your chemistry class, is not going to be your husband.
Rebecca: Totally. The amount of energy I poured into heartache over stupid boys in high school—I wish I had poured that energy into another passion, such as acting. Girls, the things that seem so important in high school are not going to be important in your real life.
Diablo: You have seen the view from the top of Hollywood’s mountain by starring in some huge blockbuster movies—Gabrielle in Bad Boys II, Rebecca in X-Men. Let’s wrap things up with a story where you realized how surreal life had become because of show business.
Rebecca: When I filmed Femme Fatale, we shot an elaborate scene involving a jewel heist that took place during the opening of the Cannes Film Festival. Then, we premiered the movie at Cannes. That was certainly one of the more surreal moments of my life—walking that giant red carpet and watching the beginning of the movie, which takes place on the same red carpet. That was a “pinch me, is this real?” kind of moment.
Gabrielle: When we finished Bad Boys, we did a world press tour, which was insane. I was in Tokyo, visiting Shinto shrines and observing the monks, and I remember thinking, “This is amazing. I’m here on the other side of the world.” And then, this group of girls comes up to me and says, “You better bring it!,” which is from [Union’s 2000 cheerleading comedy] Bring It On. Then I thought, “OK, that was just weird.”
Rebecca Romijn and Gabrielle Union can be seen in Good Deeds when it hits cinemas on February 24, and occasionally at Passion Nails in the San Fernando Valley.