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'Daddy's Little Girls' Actress Gabrielle Union

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Valentine's Day is Wednesday. So if you are looking for a movie to share with your sweetie, we just might have one for you - "Daddy's Little Girls." It was written by Tyler Perry and stars one of Hollywood's busiest and most versatile young actresses, Gabrielle Union.

She plays Julia, a hard charging attorney who tries to help a mechanic regain custody of his three young daughters. Julia finds an unconventional love story along the way. I spoke with her earlier this week about her career and the new film.

You've been a cheerleader, a minister's daughter, a doctor - my personal favorite - a Klingon. Now you're a tough-as-nails lawyer. What attracted you to this role?

Ms. GABRIELLE UNION (Actress): You know, actually just working with Tyler. I have seen "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and I'm a huge Kimberly Elise fan, and I always hoped that she would be able to be a true leading lady and not just, sort of, relegated to, you know, the long suffering wife or girlfriend that we've kind of seen her.

And then I saw "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and she was this multifaceted, funny, beautiful, vivacious woman that God - to have this amazing journey. And I said I want that. Now like, well, that comes with Tyler Perry.

So I sought out his agent, on a plane - we happen to be sitting next to each other - and told him I want to work with Tyler, and he set up a meeting. And about a month later, he turned in a draft and he had written it for me and we started filming a couple of months after that.

MARTIN: He wrote this for you…

Ms. UNION: Yeah.

MARTIN: That must be a very great feeling.

Ms. UNION: Humbling, certainly.

MARTIN: Tyler Perry's work is known to many people because of his - because he's done many stage plays and he's translated two of those into movies. And he usually stars in them, as this character, Madea, who's kind of everybody's fictional, sassy, you know, grandma with, you know, full of that, you know, home wisdom kind of character. And that character is not in this film.

Ms. UNION: No.

MARTIN: Some people love his work. They think it's fun. They think it speaks, you know, home truths, as I said. But it makes some people uncomfortable. They think it traffics in stereotypes, and I'd wonder what you think about that.

Ms. UNION: I have to admit I was guilty of that. A friend of mine - Boris Kodjoe and his wife, Nicole Ari Parker - they said, you know what, suspend your preconceived notions for one evening and just go to the Kodak and see one of Tyler's plays. And this is before I even had seen "Diary of A Mad Black Woman."

And I went to the Kodak Theater. The man had sold out the Kodak Theater - three nights in a row. I went, and they said don't just watch what's happening on stage, look at the audience. And, you know, I watched the audience. And people came in their Sunday best, you know, actually interacted with the characters on the stage - which I'd never seen before - and had a blast.

And I have to say that, you know, it - while it may not be for everybody, there are many, many people who enjoy the levity and the release of his plays. And who am I to judge what brings somebody else joy?

MARTIN: Okay. When speaking of having preconceived notions about people, let's hear a short clip from the film where you, your character Julia, is introduced to Monty, and Monty is coming to you for help.

(Soundbite of movie, "Daddy's Little Girls")

Ms. UNION: (As Julia) Okay. What you need is a family law attorney. Okay? And if you can't afford one, the court will appoint one.

Mr. IDRIS ELBA (Actor): (As Monty) I can't walk in there with a public lawyer. Their mama spent a lot of money in a lawyer and I need a bulldog like you. No offense.

Ms. UNION: (As Julia) But our firm charges $500 an hour. Can you afford that?

Mr. ELBA: (As Monty) I got $1,200 to my name.

Ms. UNION: (As Julia) Look, Mr…

Mr. ELBA: (As Monty) No. No. Just call me Monty. Look, sister, I'm trying to get -

Ms. UNION: (As Julia) Typical. Typical. I thought more of you but it's real typical. I'm not your sister, OK? I don't appreciate you coming into my office, asking for favors, playing the race thing. It's sad and it's pathetic.

Why do you want your daughters back so badly? You getting check for them, or some sort of government assistance?

Mr. ELBA: (As Monty) Go to hell.

Ms. UNION: (As Julia) Well, that, that, my friend, is exactly how you get what you want.

Mr. ELBA: (As Monty) Get a man. Get a life.

MARTIN: Ouch. Yeah. Ouch. As if a man is the cure-all. Well, I mean, you know, this film deals with relationships between black men and women. And that is a much-discussed subject.

Ms. UNION: Yeah.

MARTIN: And this scene kind of plays out, you know black woman hearing that black men are irresponsible, and black men saying that, you know, black women are just too much - just too tough, in essence, just not sort of sensitive enough.

So talk to me about that, I mean, do you think that this - first all, do you think this is a fair representation of a reality or do you think that this is, in effect, a stereotype?

Ms. UNION: I think it's pretty darn accurate, to be honest. I think there's a lot of things that occur within the African-American community, that we would prefer to stay within the African-American community - that we get a little nervous when you start having scenes or dialogue that we know is going to be viewed and heard on a national or global scale.

But I think that's, you know, that's exactly what we need, is more dialogue. And what makes us uncomfortable is, I think, kind of exciting.

MARTIN: What truths do you think, that this expresses?

Ms. UNION: Within a lot of African-American households, I think, there's an idea that black men don't want to take an active participation in the lives of their children. That if they do, there has to be some sort of ulterior motive.

There's also this idea that if a woman speaks her mind that she's somehow not getting enough sex, and that's cure all. And that she's some sort of a prude or an ice queen. And I just think that it just goes to show that we need more dialogue to sort of dispel this mis- and preconceived notions about - that we have about one another.

MARTIN: The film also deals with class - the fact that Julia is better educated than her love interest and her friends give her a hard time about it. But I'd like to ask you, has that been part of your reality? And you are single again, you are famous, you are a college graduate, you are very lovely. Does all that make it harder to find Mr. Right?

Ms. UNION: Before I got married, I dated the gamut. The guys I tended to date, you know, didn't necessarily have it altogether but I had a great time. So, you know, I think now the struggle is with a lot of women who are, you know, career, you know, career oriented, ambitious, highly educated, what we say a lot is, you know, I just want a good man.

And - we had this conversation with my girlfriends - I said, oh, it's okay, so if that good man was a plumber, you'd be - would that be okay? Well, no, I mean, that's not my type. You know, and I think we get a little too caught up in the antiquated notion of who and what prince charming is that we, you know, sort of developed when we were like nine years old. It has no place in a real, adult woman's, you know, life.

And I think if we really, truly want a good man who's considerate, kind, generous, thoughtful, responsible, accountable - that those qualities and attributes aren't something that are reserved solely for upper-class, you know, men.

MARTIN: You've gotten a chance to smooch a lot of cute brothers in the course of your career. How - in general, how do you feel about the way Hollywood represents black relationships?

Ms. UNION: I think we're getting better. There's always a long way to go. We always say - I have this joke amongst our group of friends. It's like, you know, even in your wildest dreams, you know, you can hobbits and Middle-earth and Gollum and oversized ape that falls in love with a blonde woman. But God forbids, you actually have a black man who wants his kids and wants to raise them.

That's just whoa. We actually needed to be inspired by real events, you know, in order to make that movie, you know, "The Pursuit of Happiness." We have a ways to go. But, you know, I'm hopeful, you know, judging by the success of, you know, "Pursuit of Happiness," more recently, that, you know, not just the African-American community, but America at large is ready to embrace positive African-American characters.

MARTIN: And that Valentine's Day's coming up, as I mentioned, are you going to be getting your chocolates from anybody special?

Ms. UNION: Jimmy Kimmel - that's my only date for that evening. I'm hoping Sara Silverman will be willing to share. That's my only date, unfortunately.

MARTIN: Okay. Now there was a Derek Jeter rumor.

Ms. UNION: Yeah. And that's so randomly funny. You know, everyone's like oh, are you dating Derek Jeter? I'm like, no. They're like mm-hmm. Trust me. If I was dating Derek Jeter, we'd have a parade down Time Square and I would be head to toe in Yankee gear, chanting I love, you know, D.J.

MARTIN: Actress Gabrielle Union portrays Julia in the new Tyler Perry film, "Daddy's Little Girls." It's in theaters February 14th. And we leave you with music from the soundtrack.

(Soundbite of soundtrack of "Daddy's Little Girls")

Gabrielle, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. UNION: No, thank you for having me.

(Soundbite of song, "Struggle No More")

Mr. ANTHONY HAMILTON (Singer): (Singing) I don't want to struggle no more. I don't want to struggle no more. I don't want to struggle no more…

MARTIN: That's NEWS & NOTES. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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