Last summer's sexy, smash-hit BET movie Being Mary Janereturns as a series Tuesday, Jan. 7 (10/9c), starring Gabrielle Union as Mary Jane Paul, a rich and glamorous TV news anchor who should be living the dream. So why is her life such a ghastly disaster? TV Guide Magazine spoke with Union about her character's bad taste in men, her addiction to chaos and why she and Olivia Pope drink so damn much!
TV Guide Magazine: BET has already renewed Being Mary Jane for a second season. That must reduce your premiere-week nerves, right?
Union: Every other series I've done has bombed and made me feel like I'd given birth and people thought my baby was ugly. Now I feel like I'm giving birth to Shaq. My kid's pretty awesome! And this has been such a long pregnancy. We shot the movie almost two years ago. There are projects you do and hope they get shelved — things you don't even want to show your mama — but I am very proud of this one. I can't wait for people to get into this series!
TV Guide Magazine: Why does Mary Jane make such hopelessly dumb choices in men?
Union: Hey, I can relate! When I was in my twenties, I was all about getting the ring. Cut to: I'm divorced. Some of us put more work into choosing the right therapist than choosing the right guy. Nobody talks about the work — the really hard work — that goes into marriage. [Note: This interview was conducted before news broke that Union's fiancé, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, had fathered a child with another woman.]
TV Guide Magazine: Do we secretly delight in watching your character mess up?
Union: Sure, some do. But, for others, seeing the real Mary Jane is like that first time you run into your teacher outside of school and you're like, "What the hell are you doing at happy hour with a cocktail the size of a fish bowl?" They want Mary Jane to be Batman, when she's really a very screwed-up Bruce Wayne. But, yeah, we do get off on her misery. It's why we read the tabloids. It's why the National Enquirer is still going strong after all these years. We want to see our stars trip and fall on the red carpet. We want to see them all glammed up but with a booger hanging out their nose. We want to know that the people we look up to are just as horribly messed up as we are. And, on the surface, that's the joy of Being Mary Jane. She has it all, but she always falls. Within the same episode, you're loving her, hating her, laughing with her, crying with her, cussing at her, yet you're always hoping that she'll figure it out.
TV Guide Magazine: You also send out a rather anti-Cosmopolitan message.
Union: It's true. Our show claims it's not possible to have it all. Something — or someone — always suffers. Will Mary Jane ever get her s--t together? What's the fun of that? Where's our show if that happens? We gotta give you a few nibbles of hope, enough of an appetizer so you're not starving to death, but we can't give you the whole entrée. That's one area where Mary Jane and I are a lot alike. We're both just shooting for "good enough." We see a lot of that in the women on TV, from Hannah Horvath on Girls to Olivia Pope on Scandal. They are smart women fully capable of making reasonable decisions for others but not for themselves, and we find that endearing. Besides, when did making good decisions make good TV? Who wants to be their mother's ideal? Who wants to wear sensible shoes and sensible underwear and a hairstyle that takes five minutes to do? Not me! A lotta people live that life. They sure as hell don't want to tune in and see it!
TV Guide Magazine: Is Mary Jane a little bit in love with the chaos? She's exasperated by all the hell her family puts her through — especially her grasping, needy mother [Margaret Avery] — yet she also seems addicted to it.
Union: Totally! That's one of the downsides of her success. There's a bit of survivor guilt when it comes to her family. And she's also an enabler and a control freak. She resents having to be the problem solver, the one who's always expected to pull out her checkbook and pay for s--t, yet she enjoys being able to manipulate her loved ones through her handouts. She gets to be Geppetto.
TV Guide Magazine: Uh, along about now we should probably stress that Mary Jane is fantastically likable and that this show is loads of fun.
Union: I know! I make her sound so terrible! But that's life. We're all weird, complex, multi-dimensional people. She is tons of fun. [Laughs] Even when she's rolling her eyes and bitching and moaning at her mother, who has lupus.
TV Guide Magazine: She might also be certifiably crazy. That scene in the movie where Mary Jane, who is having an affair with Andre [Omari Hardwick], spills the beans to Andre's wife [Robinne Lee] was jaw-dropping insane. I was sure it was going to turn out to be one of those fake-out dream sequences. But it wasn't!
Union: It should have been a dream! But, unfortunately, Mary Jane's reality can be worse than a nightmare. She just acts, without thinking things through. [Laughs] And just wait! In Season 1 Robinne's character shows up at the TV station wanting information about the affair. You think Mary Jane might be a little contrite, a little sorry. Nope. She's, like, "You want answers, bitch? I'll give you some answers!" The audience is gonna die! There are a few of those scenes in the series that are so inappropriate. I watch the episodes with my head half under the blanket going, "Oh, why Mary Jane? Why?"
TV Guide Magazine: Her life is so nuts, it's easy to forget she also goes on TV to report on world-shattering events.
Union: And let's not forget she was fired from CNN. In that world, you can't keep throwing yourself against a wall and hope you stick — especially when you're a woman of color. She's got a very small pool of opportunity and not many, if any, chances left. She's on a struggling show at a struggling network that's fifth in a race between five networks. She doesn't have the luxury of failure. Then, on top of all that, she's gotta make some big decisions about her love life and which man she wants. Her mother can't function on her own. Her father has fallen in love with some old vulture lady. She has a niece who thinks it's okay to do porn. Really? Are you kidding me?
TV Guide Magazine: No wonder Mary Jane and Olivia Pope drink like fishes!
Union: Oh, gosh, it's so true! [Laughs] And my character doesn't even have to deal with B-613 and all that s--t! Can you imagine? Mary Jane has trouble holding it together and she's just screwing Andre —not the President of the United States!