Gabrielle Union, Jessica Alba talk taking the Bad Boys mantle for L.A.'s Finest
Just call them bad girls for life.
Before Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reteam for 2020’s Bad Boys for Life, Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba are getting their chance to be L.A.’s Finest. The origins of Spectrum’s first original series can be traced back to a night of drinking and Union wondering what her Bad Boys II character, Syd Burnett (sister to Lawrence’s Marcus), would be up to. “I wanted another life for Syd. Let’s create a mythology set apart from Miami but still connected and rooted in that Bad Boys tone and vibe, but see how she stands up on her own,” Union tells EW. “And then let’s find a badass, boss woman to partner her with.”
In stepped Alba. Over the last decade, the Fantastic Four alum has prioritized raising a family and building a business over acting, and that was set to continue following the birth of her third child late last year — until Union called. “Ninety percent of why I decided to sign onto this show is Gabrielle Union,” says Alba, who stars as Syd’s LAPD partner, Nancy McKenna. “I just felt like it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
And an opportunity that EW couldn’t pass up was debuting the first look at Union and Alba in action as L.A.’s Finest (seen above) and chatting with the stars about their quick chemistry, the stigma around women of a certain age and mothers in Hollywood, and their excitement over showing a “ride-or-die” female friendship.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re a few months into filming the series, so how has it been going?
JESSICA ALBA: I feel like very quickly it got comfortable. I mean, I haven’t been acting on a regular basis for a solid decade so I was a little rusty to begin with, but being on set with Gab, I feel like I fell into a groove and we fell into a groove together pretty instantly. We definitely have chemistry. We didn’t know each other that well, but we definitely knew each other and respected each other, so when we got to actually have a real relationship and be with each other everyday, it was like we’d known each forever and I think that’s what you see onscreen.
GABRIELLE UNION: We’re just coming off of production giving me a three-week maternity leave and what was different about that than from other productions is that most Hollywood productions and most employers treat maternity, pregnancy, nursing mothers, maternity leave as the biggest headache. And what was awesome is when Jess came on and signed onto the production, she was like, “This set needs to be family friendly. But, I’m also telling you that we’re still going to come in on budget, on time. We’re going to make our days and everyone is going to be a lot happier being here because we’re showing that we actually care about all of the players involved.” So when I told our writers over the summer that we were expecting via surrogate, we put a plan in action. It wasn’t treated as a huge headache, it wasn’t behind the scenes like this chaotic situation; we figured out. We figured out how to maintain the integrity of the show and the storylines and give me a chance to bond with my child. And so I just got back off maternity leave and we didn’t miss a damn beat. I can say I’ve never seen that and it’s a testament to how it is. So when you ask how the filming’s going, that’s how the filming is going — it’s frickin’ awesome. And we’re creating a different environment for Hollywood that can be the standard for every production.
ALBA: I think there’s a stigma around women and once they reach a certain age they’re not an ingenue anymore or they’re not a leading lady. This business is really tough to have a baby and to be a mom. Aside from the fact that society and culture has told us time and time again that you kind of lose your mojo — although, I feel like I found my mojo after I became a mom [laughs], but aside from that, people are literally not able to pay the bills; agents and managers and lawyers stop getting paid because there’s nothing that really protects actresses, especially on TV shows, where it’s that consistent pay check. I felt like coming back in the business as a mother of an infant, it was important that I set the stage and expectations right so that I can walk into work with dignity. I was breastfeeding my baby, so guess what? Every three hours I needed to pump or to see my kid and he was going to be on set and it wasn’t going to be an issue and I wasn’t going to feel ashamed about it. And I think if you put those expectations up prior to showing up to set and everyone having an agreement that they’re going to be respectful, then you’re going to have a loving and great environment. I’m really proud that Gab and I have been able to establish that.
UNION: A paid maternity leave. Even though I was not physically on set, on other productions for either a mother or a father who take maternity or paternity leave, you don’t get paid for those episodes. That is insane. And there is no union protection for that and you’re kind of at the mercy of production to production. So what I love is that we are setting a precedent for how it can be done. And we’re doing a frickin’ action show. A bomb, sexy, fun, action show that has international appeal and they still manage to schedule us in a way that we actually get to see our families. There’s another way of filmmaking and we’re finding our way.
ALBA: And also the vibe of the show is something that you really don’t have on television right now, which is a Jerry Bruckheimer movie (Bruckheimer produces the show and Bad Boys films). The Bruckheimer shows that are on TV are a different vibe than what we’re doing. We’re definitely much more in line with the Bad Boys franchise. There’s action, there’s comedy, drama, real character driven storylines. It’s not a crime of the week show. And I’m really proud that we’ve been able to do that, especially because all I ever wanted to do as an actress is comedy and be an action hero and I got to do both in this [laughs]. So it’s pretty cool that after three kids and a business I get to step into my dream role.
Jessica, you mentioned how you hadn’t been acting full-time over the last decade, so what specifically appealed to you and prompted you to make the jump back in?
ALBA: Ninety percent of why I decided to sign onto this show is Gabrielle Union. I’m not even gonna front, I trusted my gut. She rang me and I just got a good feeling about it. And I definitely was not even thinking of going to work that soon. I was going to take a full four months maternity after I had my son, but I just felt like it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. Especially collaborating with her and being able to be on set and learn from her. She’s a producer and she creates a lot of stuff and has been in this business for such a long time, and I just felt like it would be really cool to collaborate with her. And that’s really why I wanted to do this show. And then the cherry on top was the Jerry Bruckheimer brand. Those are the movies that I grew up on. This type of show is like my dream. Ten years ago, they weren’t making this show with female leads, they were making this show with men. Or it was written for men and they just changed it to women but it still felt very masculine. But this feels very feminine and our characters are complex.
Gabrielle, we talked a little bit about it for your Role Call earlier this year, but why did you want to revisit Syd and this world?
UNION: Because she’s such a badass character. But depending on how you look at it, fortunately or unfortunately, we have no idea what makes Syd, Syd. So we were sort of sitting around and joking, “So, what’s in Syd’s Netflix queue? Where is Syd? Did her and Mike (Will Smith) break up? Are they in couples counseling? I’m actually curious. So he saved her but she was kind of a badass chick to begin with, so what the hell happened to her? I want to find out.” And because there had been so much talk about Bad Boys 3, we get to find out what happens to the boys, but I’m still wondering what happened to [Bad Boys star] Tea Leoni [laughs]. And I’m also curious about Syd. Luckily, Tea Leoni has become Madame Secretary, but I wanted another life for Syd. Let’s create a new mythology set apart from Miami but still connected and rooted in that Bad Boys tone and vibe, but see how she stands up on her own. And then let’s find a badass, boss woman to partner her with. And the more we started to create the L.A.’s Finest mythology, it got more and more interesting and cooler and lighter in some areas and way darker in some areas. But what I loved is that we allowed for Syd to be much more complex than the chick in the bikini on the beach and the girl who had to be saved by her brother and her lover. We show Syd saving herself and these women saving each other and supporting each other, and also having natural conflict that doesn’t come from a stereotypical, very anti-feminist place. And we’re getting women of color paid! All of that appealed to me.
How you describe the relationship between Syd and Nancy?
UNION: Well, the names are obviously a play on Sid and Nancy, so it’s kind of set up just from how we named them that they have at times a functional, at times a dysfunctional relationship that is all sort of shrouded in a very complex mystery that slowly and methodically and deliciously unravels throughout the season. But it would be too easy to say they’re an odd couple and where one lacks, the other sort of steps up. It was funny because someone actually described me and Jess as where my edges are sharp, Jess is more soft, and where Jess’ edges are more sharp, mine are soft, and between the two of you, what a force, what a dynamic duo. And I would say the same thing about Syd and Nancy. Nancy is very sharp in certain areas where it comes to family and being much more compassionate in certain areas, where Syd has some vulnerabilities. And where Syd’s vulnerabilities are, Nancy is stronger and more grounded. But between the two of them, it’s like, I don’t always agree and I don’t always like it, but at the end of the day, I have your back in the most fierce, dope, complex, beautiful friendship that we’ve ever seen on television.
ALBA: I think you really get to see a female friendship in that ride-or-die mentality play out in the best way. But like she said, we’re not always on the same page, but we agree to disagree and we keep it moving and we try to learn from our mistakes and admit our faults and that is something that is nice to see, because usually your heroes are flawless and they’re the victims of circumstance if anything goes wrong, and that’s just not the case here. You get to see real human beings that are just trying to figure it out, and I think it’s going to be really relatable, whether you’re a man or a woman watching the show.
L.A.’s Finest premieres in April on Spectrum.
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