Gabrielle Union, Jessica Alba on bringing ride-or-die female partners to life in L.A.'s Finest
Move over, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, because it’s the girls’ turn to be bad.
Smith and Lawrence may have recently wrapped Bad Boys for Life, but before we catch up with Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, it’s time to see what happened to Gabrielle Union’s Syd Burnett. Introduced in Bad Boys II, Mike’s love interest and Marcus’s DEA sister is on the move from Miami to Los Angeles for Spectrum Originals’ new series L.A.’s Finest. And with Union and Syd in need of a ride-or-die partner, Jessica Alba was brought onboard as the equally secretive LAPD Detective Nancy McKenna.
Ahead of the series premiering May 13 on Spectrum On Demand with three episodes (two new episodes will be subsequently available each Monday), EW sat down with Union and Alba to talk about why they were determined to make this show happen, getting the chance to bring badass women to TV, and their natural chemistry.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You shot the pilot over a year ago, so how are you feeling as you finally prepare to unleash this on the world?
GABRIELLE UNION: We’re pretty pumped and excited. It’s something that we’re both really freakishly proud of. So yeah, we’re just like, “Let’s go, baby.”
JESSICA ALBA: For me, I haven’t done a lot of television and there’s a lot of stops and starts, so you can kind of only take away the experience that you create and that you got to have. And luckily in this this circumstance, Gab and I both got to really hold the reigns and pave the way for the type of environment that we wanted to be in, and it felt like just a really creative and interesting and fast-paced and exciting environment that was also very inclusive. At the end of the day, there’s so much out of our control, but what is in our control is what we got to do and we’re proud of it.
L.A.’s Finest was originally made for NBC, but they passed and the series soon ended up at Spectrum. Presumably, you both could have said, “Well, we gave it a shot,” and walked away, but why was this something that you really wanted to stick with?
UNION: We knew it was a winner. And the beautiful thing is that it doesn’t take everybody, it takes one. Some networks are actually super excited about two strong female leads of color partnering to kick ass and make us laugh. Some people thought it was a great business model, and we were lucky to find people who got the show, got us, got what where we were trying to go, understood the international play involved. And [on Spectrum] we didn’t have to make as many compromises as we would have for network TV.
ALBA: We always thought this had the potential to be so much more than what those boundaries allow. There’s a pretty dramatic difference from the pilot to the subsequent episodes. It has more edge, it has more grit, and it’s more character-driven.
Gabrielle, considering you’re playing a Bad Boys character, this came be viewed as a spin-off series, but what as the balance between making it a Bad Boys show and making it its own thing?
UNION: We didn’t have to have much balance, because my character was kind of just damsel in distress, so we have no idea what Syd’s motivations were in Bad Boys II, we had no idea where she came from or where she went. There was plenty of room.
ALBA: I am a fan of Jerry Bruckheimer and I loved the Bad Boys franchise and it’s such a fun tone. This was always the type of movie that I wanted to be in; the Die Hards, the Bad Boys, Lethal Weapon. I was like, “Why aren’t women shown not as the damsel in distress or the housewife that is waiting for the guy to come home or the women? Why can’t women be the leads in these types of environments?” And for me, this was like my little kid-actress dream come true.
UNION: Luckily, it just created this space for us to have our own mythology, to have not one but two mysterious female leads that get completely serviced. But it’s still a Jerry Bruckheimer show, it’s still in the Bad Boys universe, you still have the sick action, it’s still sexy, it’s still funny. There are a couple crossovers, like John Salley, but [Spectrum] really was just excited about us creating a world where we can exist very independently from the boys.
What does it mean to you to be able to bring these strong, badass female characters to TV?
ALBA: It’s great for women to see themselves on screen. We’re grown, we both have families, people know us and our personal lives. I think they see two women who have lived a life and can bring that weight of our experiences to the table, and not just be a 20-year-old ingénue.
UNION: They’ve seen us be grown-ass women in real life, and grown-ass women in real life don’t get to partner up and have fun, action, drama, comedy, and sex.
ALBA: Or are just seen through the men’s eyes.
UNION: We have complete agency. Usually you have to lose something. because they are like, “You’ve got to be likable and can’t be too smart or strong.”
ALBA: “You don’t want to intimidate the lead guy!” There’s always that. Or “You can’t have more jokes than the lead guy.”
UNION: And we’re like, “No, I want Jessica to have more.” And she’s like, “No, I want Gab to have more.”
ALBA: We just know that everyone has a space to exist. Even the guys that are in the show, they get to be funny and sexy and do fun action. We never put anyone in any kind of weird box.
When talking to you back in December for the first look at the show, Jessica, you said that Gabrielle was “90 percent” why you signed up. How would you describe your chemistry?
UNION: You talked to us in December, by April, we’re like, “Eh.” [Laughs]
ALBA: You either have chemistry or you don’t. I used to joke when I was younger that I could have sexual chemistry with a rock, because I had to deal with lots of really annoying leading men, and I just made the best of that situation, especially when I had to kiss them. [Laughs] But this was not the case. There’s nothing forced; it’s natural.
UNION: She’s one of those people that over the years before we worked together, I’d see her and we’d be like, “Ahhh, that’s my girl!!” But like, that’s kind of what it is at work. It’s nice when there’s someone who is your partner on screen but also your partner in real life. You can just be like, “I need a drink,” because life can get messy and crazy, and she gets it and I don’t have to explain s— to her.
ALBA: We grew up in an environment where Hollywood made it feel like there’s only like two people who are allowed to work and everyone is sort of clamoring for those spots. But then, as you get our age and we’ve both been doing it for over 20 years, we know that there is enough space for everyone to exist and we feel really comfortable with that. So if you take out that weirdness then you’ve got your homie, your comrade, someone who you can rely on.
Now how does your relationship translate to Syd and Nancy’s relationship? What is their dynamic like? Most cop shows start with partners being thrown together, but it’s interesting that you chose to jump into an established partnership.
ALBA: We’ve been partners for like six months when you jump in, so we do know each other. But there’s still a lot more to unpack.
UNION: There’s a lot of secrets. Secrets that we are sort of keeping for ourselves, things that we’re realizing about ourselves that we haven’t come to grips with, and then there are bigger secrets and mysteries that are unfolding. And as all of that is happening, we’re getting to know each other. Can we trust each other? Sheryl Sandberg wrote Lean In and we’re really kind of applying that in our relationship. And also exploring the vast possibilities of intersectional feminism and what some of those limitations are.
ALBA: And it does go both ways. Because on one hand, Nancy is saying, “Trust me,” but then on the other hand, she’s like, “Oh, but this other thing is off limits, we’re not talking about that because that doesn’t exist.” Trauma is hard to deal with, and so you get to explore two people being confronted by trauma from their past and how it affects their life today where they go from there.
I’m a diehard Bad Boys fan, so I’m already in, but why should non-Bad Boys fans tune in?
UNION: It’s pure escapism. The world is f—ing depressing, and this show is funny, dramatic, action-packed, sexy, and has two badass chicks in their fullness and having the best frickin’ time. And then you’ll want to come back for more, because we’re dropping little gems, little mysteries, little Easter eggs along the way. This is a whole ass world that you can get into.
ALBA: I think it’s just really fun and it’s something that you can binge and look forward to each episode. It’s hard for us to try and sell it because we like it so much [laughs].
L.A.’s Finest debuts Monday on Spectrum On Demand.