Gabrielle Union goes against her own grain in ‘The Inspection’

When Gabrielle Union first read the script for Elegance Bratton’s moving, quasi-autobiographical The Inspection about his experience as a gay Marine, she was immediately ready to sign on as executive producer. But accepting the role of Inez based on Bratton’s staunchly religious, anti-LGBTQ mother? That needed flattery. “I’m more likely to be offered projects that are closer to me,” says Union. “I thought, ‘What the hell have I ever revealed where anyone would think I could play a character who behaved like that and do it convincingly?’ And Elegance said, “It can only Be you.” At the time, I didn’t understand what that meant. But my ego said, “Yes! He’s onto something!’”

You don’t have that many scenes in The Inspection, but your performance has received some of the best reviews of your career. Why were you hesitant at first?

Elegance had a level of confidence in me that very, very few people in this town have. People trust me to stick asses in seats. You know I’m a good investment. But I’m generally not in the top 5 actresses in my age group who are called to do serious, heavier stuff. I just am not. That confidence was contagious. It also came at a time when I had such low self-esteem about this industry and who I am as an actress, as a person, as a mother.

How did he express his trust in you?

He said: “They have shown us the shifts for over 30 years. Why do you think you haven’t?” and I knew what he meant by “us”. My own community has been 10 toes behind my career the whole time. But we don’t always count marginalized communities and our opinions. And because you don’t get the unquoted mainstream accolades, it’s like [they] didn’t happen.

What was on your mind when Bratton lost his mother just days after the film’s release?

No one really knew how that would affect the project – other than obviously having an incredible impact on Elegance and [possibly] his interest in telling this story. It’s one thing to tell that story when someone’s alive, and you want to prove something. And it’s another matter when they’re no longer with us. Grief can change our memory. It may differ from the truth you were trying to tell. But Elegance said, “This story honors her and our relationship in a different way. But it is honorable nonetheless.”

What was it like taking take after take knowing Bratton was listening to rending dialogue ripped from his own past?

I wish it was one take at a time. We ran against the light. We had to shoot three scenes in one day. Each angle was one take, maximum two takes. I used to make fun of actors who said, “I couldn’t let that happen [the character] go…” I’m more like, “I’m out. What does the 405 look like?” I finally understood what they meant. I had to stay in it all day.

Has acting quickly made trading easier or more challenging?

The vast majority of Black projects have smaller budgets. I’ve been forced to work without time for most of my career. It’s sad to say, but I’m used to photographing this way. But it’s not the right way to film.

Did it help that Bratton sent you a lot of his mother’s belongings?

Her stuff was really all I had. I couldn’t speak to her. And not to say your kids are unreliable storytellers, but if my kids explained who I am, I wouldn’t trust them. So she looked at her Bible, reading what she wrote in the margins where the pages were more worn or dog-eared. Looking at their clothes, even their accessories. I’m no granola topanga chick but it was like she was talking to me. I could feel her energy. I was thankful for those things.

You have a trans child. Have you had any conversations with her about your decision to play an uncompromising homophobe?

Every time I take a job because of my kids, whether it’s something they might enjoy or it touches on some aspect of their lives, we have a discussion about it. I got Inspection and Strange World around the same time. It was wild. Strange World is a love letter to the amazing parents of queer kids. “Inspection” is the opposite. But both are a tribute to Zaya. And I wanted to know how it made her feel, if it might make her feel exposed in a way that made her uncomfortable. And she said, “No, no.”

This is a poignant maturity, especially in relation to the power of art.

Maybe through art a person can see that no matter what your intention is, you are a villain in someone’s story, and maybe you can change course because it’s not too late. It’s too late for Elegance and his real mother and for so many children too. Zaya insisted that the story needs to be told and that I’m not trying to push myself through it. She said, “I know you want this, but don’t soften her.” Gabrielle Union goes against her own grain in ‘The Inspection’

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