At this point in her career, Gabrielle Union has nothing to prove, and she doesn’t have time to wait around for others to give her opportunities. That’s why the busy actress/producer shepherds her own projects into existence. For her new Disney+ movie Cheaper by the Dozen, Union spoke with The Root about managing the controlled chaos of a set full of kids and animals, showcasing blended families and working with co-star Zach Braff.
Cheaper by the Dozen is the familiar story of a blended family of 12 figuring out how to navigate the daily craziness of their lives. With so much happening on set, it was up to Union and Braff to keep things fun, or for it to appear that way.
“There were some days that were very fun and there were some days I’m glad it looks that way in the movie, because it was a little chaotic on set,” she said. “We tried to balance. I was bad cop, Zach was good cop, and between us we made sure they were focused, but also had a good time. That’s a lot of moving parts with all those kids and animals. It was a challenge for sure.”
With COVID-19 limiting their interactions before production, Union compared her relationship with Braff to 90 Day Fiance.
“Due to COVID all the meetings were via Zoom, so it’s hard to really tell how you’re gonna interact with somebody,” Union said. “But on set immediately, you and this person you just met are in charge of 10 kids, multiple animals and you’ve gotta figure it out quick.”
Past versions of Cheaper by the Dozen haven’t exactly been the most diverse films, they’ve all featured white families. For Union, it was essential to portray a more modern, authentic blended family. One that included Black and Brown faces.
“We wanted to showcase a blended family. Families come in all sizes, shapes, configurations. Chosen families, extended families under one roof, and that’s common in most communities of color, certainly in the Black community,” she said. “But we never get to see those kinds of families celebrated. We wanted to be a part of showcasing that you could make family friendly fare that is diverse and inclusive in front of and behind the camera.”
“If you want me to be a part of your production, I have certain standards and I refuse to go backwards at this point,” Union continued. “We had amazing partners and everyone is trying to push us forward and celebrate and call in all families and allow you to see yourself celebrated on screen.”
For proof that the actress/producer is willing to back up her principles, look no further than her comments on Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. While on the red carpet for the premiere of Cheaper by the Dozen, Union, who is the stepmother to transgender daughter Zaya Wade, was asked about her feelings on legislators’ attacks on LGBTQ+ youth. Without specifically mentioning Disney, she made it very clear what she thinks of companies who publicly talk about inclusion and privately support “hatred and oppression.”
Cheaper by the Dozen premieres on Disney+ Friday, March 18.