Gabrielle Union has long been open about her personal experience with sexual assault. But as the actress revealed in her recent cover story for Hello Beautiful, she never truly faced her trauma head-on until she was confronted with it through a life-changing role.
While in conversation with Me Too founder Tarana Burke, Union revealed that her role as an outspoken high school principal named Eva in Season 3 of Octavia Spencer’s Apple TV+ hit true crime drama Truth Be Told placed her face-to-face with her own past in a way that she had never experienced before. The date marking 30 years since her own rape experience happened to fall during filming, making the shooting process even more emotionally taxing on taxing on the actress.
As Union told Burke, she was ready to move on to something comedic and light after facing so much darkness in her most recent film role in The Inspection. However, her team let her know that this script, although heavy, might be of special interest to her. Once she saw her good friend Spencer’s name was attached, she decided to dive in.
“I trust her in a way that I don’t trust most people in this town in our industry, which is saying a lot,” Union shared. “So if I was gonna do it, it would need to be with Octavia or someone I trust like Octavia.”
Since she had always been open and honest about her own experience – she was assaulted at gunpoint at 19 years while working at a Payless shoe store – Union thought she was at a point where she could tackle the difficult subject matter.
“I felt like, I’m in a solid place to do this job. What I did not realize is, during my rape, I disassociated,” she revealed. “I can clearly describe the feeling of being in the midst of watching, like hovering over myself looking down and watching it happen. And just being like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me.’”
Though she thought she was free from this dissociation, Union realized during filming that she had still kept the full experience at bay for the past three decades. More of the memory, and the feelings she had never completely dealt with, unraveled as she got deeper into her role.
“I realized during the production, it was like there was a distance from the me that was being raped and brutalized from the me telling the story,” she explained. “As they say, the body remembers. So we’re a couple of days into production, and my body was like, yeah…I was not ready. It was like every day my brain pulled the veil back a little and gave me new pieces of information that it had decided that I could not handle at the time.”
“And I would come home and I would cry every day. I’m not a crier – that is not my ministry. And I would be shaking and crying at the end. I would literally run off of set every day like I was trying to catch the ice cream man. But I had to get away. There were days it felt like this job is really trying to kill me. It felt like terror. It just stayed that way for five months straight, just straight-up terror in my chest.”
Ultimately, Union says she was able to face and feel all the things she hadn’t allowed herself to before to truly move past the experience once and for all. Once filming wrapped, her friends and loved once accompanied her to Malibu, where she participated in a ceremony featuring West African drummers and elders that led her back to herself and prepared her for the next chapter of life.
“Most of my friends were there and they had watched me break for months. I did this rebirth ceremony. After 30 years kind of living half a life, it’s time to claim my fullness and release who I was so I can embrace who I am and who I will be.”