L.A.’s Finest, available on Charter Communications’ Spectrum Originals, picks up 15 years after Bad Boys II, with Syd now working as an LAPD detective alongside her partner, Nancy McKenna, played by Jessica Alba. Alba had just given birth to her third child when she was approached about the role, so she was hesitant to take on a demanding network show. Her respect for Union’s hustle, and the network’s responsiveness to Alba’s needs as a mother, changed her mind. “I know how hard it is to be successful in this business,” Alba says. “So many people are talented and gorgeous and the next thing that everybody wants—to be able to push through the noise and find your own path is a feat. I respect that Gabrielle has been in this business for so long and found her way. She produced and helped develop and create this show. That is so cool.”
It was important for Union to have the opportunity to make Syd a fully realized character who has a full backstory, mythology, and mysteries. “I wanted her to have a very full sexual life, like Mary Jane,” Union says, referring to Mary Jane Paul, the role she played on BET’s Being Mary Jane. “I wanted her to have more sexual fluidity than any character I’ve ever had.” In short, L.A.’s Finest is about complex, deep, and sometimes flawed women.
Now that the new season has wrapped, Union’s next career chapter is all about using her platform to lift others up. Yes, her role on America’s Got Talent is to judge others. But she says she gets a thrill from telling contestants yes. “Part of what makes me cry is people’s visceral, emotional reaction to hearing a yes,” she says. “Even if I’m the only yes and the rest are no’s and they’re still not going to go through, you’re just someone saying, ‘I believe in you. I see you. I get what your genius is, even if nobody else does.’”
Similarly, with her production company, I’ll Have Another, her sole focus is giving people an opportunity—and getting them paid. “I think people thought I was just going to make shit that I wanted to put myself in,” she says. “But I’m already on a show. I don’t need all the jobs. I’m straight.”
Instead she’s looking for projects with unique voices that she doesn’t see anywhere else. Specifically, telling the stories from those who’ve been overlooked—the stifled, the silenced, the writers who can’t seem to make it out of the junior ranks in writers room. She became obsessed with being a super champion for others, an endeavor she admits is exhausting but that also, she says, “gives me wings.”
This is where she sees she can make change: by creating the kinds of roles and writing positions she wishes existed in her twenties. “When the script for the pilot of Scandal came out, every black actress wanted it because there was nothing like it,” she says. “It was it. I’m trying to create that same feeling, but a bunch of those. There are so many different creators of color who are creating amazing content, and I want to be a part of that.”
She’s more interested in creating content that audiences actually want to see than pleasing Hollywood. “I’m not here to serve Hollywood,” she says. “I’m not here to serve the one percent. I’m not here to serve the Talented Ten. At the end of the day, I’m Nickie Union from Omaha, Nebraska.”