9:15am PT by Rosie Knight
Gabrielle Union, Jessica Alba on Their "New Way of Doing Hollywood" in 'L.A.'s Finest'
Bad Boys spinoff L.A.'s Finest will be the first series available from Spectrum Originals, a new on-demand service offered to Charter Communications customers. The action drama, developed at NBC and eventually passed over before Charter picked it up, is also forging a new path in other ways.
During a visit to the Los Angeles set in February — a few weeks before a serious on-set accident injured both showrunners — executive producers and stars Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union spoke about how the unconventional route gave them flexibility to find "a new way of doing this Hollywood thing."
The show focuses on Union's character, Sydney "Syd" Burnett, who was introduced taking down a drug cartel in Bad Boys 2, and her partner, working mom Nancy McKenna (Alba). From the outset, Union was aware of just how much of a game-changer the series could potentially be. "Going into the creation of the show, it was already a revolutionary act. You have two female leads, one of whom is black, who's in charge, and who gets to have a massive say in who the other powerhouse is."
When it came to picking that co-lead, Union had a clear vision for the person who would become her partner both on and off the screen: "I really wanted a woman that was equally yoked, who could come on [and be] mano-a-mano onscreen and offscreen. A boss, badass woman."
She found it in Alba, who came out of a decade-long "semi-retirement" for the project. The actress' success in both business and Hollywood put her at the top of Union's list.
"There's not too many women that run a billion-dollar company" — Alba co-founded The Honest Company — "and have established iconic characters who can kick ass, who has the same work ethic that I do, and wasn't afraid to speak her mind," said Union.
That wasn't all that the two women shared. When the show was in pre-production, they were both in different stages of motherhood, something that would become a key part of shaping the world of L.A.'s Finest. "From deal onward, [we said] let's be real clear, let's not make any mistakes, this will be a family-friendly set. When we first signed off, Jessica was like, 'I'm breastfeeding' and I said 'I've got you,'" Union said with a laugh.
Alba said that attitude is key to the success of the show: "I think it's important that we set the stage that this is a family-friendly environment and a feminist environment, which means that women are equal to men in this world we've all created."
The unconventional nature of centering a production around parenthood, and mothers in particular, was something that became a core tenet of the show, with trailers "made up like nurseries" and family members and children a common sight on set. "We created what we'd never seen," said Union, "and Jessica was one of the first people to know that when we did the pilot, I had just shot an embryo into our surrogate. So we created a world for Jessica that I was hoping for myself."
That L.A.'s Finest centers on two women struck Alba as particularly relevant. "It felt really modern to tell the story of this friendship and partnership between these two women, and to not have to call out that we were women all the time," she said. "We're just people."
Union realized that what she needed was "a partner," and alongside showrunners Brandon Sonnier and Brandon Margolis, they would shake up the inconvenient and often overwhelming world of making television.
"I needed somebody that was going to be on board with a new way of filming, a new way of doing Hollywood," Union said. "By the time the show got picked up and we're shooting, my baby's due literally in the middle of the season and came early. I needed someone who was going to have my back, and that was Jessica."
The biggest changes Union and Alba made centered on one key part of production that had always baffled Union. "The scheduling is a lot more logical," she said. "I've been in the business almost 25 years, and there is zero consideration for your life and your health. How do you get to the dentist? How do you get to the doctor? How do you pick up your kids? How do you account for any kind of emergency? They don't care. That's the quick answer."
The crew created a schedule that offered a freedom and flexibility "where your life is factored in. They don't keep you there without any consideration for your children or your family," said Union. "They schedule you in a way that allows you to come in, do great work, and get home. And they listen."
Another aspect of the production took Union by surprise: "People are held accountable," she said. The startling juxtaposition to business as usual was brought to light as she joked with director Lexi Alexander, who commented, ''Oh no, that's my fault."
Union was shocked. "These are things that you don't hear in Hollywood, someone saying, 'Oh my god, I screwed that up.' That's new. That's weird. Twenty-five years in and people being accountable is noteworthy? That's insane!"
L.A.'s Finest premieres May 13 on Spectrum Originals.