Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba go into action for ‘Bad Boys’ spin off ‘L.A.'s Finest’

Jessica Alba, left, and Gabrielle Union star in "L.A. Finest," playing two LAPD detectives who couldn't be more different.
Jessica Alba, left, and Gabrielle Union star in “L.A. Finest,” playing two LAPD detectives who couldn’t be more different.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Bad girls, bad girls, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

No, you did not read those lyrics wrong. The familiar chorus from TV’s “Cops,” referenced in the hit Will Smith-Martin Lawrence buddy cop “Bad Boys” films, is the one that needs a rewrite now that Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba are juicing up the “Bad Boys” franchise, teaming up for the spinoff “L.A.’s Finest” as detectives in pursuit of some of L.A.’s baddest. The series, which kicks off Charter Communications’ premium content initiative, Spectrum Originals, on May 13, is also a career landmark for Union and Alba, who have dozens of film and TV credits between them.

Coming together on a recent afternoon at a West Los Angeles hotel suite, Union and Alba repeatedly key in on one word — “badass” — to define their on- and off-screen partnership. They find it particularly gratifying to be starring in a TV action drama.

“A lot of studios and networks shy away from making grown women sexy, action heroes — we get stuck in Hollywood when you’re 25,” Union says as she sits near Alba. “That’s when they think you’re at your most sexy, most viable. I’m 46, and I’ve never made more money and never had more options and never lived a bigger, better and more full, thoroughly enjoyable life. And I found a partner in Jess, who also has a life outside Hollywood that is bigger, dare I say, and more fulfilling, and amazing. In our fullness and our dopeness and peak sexiness — I think we’re still peaking — happens not in spite of, but because of, our full-ass womanness.”


“L.A.’s Finest” marks Alba’s return to the entertainment spotlight, eight years after departing Hollywood to found the Honest Co., a successful consumer goods company specializing in beauty and babies. The actress, who has been performing since she was 13 and made a splash at age 18 as Max, the genetically engineered human prototype in Jim Cameron’s futuristic “Dark Angel,” is also the mother of three children with her husband, producer Cash Warren.

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Meanwhile, Union, a steady presence for the last two decades in TV and film (“Bring It On,” “Being Mary Jane,” “Deliver Us From Eva”), is positioning the series as part of her strategy to extend her business and Hollywood profile. In addition to producing TV and film projects, Union has joined the judging panel on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” and has started a clothing and baby product line with New York & Co. She is married to just-retired NBA star Dwayne Wade and is stepmother to his three children from previous relationships. The couple also have a 6-month-old daughter.

In reviving her “Bad Boys II” character Sydney “Syd” Burnett for “L.A.’s Finest,” Union wanted to pair with someone who could empathize with her personal journey as a parent.

“While shooting the pilot, I had just shot an embryo in our surrogate,” Union says. “We were creating a world for Jessica that I was hoping for myself. So I needed someone who was going to be on board with a new way of filming, a new way of doing Hollywood.”

After production began, Union says, “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 there’s one Jessica Alba.”

Ultimate ‘action chick’

“L.A’s Finest” lands as a TV milestone — the first time two women of color have starred in an hour-long action drama.

Alba is hoping the series alters the industry’s perspective on women past 30 and the action genre.

“At one time, there was only one ‘Dark Angel,’ one ‘Alias’ and 50 other things that were so completely not that,” she says. “Hopefully, there is more equality now, and we won’t have to sit here and be the first and only show where there are two women starring in an action series.”

Produced by Sony Pictures Television and Jerry Bruckheimer Productions, the force behind the “Bad Boys” films, “L.A.’s Finest” maintains the “Bad Boys” formula of mixing humor with explosions, constant action and peril.

And while the show functions as a stand-alone project, it also serves as an appetizer for the third “Bad Boys” film, which reunites Smith and Lawrence and is scheduled for release next year.

In the new series, Union’s Syd — an undercover DEA agent who was the sister of Det. Lt. Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) and girlfriend of his partner, Mike Lowrey (Smith) — is now single with a very active and adventurous sex life, though troubled by demons from her past. She’s relocated to Los Angeles from Miami and has joined forces with Det. Nancy McKenna (Alba), a happily married wife and stepmother of a teenage daughter who has some dark secrets of her own.

Union and her manager approached Bruckheimer last year about building a series around Syd. The producer, who at the time was grappling with the possibility of another “Bad Boys,” was instantly intrigued.

“Jerry thought our idea was actually genius — he said we could build a whole world around Syd,” Union says.

Actresses Jessica Alba, left, and Gabrielle Union
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

But the question quickly arose — who would Union team up with? The actress thought of Alba, who had just given birth to her third child.

“Who do you come up with when you’re thinking about an action chick?” asks Union. “Who can come in and be a badass without a learning curve? There’s only one Jessica. So I just begged her. ‘I know you’re a little busy right now creating this human being and you have this massive company. But is this something that would even interest you?’”

The two were already friends. “I’ve been seeing her over the years,” Union says. “She was always just one of these people at these stuffy Hollywood events that you gravitate to because they’re in on the joke and they get it. She’s a fun, cool person.”

She felt that she and Alba would have good chemistry on- and off-screen. “Her taste in tequila was helpful,” she says with a laugh.

Alba adds, “You never really know about chemistry, but you can kind of sniff out someone who is such a narcissist that it’s hard for them to reach outside of themselves and they spin themselves into a tornado of chaos. I just like the humanity of Gab’s character. I trusted that we could have a real good time and have a real respectful relationship and have fun while doing it.”

Even before she was approached by Union, Alba was already plotting a return to Hollywood; she had even met with Bruckheimer to discuss possibilities. But in planning her comeback, she was determined to do it her way.

“I knew that I was mentally ready to think about getting back into Hollywood, but I wanted to do it in a different way than I had done before,” Alba says. “Because I had been a part of creating a company, I wanted to be a part of the process. When this opportunity came around, it was already pretty much a complete product. But I had the chance to have input in driving the character, the story and the development of our relationship. I also had inputs in the editing room — that was something I always wanted to be a part of.”

Reflecting on the pressure she felt early in her acting career, Alba knew that having a creative partner was also important.

“I never had any real interest in carrying something on my shoulders alone,” she says. “I’ve had many opportunities to do that. ‘Dark Angel’ was like boot camp. Jim Cameron told me, ‘You’re setting the tone on how people are going to show up everyday,’ and I was 18. I was always the hardest-working person there. It sort of broke my back. Not literally, but it was hard to do on my own. That’s even more reason why I wanted to do it with someone.”

Overcoming tragedy on set

Operating as series leads and executive producers, Union and Alba wanted to inject aspects of their personal lives into their characters.

Alba’s character McKenna “is a stepparent, which is a nod to my own personal life and that journey, and how does that work,” Union has said in interviews. “How do you figure out what your lane is, much less how do you stay in it; how do you maintain a relationship while also building bridges within your own family, and then, coming to work and doing the same. So it’s just who McKenna is, and Syd is a little more sexually free.”

They also wanted to have a family-friendly vibe on set. Union says that at one point, the trailers for her and her costar looked “like Gymboree.”

When Alba first signed onto the series, she told Union she was breastfeeding. Union’s response: “I’m like, ‘I got you.’”

They also wanted to make sure that crew members felt comfortable bringing their children to the set and that everyone’s time there was well used.

But for all of the accommodations made on the family front, a major complication erupted during the last days of filming the series’ 13 episodes. A stunt car ran into the video village area at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, severely injuring co-showrunner Brandon Sonnier, along with fellow executive producer and showrunner Brandon Margolis. Sonnier’s injuries were so extensive that doctors had to remove part of his right leg.

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“I don’t know if ‘heartbroken’ is a big enough word,” Union says of the accident. “It was just a tragedy for our producers and their families. Me and Jessica are huddled on the floor, and they’re like, ‘This is our dream, and we’re still living the dream. The dream just looks a little different.’ They are incredibly proud of the show and resilient.”

“Both Brandons are great,” Alba adds. “We call Brandon Sonnier ‘Bionic Brandon.’ He’s so inspiring. He’s coaching his kid’s baseball team — I think he only missed one week of practice. He’s a father of four. It’s really inspiring for me to watch his resilience and see him be such a freaking rock star and take on this new life with such grace and humor.”

Alba is still focused on Honest, which is expanding domestically and internationally. She and Warren are also advising Union as she enters the lifestyle business arena.

But “L.A. Finest” is a priority for both, and they are optimistic that the series will promote change.

“Hopefully, in two or three years,” Alba says, “half the action shows are starring women, and they get to run around and do all the things you typically see men in Hollywood doing. Hopefully, we open the doors.”