Gabrielle Union says she learned an important lesson after the death of Whitney Houston.
"It just kind of made everyone say, 'What do you want your legacy to be?'" Union said in a recent interview. "And I really doubled down on 'I only want to do things that I care about, that mean something.'
"So, no, I don't want to play perfect characters that are wholesome role models ... and have all the right answers."
Union stars on BET's "Being Mary Jane," which airs on Tuesdays (10 p.m. EST). She plays broadcaster Mary Jane Paul, whose professional life is on fire, but her private life is not. She can't find Mr. Right and essentially supports members of her family because she's the one with money.
Union said she loves playing the character because she's so messy.
"Within one scene I could be, you know, showing a bunch of different colors, and I've never been challenged like this. I've never been this gratified with my work," she said. "Ever."
She recalls meeting with "Being Mary Jane" executive producer Salim Akil and his team on the day Houston died. Akil directed Houston's final film, "Sparkle."
"They had just done 'Sparkle' with her. ... and there were so many people in that room and we were having this great conversation about basically my career going this great direction with this great character. ... and you see this other light just literally go out and you see ... everyone's looking at their phones, you hear people gasp and run out of the room, and it was one of those really life-affirming and life-questioning times."
Union said she was moved when Akil asked to end the meeting early. "There's a lot of producers who would have kept going," she said.
Union said she appreciates her character's flaws.
"I don't want to play perfect characters that are wholesome role models and everything to everyone and have all the right answers and who can get out of a terrorist cell with their bra," she laughed, referring to a recent episode of ABC's "Scandal."
"It's OK to be a flawed person because we're all flawed human beings and we're just doing the best that we can."
Union is married to Miami Heat basketball player Dwyane Wade. She says the racier scenes on "Being Mary Jane" only get awkward when they're watching the show together.
The show, she says, is the best creative decision she's made.
"I felt like a lazy actress. ... You get complacent, and when the checks are coming in it's like, 'Eh, maybe I'll get to challenge myself next week.' The next thing you know years have gone by and you've not really done anything that feeds your soul.
"And then there's this."
Follow Alicia Rancilio online at http://www.twitter.com/aliciar