"I said to myself, 'Oh my God, these roles are out there,'" Union recalled in a recent interview. "It showed me that you don't have to settle. Luckily, the success of her and the show bred more work. Just from the audition process, I knew that I couldn't go backward."
Now, Union is ready to move forward and make her mark. She will star in the dramatic movie "Being Mary Jane," which premieres Tuesday night on BET. The movie will become a series, expected to air in January.
Union plays a successful TV news anchor who attempts to juggle work, her on-and-off relationships and the needs of her family. She said the role would be different from her typical "good girl who meets the bad guy from the other side of the tracks" character.
"If you loved me for one thing and may not have liked me in something else, this role gives the audience a chance to see that I can do more than one thing," said Union, 40, who starred in movies such as "Deliver Us From Eva" and "Daddy's Little Girls."
Union called her role as a news anchor "sort of a secret dream come true." She said she has always been fascinated with the news, reading three newspapers a day when she was growing up.
In preparation for "Being Mary Jane," Union studied journalist Soledad O'Brien, host of CNN's documentary series "Black in America." She recorded all of the episodes, watching them before filming the movie.
"Her series took up a lot of space on my DVR," Union said. "I love how (O'Brien) delivers information. There's a news anchor's cadence that's different from an actor's cadence. If you do it wrong, you can come off cold or disconnected to the subject. I've been able to grow with the character in that manner."
Union hopes she can follow suit of Washington's success.
"I didn't get 'Scandal,' but I got something better — which is my own show," Union said. "It's all about building a legacy. This new opportunity is something I feel that can grow."
Follow Jonathan Landrum Jr. on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MrLandrum31
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.