Gabrielle Union on FlashForward's hopeful diversity

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Gabrielle Union joined the cast of ABC's upcoming sci-fi thriller series FlashForward after the pilot and told us that she'll play a criminal defense attorney engaged to Demetri Noh (John Cho). She said the pairing of her African-American character and Cho's Asian-American character was deliberate.

"The cultural differences with our families, not only blending families in the middle of a recession but blending families that come from different cultures and races and backgrounds, will definitely be explored," Union said in an exclusive interview last week in Pasadena, Calif. "And, I love John."

In the series, based on Robert J. Sawyer's SF novel, everyone in the world blacks out for 2 minutes 17 seconds, during which time each person has a glimpse of the future and their lives on a specific date: April 29, 2010. The show's characters, played by Joseph Fiennes, Sonya Walger and others, will spend the bulk of the first season figuring out what will come true and whether they can alter the predictions. Union said her scenes with Cho focus on their relationship.

"[I've shot] a lot of time with John," She continued. "We have a really good relationship. I'm so glad that they're showing two people of color with, like, a really ... loving and nurturing relationship. I haven't really seen that on TV, and certainly not in an interracial relationship, very loving and sweet in a genuine sort of way." (Major spoilers ahead!)

In the pilot episode, one flash forward saves a character from suicide. Others characters worry that their own futures include a relapse into alcoholism or an end to their marriages. Union's not telling what she sees.

"It's life-affirming, that's for sure," she teased.

Cho's character sees nothing in his flash forward, leading him to believe he doesn't make it to April 29. So far, this has not affected his relationship in early episodes, Union said.

"Well, he has not shared with me his flash forward, so ignorance is bliss at this point," Union said.

Union came to FlashForward because of her previous relationship with ABC: She starred on the short-lived Night Stalker and guested on Ugly Betty, so the network wanted to get back in the Gabrielle Union business.

"They've been incredibly supportive," Union said. "A lot of people give lip service to 'We want to increase diversity,' and then you just never see any people of color. They actually really mean it. If one thing doesn't work out, they come up with more opportunities. So they're like, 'We want you back in the family,' and by chance, the next day the Goyers [executive producers Jessika Borsiczky Goyer and David Goyer] called them, and they were like, 'Do you think Gabrielle would ever be interested in returning to television?' They're like, 'Funny you should ask. We just talked to her about this.'"

Since FlashForward has a long-term mythology that the creators are guarding closely, it's one of those shows where even the actors don't get information beyond the script they are shooting. That creates a challenging work environment for Union.

"It's more hard that we are given very limited information, to the point where filming a scene, I think I have all the information I need," she said. "We do a take, and they're like, 'Oh, nobody told her.' Then they whisper it in your ear, and I'm like, 'Oh, OK, that changes everything.' So I'm literally getting information on a need-to-have basis. That's more challenging. Literally, they tell me on a need-to-know basis."

FlashForward premieres Sept. 24 on ABC.