It’s nearing dusk as Gabrielle Union greets me at the picture-perfect ranch in Malibu Hills where her new movie, Breaking In, is being shot. We’re supposed to chat during her lunch break, so I’m surprised when she takes a detour. “I want you to meet someone,” she says, padding through the grass. We stop in front of a single, solitary giraffe. “This is Stanley.” Union calls him over, rubs him like a pet, muses on how he wound up here all alone. Later she will tell me, “I’ve been Stanley, like, it feels like my whole life.”

For 20 years, Gabrielle Union has been the hottest girl kissing the hottest guys on screen. (Will Smith in Bad Boys 2, LL Cool J in Deliver Us From Eva, Idris Elba in Daddy’s Little Girls, Omari Hardwick on Being Mary Jane, et al.) This makes the idea of her feeling alone—like her pal Stanley—hard to grasp. Her life doesn’t look perfect just on-screen; when you see her choreographing dance routines with husband Dwyane Wade on Instagram, it looks like #GOALS in real life, too.

“People are like ‘goals’; me and D are like, ‘wtf?’ We’ve kind of figured it out now, but I guess maybe we should tweet live from couples’ therapy,” she says. “And when you ask us we’re gonna tell you, there’s a process to happy.” The 44-year-old woman in these photos, the actress who is kicking ass in her next film instead of playing the damsel in distress, is arriving on the other side of the journey. Meet Gabrielle Monique Union-Wade.