Quick Stats: Gabrielle Dennis, actor, CBS’ S.W.A.T and HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show
Daily Driver: 2014 Range Rover Sport Autobiography (Gabrielle’s rating: 9 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Favorite road trip: Ohio to Atlanta
Car she learned to drive in: Volvo 840 turbo
First car bought: 1990s Mitsubishi Galant
When Gabrielle Dennis got cast on Rosewood, she took it as an opportunity to buy her first SUV—a used 2014 Range Rover Sport Autobiography she could enjoy on her long commute.
“It was my first network TV series that I was a series regular, so I was very excited. I had been driving my same college car for 10 years,” she says with a laugh. “So it was time to get an upgrade. I’d been driving my same Nissan Altima. It was paid off, it was starting to show wear and tear. I wanted to be in something that would feel fun and be a little more distracting from the monotony of being on the road, and I loved that it had the red interior.”
Because of the vehicle’s rare color combination, Dennis had to look all the way to Hawaii to find what she wanted, and the seller shipped it to Los Angeles for free. “We shop for cars based on the exterior, but the interior’s for me. It’s for the driver,” she says. “I love the red and black interior; I love that I can sit high, and I love the speed, the ability to get in and out of lanes. I had looked at the G-Wagen, but they were uncomfortable. I liked that the Range was a comfortable SUV. It’s got luxury, but it was also very fun because it’s a Sport. It’s a fun truck to drive.”
She tried the more traditional Range Rover but found it felt too big. The Sport is easier to park. “What I love about it, it feels daintier for an SUV,” she says. “The interior didn’t feel overwhelming, I didn’t feel there was this huge distance from myself and whoever is in the back seat.”
Initially, Dennis was all set to buy a Tesla, but she would have had to upgrade the electrical panel at her rental house to accommodate charging. “Especially in 2015, I don’t know that there were as many charging stations available, so I didn’t want to run the risk of running out of [range] to or from work. I had the color picked out, I knew I was going to get the red, and my brake pads were yellow. I had a whole vision,” she says with a laugh. “I had it figured out, but there was something about that candy apple red, which was so pretty, and the shape was gorgeous.”
Her only criticisms with the Range Rover Sport is that it’s a gas guzzler, and it’s harder to park than a sedan. “The body style came out in 2014, and I bought it used in 2015 because I became a firm believer of buying used vehicles and buying cash whenever you can,” she says, “because my very first vehicle that I bought got totaled and wrecked less than two months of owning it.” She also liked the SUV’s styling, noting that it “had a little more curve” to its design and wasn’t very boxy. Dennis loves the panoramic sunroof that extends over the back seat, providing lots of natural light.
Dennis also thought about getting an old 1970s Corvette Stingray to drive to the set. “People were laughing, ‘You know that can’t be your daily car to commute all the way from the Valley to Manhattan Beach. That’s more of a weekend car, a neighborhood drive-around car!'”
She looked at a 2015 Corvette, but the two-seater felt too low and claustrophobic. “I just didn’t want to be that grounded and feel every bump on the 405,” she says.
Car she learned to drive in
Dennis grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she learned to drive in a car the driving school provided when the instructor came to her house for lessons. She also got to drive her mother’s white Volvo 740 turbo.
“It was a very sturdy, strong car,” she says. “I remember being able to drive that a few times, but I actually learned how to drive through driving school. I immediately got my very first car as soon as I turned 16.”
The summer Dennis was 15, she planned to buy a car and worked at the mall at a kiosk selling manicure kits. “I was one of those annoying people who would ask if you wanted to sample the lotion and buff your nails and make them shiny,” she laughs. “But it was an amazing summer job because I earned the money I needed to buy my car.”
She sold enough manicure kits at her job, saving $3,000. Right when she turned 16, Dennis bought a used 1995 or 1996 Mitsubishi Galant. “It was blue, it had the sunroof, [and] it had a sound system. It was so amazing. I felt so grown up.”
Dennis needed the car as soon as she could get one because she was focused on her career. “I went to a performing arts school, so I was always in rehearsals and relying on my mother to pick me up and be on time,” she says with a laugh. “I knew it would be a relief for her to stop being a chauffeur for myself and my sister, of driving us to practices and obligations. So I was ready to drive. As soon as I got a permit, I was working, and as soon as I turned 16, I got my license, because I was ready to get out there on the road and to feel accomplished.”
Within two months, though, her car was totaled. “I don’t even remember why my mom was driving my car, but she got rear-ended by a truck,” she recalls. “I paid for the down payment, and I was leasing the vehicle. When she got the car totaled, it freaked me out because I got my down payment back, so I thought, ‘Now I’ll just pay cash. ‘”Dennis then bought a white Nissan Stanza. “That was also used and very old, but it worked,” she says. “[My best friend and I] were known as ‘the two girls in the white car,’ because we went everywhere. So we had a lot of fun, just going to the car wash and washing our car, that was fun for us.”
She also learned little nuances about vehicles from her old Nissan. “There was a hole in the muffler at one point, so I remember driving past somebody, and their car was making the same noise my car used to make. ‘They have a hole in their muffler,’ or ‘There’s something wrong with the tailpipe,'” she laughs. “… Because my car was old and used, we took a lot of care in keeping it clean, because that was the saving grace. At least if it’s clean, it’ll still look nice.”
She sold the Nissan for $800 when she went to college in Washington, D.C. and later bought a Toyota Corolla that eventually ran into some mechanical issues, at which point her grandfather gave her his Mercury Grand Marquis.
“It felt like I was driving this spaceship. It was this huge, white, long car. When I was on the road, I got so much respect. People got out of my way when I turned on my blinker. Nobody wanted me to hit them because the car was so big,” she says, laughing. “Those cars were built to last. My grandfather always said, ‘If you get into an accident, nothing’s going to happen to you.’ I remember people laughing at me, ‘You are so little driving this big car. ‘”
Turns out, her grandfather was right. The Grand Marquis got totaled, and she was fine. It got rear-ended by a truck on the highway when Dennis was on holiday break in college. “The trunk was almost to the window. I’m just thinking, ‘Just smash it down and fix the trunk, and I can be on my way,'” she says, laughing. “I didn’t know any better.”
Even with the insurance payout, she didn’t have enough to buy another car with cash, so she bought her only new car. “I had an ex who worked at a dealership, and I ended up buying a new Nissan Altima in 2002 or 2003,” she says.
Dennis had a six-year loan, and the moment she mailed off her last payment and took the car in for regular maintenance, she got bad news. “It was as if it was timed,” she says. “They told me my engine had blew. I had to charge a new engine to my credit card and take years to pay that off. I got my good use out of that car, eventually.”
She sold the Altima for $2,500 to buy her Range Rover. “I feel good. I sold it to this young kid and his brother ,and it reminded me of back when I was looking for a used car. It was in decent condition. A couple of scrapes and dings from my years of parking in D.C.,” she says.
With all her cars, she now believes in buying cars used. “When I got the Range Rover, I’m paying cash for it, I don’t want to deal with monthly payments,” she says. “If I have the money, I just rip the Band-Aid off, and I’m not paying the bank interest.”
Favorite road trip
When Dennis was younger, her favorite road trip was visiting family in Atlanta. “It was a nice fun way to listen to music, sing in the car, and packing snacks for some reason was so fun. One of my mom’s friends who drove with us loved pickled okra. I remember it spilling, and we had to deal with the smell of pickled okra on the drive,” she says, laughing. “Other than that, packing your favorite sandwiches and snacks and playing games in the car. When you’re a kid, you live for those moments. That’s a good seven-hour drive.”
S.W.A.T. photos courtesy Sonja Flemming/CBS
The payoff was getting to Atlanta and exploring the city, which included the Coca-Cola factory, Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘s home, the aquarium, and seeing family. “But now, I’m not that big of a fan of road trips because most of the places I like to go require getting on a plane,” she says. “But my favorite place to drive—and I do this every other year—is to Las Vegas.”
Dennis loves the convenience of getting in her car and being able to pack whatever she wants and taking her time. “It’s very leisurely. I like when it’s time to leave Vegas; I’m not one of those people who look like they’re mad crazy trying to get out to the airport on time,” she says. “I like the relaxed vibe of driving to Vegas. You can shop and bring things back with you. Parking used to be free everywhere you go. We would either rent a car or take my Range down there.”
One time, Dennis took the opportunity of a major traffic jam on the way home as a way to really try out her Range Rover. “It was an adventure. Pulling out a map and literally hopping off the highway and taking a desert route. Part of it was creepy. It was a completely open, wide desert,” she says “But it was fun to just hop off the road, and it wasn’t something I was able to do in my Altima. It was like, ‘Let’s put this truck to the test and this rocky terrain and really get it dirty and go for it. If we get lost, we can see the highway; we can always go back. ‘”
She noticed other cars had to turn back when the going got especially rough. “It was very fun. I felt very proud,” she says. “I thought, ‘This little off-roading thing can be something I’m into!’ The car was filthy by the time I got to L.A. It was fun to take that adventure.”
The drive to Vegas is always relaxing for Dennis. “You can get to Vegas in less than four hours. It’s just about timing it right. There’s something about being able to actually go the speed limit because in L.A. everything is bumper-to-bumper traffic, and everyone’s moving at a snail’s pace,” she says. “But it’s nice to just get on the road and have a nice rhythm and have the window down, the wind blowing in your hair. There’s something really cool about that.”
Some of her most memorable road trips have been with her mother.
“When I drove out, it was my Altima. I was living in Maryland at the time, and I stopped in Ohio to pick my mother up to continue the journey with me to California,” she recalls. “That was the longest road trip I’d ever done. Then my mother decided to move and help me out, so I went back to Ohio to help her move. She moved here so many times.”
One time they were in U-Haul truck, and she says it started to smoke on the highway. “We had to pull over. It was late at night. We called AAA, and we had to stay at a hotel,” she says. “My mother’s one of those road trippers, she’s done this trip between Ohio and L.A. or Atlanta and L.A. a couple of times now. She likes to go straight through. She’d rather just sleep at a truck stop and take a quick nap. I was like, ‘I’m going to pay for the hotel, get a comfortable night’s rest.’ She’s so adventurous, her idea of the perfect life is just being in an RV. That way, when she gets bored with a city, she can just pick up and move to another one. That is her dream vision.”
Dennis has another memory of being in a large U-Haul with furniture going to California, this time when she left Maryland to pick her mom up in Ohio. “I remember … we ran out of gas literally feet from the gas station, mere feet from turning in,” Dennis says, laughing. “We were clearly Thelma and Louise on the road, having all kinds of weird adventures.”
CBS’ S.W.A.T and HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show
Dennis is back on CBS’ S.W.A.T. playing Shemar Moore’s sister, and her HBO show, A Black Lady Sketch Show, just got picked up for a second season, which brings her back to her comedy roots.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity, like with the sketch show. Most people know me in more of a dramatic space, like with the S.W.A.T. character, when I was on Rosewood, Luke Cage, or when I played Whitney Houston in the Bobby Brown miniseries,” Dennis says. “Most people relate me to more dramatic acting. What I love about this sketch show—the ability to be part of the HBO family is amazing, but to be able to get out and really stretch my legs in the comedy space, because that was actually what I started doing when I moved to Los Angeles. I did standup comedy.”
Dennis had a sketch group that toured. “I remembered going to Bakersfield, a dinner theater. People were showing up in furs and limousines,” she says. “They went all out for us. That was the highlight of their weekend, and it was such a great, warm feeling.”
So to be back in comedy has been a nice instance of coming full circle. “This platform has been amazing. I’m so grateful for that opportunity because the response has been amazing. The show has been critically acclaimed. It’s just been a fun ride, and I can’t wait to explore more of these characters that people aren’t used to seeing me in and seeing me do.”