The new holiday comedy-drama Almost Christmas gathers an all-star African-American cast let by Gabrielle Union and Omar Epps, plus Danny Glover, Mo'Nique, Romany Malco, Kimberly Elise and J.B. Smoove.

Union also produced the film, and was drawn to the project because it's more than a comedy. "It's about a family getting together for the holidays on the first Christmas after their matriarch has passed away," she says. "And they're trying to keep all their traditions alive even without her."

The family gather around the dining table in Almost Christmas

She also feels a special bond with her character. "I play Rachel," Union says, "and it's her first Christmas after being divorced. She's very independent. It's like taking a page out of my life. You know, that first time you show up after a divorce and everyone thinks it's contagious! So I put a lot of that into the character."

She says that the film's theme is universal. "Love is enduring and love is really the key," she says. "It started with the father and mother's love. They had such a beautiful love that even in death that love endures. And it's that love that brings all them all back together in the end. Sometimes we get so jaded about love and we kind of miss that it's what it's all about!"

Costar Omar Epps agrees. "It's a film about love and family, about everybody working their way through tribulations and turbulence." he says. "Everybody has their own issues, but at the end of the day you only have one family. And everyone will be able to relate to this film because it's Christmas dinner! We all know how that goes with the family, making Big Mama's pie, who can't cook the greens and the potato salad."

With a career spanning nearly 30 years on film and television, Epps says his job feels "like a blessing. I'm just thankful everyday! But when you're in it, whatever it is you do, and you're trying to master that, and when you get it, you're not even aware of all of that. I just been fortunate enough to have done that and can reflect back, so I'm even more thankful knowing how rare that can be."

And he struggles to think of which role is his favourite. "Nah, they're all pieces of one big puzzle," he says. "For me you can't take one piece out, but there's nothing like the first, doing Juice. I was only 17 years old. I'd never experienced anything like that."

Watch the trailer for Almost Christmas: