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August 2004
Alien Vs. Predator: An Interview with Sanaa Lathan

By Wilson Morales

Alien Vs. Predator: An Interview with Sanaa Lathan

When it comes to monster films, horror films, and basically the sci-fi genre, African Americans aren't usually featured in a positive way. For years, we were always the first to die or weren't even featured in the film at all, but lately the trend is changing. In the last few years, the unexpected is happening. In "28 Days Later...", Naomie Harris made it through alive and so did Kelly Rowland in "Freddy Vs. Jason". We don't know what fate holds for Sanaa Lathan in the upcoming "Alien Vs. Predator", but she's considered to be the first black actress to lead a sci-fi film. That itself is a history making achievement. Having received a Tony nomination for her role in "A Raisin in the Sun" and co-starring with Denzel Washington in last year's "Out of Time", one would say that Sanaa has chosen some good projects as of late. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Sanaa talks about her role in "Alien Vs. Predator" and compares the physical work needed for this film to the one needed for her recent work on stage.

What attracted you to the role?

Sanaa Lathan: Well, I read the script and it was a great role. All of the things that I look for in my jobs were there. All the qualities were there and it was a character that I felt would be challenging to play. She goes through a big change in the movie. It was a very developed storyline and it was something that I had not done before.

Had you seen any of the previous Predator or Alien films?

SL: I had seen a couple of the Alien films but I didn't really remember them. I was really young when I saw them, so it was interesting because it was a last minute thing for me. I had just finished promoting "Out of Time" and I was on the road and feeling sort of sick. My agent said that I had to go in for this movie and it was on Friday when he told me and the meeting was set for Saturday. I was like, "I don't to want to go in. I'm tired", and he said, "It's a last minute thing. You've got to do it." Literally, within a week, I was in Prague shooting.

Can you talk about your character?

SL: Her name is Alexa "Lex" Woods. She's an environmentalist and a guide. She takes a group of scientists on an expedition in Antarctica to see what they think is an undiscovered pyramid underneath the ice and when they get there, they meet up with some other scary creatures that looks like the size of the pyramid. (She laughs)

How did you like working with Director Paul W.S Anderson?

SL: He's great. He really knows this genre. This film has been a dream of his for a long time. He's had this idea for over 10 years, so it's like his dreams are coming true and it showed on the set everyday. We had a long grueling schedule and it was in the dead of winter in Prague. He was just enthusiastic and great and it was infectious on the set and he created a great environment to work in.

Did you have to do any work with CGI?

SL: CGI is done after the film is done and it's through the computer. One of the things that we pride ourselves on with this film is that most of the film is not computer generated special effects. Most of it is that creature that is in the room with you. The predator is in the room with me and maybe a minimal amount is done with CGI so it makes my job easier because I have something to work with.

Do you do any physical training for this film?

SL: Because I didn't have that much time before I started, I did work out everyday, which was great because I realize that, not only to stay in shape, I needed it to have the endurance to do what needed to be done and not get hurt. I have such a new respect for action stars now.

What do you think of the sci-fi genre and what are some of your favorite films?

SL: Now, my favorites are "Alien" and I loved "Predator". I really loved "Spider-Man" and "X-Men". I loved "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. There's probably more, but I can't think of them now.

Do you realize that with the exception of Pam Grier, who starred with Ice Cube in "John Carpenter's Ghost of Mars", you are probably the first black female lead in a sci-fi film?

SL: I think that's amazing and it's great. In 1979, "Alien" came out and Sigourney (Weaver) was in it with a bunch a guys and nobody at that time expected the woman to be the hero, so that was a tradition that the alien started. When Paul did this, I think he had in mind, and he auditioned all races, to set this apart and yet still carry on that tradition, which is great because it's a woman and you would never expect a black woman to be the hero.

You recently came off doing a stint on Broadway with "A Raisin in the Sun". Has your perspective on acting changed?

SL: No. I started out in the theater and I grew up in this business, so being on Broadway was like a dream come true for me. To work with Phylicia Rashad and Audra Mcdonald, it was amazing; and Sean (Combs) did an amazing job, he worked so hard and really rose to the occasion. It was just really wonderful. It almost got me more excited again about acting and how far you can go with it. I felt that I grew as an actor; I got nominated for a Tony (award), which was a complete surprise. It was an experience that I will always cherish.

With the Tony nomination, did you get a lot more offers to do theater plays?

SL: Yeah, definitely.

Will you go back to theater?

SL: I'll eventually go back to theater because it's an experience and the feeling of being on stage where you have the audience right there with you and the life of the character throughout every night, and you can't replace that with anything. So I definitely will go back every now and then, but I love making movies and I love the fact that with movies, movies are forever. When I'm 80, my grandkids can see me in "Love and Basketball" and in "Brown Sugar" and I love that.

From having done theater, do you see the difference between the physical work needed for the stage and for a film?

SL: It's so funny because when I was shooting AVP, I called my agent and I was like, "I want to do a play next." I'm tired of being out of order. Everything's out of order. Everything's in pieces and it's very tedious. You have 14 hour days and I was like, "I want to do a play." So I got "A Raisin in the Sun". It was weird how it was synchronicity. I thought it would be a piece of cake and they were both probably the hardest experiences in my life. When you're starring in a movie and working on a set, 17 hour day, and in Prague for 4 months, that is so intense and you're away from you family and friends, but then when you have a play, you have to be on every night for those 1200 people, and in this case, that was actually the number. Both were extremely challenging but just in very different ways.

African Americans female actors haven't always been given leading roles in Hollywood, but lately, with you, Nia Long, Halle Berry, Angela Bassett, things seem to be changing. Do you believe so?

SL: I started working professionally in '96 and I see an improvement in the amount of work given to my peers, whether it be in TV, theater, or film, so I'm being hopeful about that.

What's next for you?

SL: I don't know yet. I was working straight for nine months and I'm exhausted. I'm ready to relax for a little while and read. I don't want to work for work sake; I have to be excited to be excited about it, so we'll see.

Thank you.

SL: Thanks so much.

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