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January 2006
Something New: An Interview with Sanaa Lathan

Something New: An Interview with Sanaa Lathan

By Wilson Morales

The last time we saw Sanaa Lathan on the big screen, she was fighting monsters of all sorts in "AVP: Alien Vs. Predator". That was certainly a 360 turn from the films she had done previously, which basically were romantic and dramatic films such as "Out of Time" with Denzel Washington, "Out of Time" with Taye Diggs, and "Disappearing Acts" with Wesley Snipes. Sometime last year, Lathan found time to lend her voice to the animated film, "The Golden Blaze", which also featured the voice of Blair Underwood. Seems that Lathan is looking to change the pace of her films and roles, and with her latest film, "Something New", she's certainly going trying a new adventure. In "Something New", Lathan plays Kenya, a successful accountant who has all in life except for love. And when love comes totally unexpectedly, Kenya's dilemma is with the barriers that exist within society when she falls for a white guy. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Lathan talks about interracial romance, working with the cast, a first time filmmaker, and if she will come back to the sequel to "AVP".

How would you describe your character?

Sanaa Lathan: She's a very successful driven woman, who's about to be made partner in her accounting firm; and she hasn't had a date in two years. She's having Valentine's Day once again with her girlfriends and she's a little frustrated by that.

What led you to take on this role?

SL: The thing I love about this movie is that if you think about it, there hasn't been interracial relationship movies that deal with this from a black woman's perspective. It's usually a black man and a white woman. The other thing about it is that it's usually the couple against the world; or the couple against the family. In this case, it's her coming up against her own prejudices. The movie is about her conflict with being with him, which is such a real dilemma for modern day women dating outside of their race. I've experienced it. I've seen my girlfriends go through that. I wanted to see that on the big screen. I'm all for showing all of our experiences.

Did you do any research for this film?

SL: I didn't really have to. I spent a day in an accounting firm to see what the day would be like, but in terms of her dilemma, I didn't feel like I had to.

This is the second time you have worked with Alfre Woodard, where she has played your mother. The first being "Love and Basketball". Did you reconnect with her prior to shooting the film and did you talk to her about the racial subject since she is married to a white man.

SL: Yeah, totally, I really did. She's such a wonderful, wonderful actress. Alfre has always been such a strong woman and my character Kenya's dilemma is really worrying about what the world thinks, what society thinks, and getting that idea of "IBM" (Ideal Black Man). Alfre has been in an interracial relationship for years and she said that you just have to be strong within yourself and I think that's the journey that Kenya takes, of getting to that strength.

How was working with Simon (Baker)?

SL: He's great. He's Australian. He made it so easy. He's such a good actor. When you work with good actors, it makes your job a bit easier. I guess we had chemistry because all those scenes were really easy to do and I'm just happy it was him. Falling in love with somebody is no joke. It's a love story, and it's important. I was really nervous about who they were going to cast.

Did you have an input as far as casting your male lead?

SL: I read with about white guys for chemistry. They were guys who were capable of doing the role and kinda hot within Hollywood and Simon and I supposedly had the best chemistry.

One of the funniest scenes in the film was the hair scene.

SL: It's so funny because that's one of those cultural markers where you just know all black people are just nodding and turning and saying, "Ooh". They love that scene. That's true. People really don't understand weaves and if you have a weave, you're constantly getting asked questions. I love his character because he's so innocent about it. He doesn't think that he's going to offend her.

How was it working with the cast? You had an ensemble of females as your best friends.

SL: I know. It's so great because they are my friends in real life and I respect them all. They are all such good actresses. I felt lucky that they signed on. There were days when we were really unprofessional and we would start giggling and laughing and the crew would have to be waiting on us. We couldn't stop laughing in between takes, and that's where the movie was happening, in between takes. I think the chemistry comes across in our scenes.

How was working with Blair (Underwood) after working somewhat together on the animated film, "Golden Blaze"?

SL: Isn't that funny? When you do a voice over character, you're by yourself, so I actually didn't get to work with him. We just saw each other in passing. I always see him and we have the same agent for a long time and his kids go to school with my little sister. We've always talked about working together so I was really thrilled that he agreed to do this.

With Blair in the mix, folks will be looking at this film as Sanaa, Blair, and the white guy. What would you think the average person would do?

SL: That's the thing. Kenya has that list, that IBM, that Ideal Black Man, and Blair's character, Mark, was that. He's handsome, he's educated, he has nice teeth, and he makes money. So she had to explore that. When she experienced him, she realized that she didn't feel anything, and that was crushing. You have an idea of what you want and what you think will make you happy and then you come up against it and it doesn't, then what?

How was working with Sanaa Hamri as a first film director?

SL: It was so good. She's such a great director. I was a little nervous at first cause you never know with first time directors. I knew she knew how to work with the camera because she had come from the video world; but can she tell a story and can she work with actors; and she turned out to be one of the best directors I've worked with. She really knows what she wants. She has such a vision. She knows how to work with actors. I'll definitely do it again.

Did you have input with the script?

SL: Yeah, early on. There were rewrites being done and we all had our notes involved and it kept getting better and better until we shot it.

Outside of the urban films that you have done, there's "Alien V. Predator". Just recently, Fox executive Tom Rothman was heard stating that the studio has a script for a new film and the 2007 would be a release date. Have you heard of that? Were you approached to come back for a sequel?

SL: I know that if they want me, I'll have to do it because I had signed a 2-picture deal. If they don't want me, they can hire somebody else, so we shall see.

Did you have fun shooting that film?

SL: Oh yeah, absolutely. I don't of things like within urban market. I guess every job is a job. I got to spend five months in Prague, which on one hand was great and the other hand is hard to be so far away from your family and friends. It was a great learning experience for me. All of the crew was English and German and they treated me like a princess, but it was hard work. Lots of running and screaming and fighting.

You're one of the few black actresses who get leading roles. What do you think is the status is today for black actresses?

SL: We need more. I definitely feel we have a long way to go.

Where's the power coming from? The producer, writer, and the director?

SL; It comes from the studios. If this movies turns out to be a hit, then it's really about numbers. We haven't had the opportunity to obtain the big numbers.

What's next for you?

SL: I'm working on developing a movie with Gina Prince-Bythewood. She wrote and directed "Love and Basketball". It's a movie about a very simple splice of life. It's a story of a woman who is married to a man in prison, which is another reality in this country that is very pervasive and we haven't seen on screen and it's how she's lost herself and regain herself.

Why should folks go see "Something New"?

SL: Because it's something new; something that you haven't seen before, and you will have a great time.

SOMETHING NEW opens on February 3rd, 2006


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