Sanaa Lathan talks Boss, By The Way, Meet Vera Stark, Best Man sequel, and Brown Sugar’s 10th Anniversary
August 16, 2012
Starting Friday, August 17th is the second season of the hot cable TV series, ‘Boss,’ which stars Kelsey Grammer as Chicago Mayor Tom Kane, a corrupt man who has recently been diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disorder.
Shown on Starz TV, the new season will introduce a couple of new characters. One played by rapper/actor T.I. and the other played Sanaa Lathan.
Lathan will play Mona Fredricks, Alderman Ross’ strong-willed and politically savvy Chief of Staff. Mona grew up in the projects and pursued a career in politics. She is every bit as dedicated to her husband and children as she is to her job.
For Lathan, who’s known for her film roles in The Best Man, Love and Basketball, Brown Sugar, Out of Time, Something New, The Family That Preys, and Contagion, this will be her first crack on TV as a series regular. The New York native currently voices the character Donna Tubbs on the animated TV series The Cleveland Show, which is shown on FOX TV and getting ready to start its 4th season. She also had guest-starred for a few episodes on the FX series Nip/ Tuck.
Earlier this year, Lathan won a theater award for Best Actress at the 2012 Lucille Lortel Awards for her lead performance in By The Way, Meet Vera Stark by Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage. The play, which ran last year Off-Broadway in New York, will run again in Los Angeles this September.
Blackfilm.com recently spoke with Lathan about her role in Boss, working with Kelsey Grammer, and her upcoming projects.
What attracted you to doing a TV series such as Boss?
Sanaa Lathan: I’m a big fan of the series and some of the things I’ve seen on TV have been more exciting than what’s been on films in the couple of years. I told my agent, a couple of months before this season came up, that I wouldn’t mind doing a really good cable show. This came up of months later and I’m thrilled because I’m such a fan.
How would you describe the character you play, Mona Fredericks?
SL: She’s strong. She’s politically savvy. She grew up in the South Side of Chicago and really cares about her community. She winds up working in the mayor’s office and he’s really taken by her passion and idealism, which is rare in his world of Chicago politics.
From what you shot so far, how’s working with Kelsey Grammer?
SL: Kelsey’s fabulous. He’s really and truly one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. I was already a fan of his character and intimidated at first because the character is so threatening and I didn’t know how Kelsey would be like in real life. He was just so wonderful and so kind. He’s really funny in between takes. We know him as Frasier and he’s just great.
Now that you’re back on TV, how different is the work environment from when you guest-starred on FX’s Nip Tuck for a couple of episodes?
SL: Maybe it’s something about being in Chicago and being away from home, but I really feel that there’s a good family vibe on set. We actually have gone out and enjoyed and experienced being in Chicago. I think the writing on the show is some of the best stuff I’ve worked on. The characters between this and Nip Tuck are completely different. I played a high class prostitute who harvested organs for a living on Nip Tuck. On this, Mona is on the staff for the mayor of Chicago. It’s two different women.
How are you balancing this with the work you are doing on The Cleveland Show?
SL: The great thing about doing The Cleveland Show is that we can do the work from anywhere. I did it from London when I was doing a play there. I did it in New York when I was there last year and then I did it in Chicago. The fourth season starts this year and as long as there is a studio in the city where I’m at, I can do it.
It’s a rare and special thing for an actor to do two programs on different channels at the same time.
SL: It’s a blessing. I feel very fortunate.
How excited are you to do ‘By The Way, Meet Very Stark’ in LA this September?
SL: I’m so excited. I get to play a woman, an aspiring black actress in the 1930s, and gets to play a maid; and in the second act I get to play the same woman at the end of her career and nearly 70 years old and addicted to pills. She’s won two Oscars but they are Oscars for playing maids. The way that Lynn Nottage handles the telling of the story is very special. She’s such a brilliant writer. It’s very funny and poignant. It’s not angry or preachy. The irony is that she wrote it years before ‘The Help’ came out. I think people who see it might think it’s the answer to ‘The Help,’ but that’s not actually. It was written 34 years ago when the novel came out.
Because of the success of its run in New York a year ago, was there a high demand to keep it going?
SL: There was a big Broadway producer who wanted to bring it to Broadway this spring, but it didn’t come together quite right, so hopefully maybe in the future it will happen.
What’s the word on the film you shot last year with Anthony Mackie and Mike Epps, ‘Vipaka?’
SL: I actually just ran into Mike Epps. He said he saw the film and really liked it. I think they are still working on it. I don’t know what’s going on with it. I ‘m hoping we can see it in theaters soon. I really liked the script and feel that me, Anthony, and Mike had a great time working on it. I’m hoping it will see the light of day.
Has Malcolm Lee got back to you in terms of a script for The Best Man sequel?
SL: Yes. It’s so good. We did a read through for the studio. Everybody’s on board from Taye (Diggs), Terrence (Howard), Nia (Long), Regina Hall, Monica Calhoun, and Morris (Chestnut). We were all there. It was funny, moving, and raunchy. All the things you loved about the first one, but it’s 12 years later and I think Malcolm did an awesome job. So, fingers crossed.
Come October, it will be the 10th Anniversary of ‘Brown Sugar.’ It hasn’t been that long of a time, but do you remember from that production?
SL: I remember it like it was yesterday, and yet, it also feels like a lifetime ago. It was a special shoot because it happened 9/11 and I think we were the first production to shoot around then. I remember you could still smell the ash in the air and New York was very empty. People were happy that we were able to keep production in New York. I’m still friends with all those people in the movie. I’m glad that the story translated so well.
What’s a good reason to watching ‘Boss?’
SL: Because it’s a hot show, even before I was on it. T.I. is on the show, which makes it hotter. I have some with him. It’s great TV.