Sanaa Lathan is most known for her breakout role in 2000’s Love and Basketball, but surprisingly the actress was “miserable” while filming the beloved film.
During a recent interview with CBS Los Angeles, the veteran actress reflected upon her experience auditioning for the role and shooting the movie, which told the love story of characters Monica Wright (Lathan) and Quincy McCall (Omar Epps).
“I was miserable. I can laugh about it now,” Lathan said. “I got the job and I think [director] Gina [Prince-Bythewood, a former basketball player] finally got to the point where she had to hire somebody. It’s almost like she hired me because she couldn’t find somebody else. There wasn’t a lot of joy and there wasn’t a lot of trust in me.
“It was her baby and it was her first time directing. It was a big deal for her and nobody knew me then really. She gets to the point where she makes this decision with me, but I felt like the default,” Lathan continued to explain.
Love and Basketball was Lathan’s fourth feature film, and she used her method acting skills to tap into Monica’s character.
“I had to go through so much to get the part and in all the basketball scenes, [they] surrounded me with real ballplayers,” said Lathan. “There was a lot of crying behind the scenes for me.”
Lathan said that the auditioning process was hard because she didn’t have a background in basketball, and Prince-Bythewood wanted Love and Basketball to be sort of the female version of Spike Lee’s 1998 film He Got Game, starring NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen.
“The hardest challenge was getting the job, which I think weirdly prepared me for Monica,” said Lathan. “I had a dance background, but I had never picked up a basketball. Gina and the producers really wanted a basketball player that could act as opposed to an actress they could teach to play basketball. I was very lucky… I did a staged reading of the script when she was still working on the script. She couldn’t get my stage reading out of her head.”
Lathan said the basketball auditioning for her was the worst, and she insisted that they give her a basketball coach.
“She wasn’t auditioning a lot of actresses. I would always get to the last step and then they would throw in another basketball player. They were giving the basketball player acting coaches. They would always do a basketball audition for me, which was just the worst,” Lathan said. “Finally, I demanded that if you want me to continue, you’ll have to get me a basketball coach. They gave me an assistant coach for the LA Sparks and she had me training five hours a day before I got the job.”
Although the entire process of working on Love and Basketball, which has become a cult favorite (the film is often named in favorite black love film lists) was hard for Lathan, the actress’ role was critically acclaimed.
Lathan won an NAACP Image Award for Most Outstanding Actress In A Motion Picture in 2001, and nominations for Best Actress at the BET Awards and Independent Spirit Awards that same year.
Prince-Bythewood and Lathan recently worked together on FOX’s short-lived series Shots Fired and Disappearing Acts. Lathan said that Prince-Bythewood knows how she feels about her experience working on the film and the two became good friends afterward.