Simply, Sanaa

06.21.2011

LEISURE

You might say that Broadway runs in Sanaa Lathan’s blood. Not only was the 39-year-old actress born and (partly) raised in New York City—home to the beating heart of American theater—but her mother Eleanor McCoy frequently trod the boards on the Great White Way herself. It was in college that Lathan got serious about following in Mom’s footsteps, joining UC Berkeley’s Black Theatre Workshop as an undergrad and then going on to attend the Master’s program at the Yale School of Drama, the same department that produced such performers as Angela Bassett and Liev Schreiber. After throwing herself into the Off-Broadway scene for awhile, she made the big decision to move to Los Angeles full time, where she alternated stage work with roles in vintage ‘90s TV shows like Moesha and Family Matters and movies like Blade. She crossed over to the big screen in a big way around the turn of the 21st century, nabbing eye-catching parts in the back-to-back films The Wood, The Best Man and Love & Basketball. And in 2004, she achieved her dream of playing Broadway with her Tony-nominated performance in Kenny Leon’s acclaimed revival of A Raisin in the Sun, opposite Phylicia Rashad and Sean Combs.

These days, Lathan crosses easily from stage to screen and back again. Last year, for example, she appeared alongside Rashad and James Earl Jones in a revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that ran in London’s West End. She also recently wrapped a role in the upcoming Steven Soderbergh-directed thriller Contagion opposite Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow.  And for the past two months, she’s been appearing in the well-reviewed show By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Manhattan’s Second Stage Theatre. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, the play casts Lathan as an aspiring actress in ‘30s-era Hollywood who works as a maid for a fading white star.

Life + Times: As Vera Stark, you age some 40 years during the course of the play. Is that a difficult transformation to pull off?
Sanaa Lathan
: It’s one of the things that terrified me about accepting the role and yet it was also one of the things that really made me want to do it. I believe that when you’re scared, that’s when you gotta jump in and go for it, because that’s how you grow. Vera ages from 28 to 68 during the play and at 68 she’s kind of a drunk. It’s a delicious, juicy role that I get to sink my teeth into and play every night on stage. Our theater is about 300 seats and I love the vibe you get with that kind of a smaller house. You feel like you’re having a conversation with the audience, which is wonderful.

L+T: Period pieces can be a challenge because it’s easy to fall into the trap of rendering the past as campy or artificial. How do you make history come alive in a natural way every night on stage?
SL
: Well, for starters, I think the hair and costume people do a beautiful job. And Lynn Nottage had so much research material that she provided us with. The first act is set in the 1930s, so we watched a lot of pre-Code screwball comedies. And then in the second half there are two different periods, 2003—which I’m not in—and the 1970s, which takes place on a Mike Douglas-type talk show. So we watched a lot of YouTube clips of old variety talk shows featuring all those classic diva stars, from Bette Davis to Lucille Ball to Eartha Kitt. And, you know, the play is actually a comedy. Lynn gets her point across through humor; people are laughing during the whole thing and I love that. The play deals with racial stereotypes and the struggles of black actors in Hollywood through the years and she delivers that message with such a sharp comic punch that it really lands. You’re laughing and then you’re like “Wow—this is kind of sad.”

Continue to next page →
  • http://www.facebook.com/dustin.weins Dustin Weins

    Wow, 39? Too bad we can’t all age this gracefully!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000993175597 Alim Khaliq

    “SIMPLY”,IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT!TALENTED IS THE WORD!SHE’S A BOSS!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shalimar-Ifusay-Lewis/100000145209121 Shalimar Ifusay Lewis

    shes beautiful, talented an a all around GOD..

  • Anonymous

    Here’s a modern day black actress very flattering announcements about Sanaa Lathan – soon to be a household name in the entertainment business if she already isn’t.

  • Anonymous

    She’s one gifted sister, Sanaa Lathan …remember that name.

  • ygrivera17

    A talented and gifted actress. She is simply an exceptional graceful actress who will lead the way for many young actresses.

  • Anonymous

    The moment we shear our life and time we shouldn’t forget our future

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zachary-Ferguson/100000080720717 Zachary Ferguson

    Sanaa, is the Best actor, male/female, I ever seen! I like to see her be the first female captain of Star Trek enterprise, and do a role with the great Sidney Poitier, like shoot to kill, action movie. We Love Sanaa!

  • http://www.facebook.com/staysharp1 Donald Wright

    OUTSTANDING!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christina-Lopez/100000263449638 Christina Lopez

    I have love Sanaa, one of my favorite movies to this day is Love & Basketball. She is a very well rounded actress and I am honored to be able to see such talent. Thank You Sanaa for blessing us with your gift. Love, Christina L.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arob83 Arvin Robles

    whaf a trip i just played Love of my Life on my page which was a song from a movie she starred in… cant think of it right now. Brown Sugar!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/durallb1 Durall Beatty

    Like a Good neighbor, STATE FARM IS THERE! 2snaps and a big bag of FLAMIN HOT!

  • http://twitter.com/boardroombboys Ronald Gaineous

    “…in a Maybach Benz, flyer than Sanaa Lathan…”

    I love the theater and my wife and I caught this when it opened, box seats, close up view of Sanaa. Not only did she do an outstanding job, she is gorgeous in person!

blog comments powered by Disqus

RELATED ARTICLES

LEISURE

Back to top

E-mail sign up