Simply, Sanaa



L+T: What’s been the most rewarding thing about doing this play?
: What makes Vera Stark special to me is that it honors all of these black actresses who have not gotten their due. So the play is not only artistically and acting-wise a great challenge, it’s also a chance to honor women like Theresa Harris, Hattie McDaniel and Nina Mae McKinney. There’s a deeper resonance to playing this character for me, because these women’s lives are part of American film history

L+T: In terms of your own film history, you’ve starred in everything from small independent movies like Wonderful World to such blockbusters as Alien Vs. Predator. How do you choose your projects?
: For me it’s really about the character, the character arc and the story being told. I don’t particularly have a favorite genre. I’m just a fan of movies, whether it’s a comedy, science-fiction adventure or thriller. What gets me excited is the character I’m playing. The fun of being an actor is being able to look through the eyes of another human being, like an explorer in Antarctica who fights aliens. I mean, how fun is that? Then in Wonderful World, I played an African woman who falls in love with someone so different than her. And in my next movie Contagion I play a woman who is scared for her life and the lives of her friends. The variety is what’s fun about this job. I’m open to great stories and great characters.

L+T: Are there any directors you’ve particularly enjoyed working with?
: Steven Soderbergh was pretty awesome. I liked working with Gina Prince-Bythewood, who did Love & Basketball and Disappearing Acts. On stage, I enjoyed working with Debbie Allen on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Kenny Leon on both the theatrical and TV-movie versions of A Raisin in the Sun. I’ve had so many great directors, but those are the ones that stand out for me.

L+T: Speaking of Love & Basketball, that movie has become something of an underground classic ten years after its initial release.
: People come up to me everyday and say “I watch Love & Basketball over and over.” What I love about that is that it means the movie is providing something that they’re craving. It’s great to be able to watch a movie and have it give you a feeling that you need in your life.

L+T: It also speaks to how films can enjoy a strong second life on DVD and cable after they leave the multiplex.
: Yeah, I love that about film and it’s what frustrates me about theater. We’re doing this play for a few months and there are so many people I would love to see it who won’t be able to. If this were a film, I’d just be able to say “Go get the DVD!”

L+T: In addition to your film and stage work, you’ve also got your regular voiceover gig on The Cleveland Show.
: It’s just funny. We do the table reads every week and the laughter is so loud. They jam-pack these scripts with laugh after laugh after laugh. Some of it is really stupid humor and some of it is really smart. Who doesn’t want to go to work every week and laugh? And it’s easy because you just put on a baseball cap and go to work and you’re done. There’s no hair and makeup.

L+T: Would you have any interest in headlining a live-action TV series?
: I did a pilot for HBO called Tilda, but it didn’t get off the ground. I was excited about it, but pilots are pilots—some of them go and some of them don’t. To tell you the truth, if it had got picked up I wouldn’t have been able to do Vera Stark. And I’m so happy I got to do this. Even though its Off-Broadway money, it’s so worth it. It’s one of those roles I’ll look back on for the rest of my life.

L+T: What’s on your iPod right now?
: I’m listening to Adele’s 21, Chris Brown, Musiq Soulchild and I just bought the new Lady Gaga album. And I love Beyonce’s “1+1.” It just gives me the chills.

L+T: Which do you prefer—summer in New York or summer in L.A.?
: I like spring and fall in New York, but I’d rather be in L.A. for the summer. There’s nothing like fall in New York. The change of seasons here is nice, unlike LA where it’s like one sunny, pretty season all the time. And I love that!