Sanaa Lathan: Finding purpose in life, being patient in love

There are many actresses who would love to have had the career Sanaa Lathan has made for herself. The beautiful, New York City native has starred in romantic comedies, action films and character-driven dramas over the course of the last 20 years and she’s also managed to remain a stunning and serious actress. She is a woman who knows who she is. But she’s had to learn how to block out the Hollywood noise and focus on her well-being — as opposed to connecting her self-worth to headlines or movie reviews.

“My life in between projects is a very normal life,” Lathan explains. “I live a very simple life in between jobs. I have great friends and family that are very down to earth and I’m not really a seeker of fame. I know that [fame] goes with it. And I’m happy to have fans, but it’s really about the work for me. I love acting. I love what I do. I love being on set and on stage. It’s really what I love and I feel very blessed.”

Lathan has maintained a steady career in the spotlight without becoming a permanent fixture on gossip pages. Despite the occasional muckraking (such as well-publicized but unfounded rumors about Denzel Washington and her having an affair in the early 2000s and more chatter about her and rapper French Montana this past summer), Lathan has kept her life private and it’s something that she doesn’t plan to relinquish.

“The people that you see out everywhere all the time — they’re definitely seeking that,” she says. “It’s not a mistake that you’re seeing them and all of their business. It’s because there’s a part of them that is chasing that.

“You can’t shut it out completely,” she adds, in reference to the media’s glare. “You’re not gonna hole yourself up and be a hermit. I definitely hear the noise and yet I really try to [let it] roll off my back. At the end of the day, I believe the idea that what people think of you is none of your business [laughs]. Because if you can really live by that and really don’t worry about what other people think, then I think your happiness will double or triple. Some days it doesn’t work. But I’m getting better at it and you develop a thicker skin the longer you’re in this town.”

If you’re constantly getting your self-worth from the good, then how can you tune out the bad?

Lathan’s also been widely praised as one of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses. Being fawned over is great for the ego, but it’s another facet of the business that she’s never allowed herself to become too comfortable with.

“It’s very flattering,” she concedes. “But if you’re constantly getting your self-worth from the good, then how can you tune out the bad? For me, it’s about accepting it and being grateful for the compliments but still not letting it get to you or affect you in any kind of negative way.

“I’m really feeling good in my skin. I know that comes with age and experience. It’s been a lot of work on myself — just because I’ve had to. To be in this life … I don’t think anybody escapes struggle. By nature of being human, you’re going to have that. But I’m feeling good in my skin.”

With her new film, The Perfect Guy, Lathan stars as Leah Vaughn, a woman who thinks she’s found a perfect match in Michael Ealy’s character, Carter Duncan. Of course, things aren’t always what they seem.

“When this came to me a couple of years ago, it came as an idea and I loved the idea. It was kind of a throwback to Fatal Attraction, but the roles are reversed. I loved Fatal Attraction,” she explains. “Leah is a woman like so many women I know: a professional woman who’s very passionate about her job and she wants it all. She meets this charming, mesmerizing stranger and they have great chemistry, go on this whirlwind romance and one day he shows her something that makes her think he’s not as perfect as she thought.”

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Lathan connects the anxiety and dread that permeates a film like The Perfect Guy to the contemporary approach to dating. With social media, romantic hookups are happening with even less familiarity between individuals. And while these scenarios may not always end in psychotic, nail-baiting terror — they can often reveal just how little we know about the person with whom we’re sharing a dinner — or a bed.

“In this day and age, everybody wants everything right now,” muses Lathan. “You meet people right away and you don’t know who you’re meeting. People always present their best self in the beginning. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to what Leah goes through.”

Lathan’s own approach to dating is one of patience — but she also believes you have to be open. It’s a tough juggling act but finding the balance is key.

“I just think you’ve got to take your time,” she says. “You can’t go around being paranoid and guarded, but I think that it is important to take your time because time will reveal [the true person]. I really believe that. But I also think women and men, when they like somebody, they tend to overlook the warning signs. People show you who they are right away. It’s about being really realistic with yourself and taking your time and also staying open. It’s important to stay open.”

I’m really thrilled to be seeing the box-office success of Black films lately. That’s the only thing the industry takes note of — box office.

Lathan is one of the executive producers of The Perfect Guy, and her experience in the industry meant that production wasn’t foreign territory for her. She’s parlayed years of making films and having a well-established father in the industry (her dad is famed TV executive Stan Lathan) into a wealth of knowledge as it pertains to how she wants things to be done.

“It’s a natural next step for me. I’ve been in the business for more than 20 years and I have a lot of experience and a point of view and a vision,” says Lathan. “It’s something that I’ve been doing sort of anyway on projects that I’ve starred in — I’m just now getting the credit. On this movie, we had a great time collaborating and bringing this vision to life.”

And she’s been paying attention to the uptick in Black television and film projects being churned out over the last few years.
“I think it’s a little bit better. But we still definitely have a long way to go,” she states. “I’m really thrilled to be seeing the box-office success of Black films lately. That’s the only thing the industry takes note of — box office. They’re looking at color: green. The fact that people are showing up is showing them that we have a voice and people are craving more diversity. People are craving seeing themselves. Hollywood should reflect the world that we live in and I’m eager to see that happen.”

As for her own acting career, Lathan is still committed to telling the stories that move her. She’s slayed monsters from outer space in Alien vs. Predator, found love and hip-hop in Brown Sugar, earned a Tony nomination for her performance in the Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun, and she’s remained focused on challenging herself and her audience.

“[My approach] hasn’t really changed in that I’m always looking for a good story or good script and well-developed characters,” she says. “Sometimes you have to be patient and wait for those scripts. Now I’m in a position where I’m starting to develop things and produce things and I’m starting to take control of my own destiny. It’s really just about who I’m working with. The script is really important to me and whether it’s a story I want to put out to the world.

“I’m really proud of my body of work. One of the things that I really intended when I came into this business was that I wanted a body of work that I could be proud of. It’s amazing how time has flown — but looking back on my body of work so far, I’m like, ‘Damn, I’ve been at it for a minute now!’ I’ve done quite a lot and I’m proud of it and I’m looking forward to adding to that.”

 

Stereo Williams
Stereo Williams

Todd "Stereo" Williams, entertainment writer based in New York City. He co-founded Thirty 2 Oh 1 Productions, an indie film company.

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