If the goddess that is Sanaa Lathan feels self-conscious about her looks, God help the rest of us girls. With not a hair out of place, she is perfection walking into the room.
This is a woman who has shared the steamy on-screen bedroom with some of Hollywood’s hottest leading men, including Denzel. And in her latest film, The Perfect Guy opening Friday, September 11, the veteran bombshell actress hits the sack once more, this time to perform blush-worthy rebound sex with blue-eyed babe Michael Ealy.
But today’s drama arrives courtesy of the Yale School of Drama. The alum expecting to do just an interview is caught – but not on tape, if she can help it – wearing and I quote, “flip-flops.”
Um, what? Only in Hollywood would one equate with beachwear what looks to me like a designer pair of flat gladiator sandals. Is she really that self-conscious? “Depends on the day,” she says.
From the fight springs a losing battle: “Your shoes look fine,” I say, because I’d really like a full-length photo for my story. Her answer: “Can you not photograph my feet…please?” If I’m one fashionista empathizing with another, I have to comply.
“Being in the public eye and everything is recorded these days,” she explains. “Instagram and social media, once a picture’s out there, it circulates. I just want to look my best.” Well, at least one of us in the room already she thinks she does.
N’DIGO: What’s the most surprising information you’ve found about yourself on social media?
Sanaa Lathan: Probably the perfectionist aspect about myself. Apparently, it’s true! (laughs)
Yes, I do have that perfectionist aspect. But it also makes me feel kind of vulnerable. I found out that I’m naturally private. I do the social media because I’ve been encouraged to. I also realize that my fans and supporters really enjoy seeing that side of me. And so I do it, not necessarily because it’s fun for me. I really do it for my fans.
I’ve been in the business for 17 years, so it’s necessary to adapt and change. But I’m kind of old school in the fact that I like to keep my private life private … separate. I’m an actress, so it’s all about the stories I’m telling, as opposed to my personal life. But these days I guess the veil is a little thinner.
Speaking of adaptability, I notice you’ve worked in film consistently and played a lot of starring roles (Alien vs. Predator, Love & Basketball, Something New, The Perfect Guy). In the past, I’ve heard some Black actresses complain that they weren’t getting the plum roles. Do you see that falling away now?
I think it’s getting better, but in Hollywood movies there’s still definitely a long way to go. Feature film should take some lessons with what’s going on in TV right now. TV is getting more diverse.
I think people are realizing that it’s all about reflecting the world we live in, and the world we live in is not lilywhite. It’s a very diverse place with many cultures. As a Black woman I want to see myself reflected up (on the movie screen), and I’m sure Latino women and Asian women feel the same way.
It’s the 21st century. It’s time to have diverse stories in Hollywood. Yes, we have a long way to go in the movies, but I do think it’s changing. I’m definitely optimistic. Also, the onus is on myself, as I’m starting to develop my own projects because I realize if I don’t do it nobody else will. So it’s nice to be able to have that entree, that opportunity to develop my own things, as well.
Has having a famous father (Stan Lathan, who directed such iconic programs as Sanford & Son, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice and Def Comedy Jam) helped or hurt you in this respect?
My father and mother (actress Eleanor McCoy) are both in the business. They’ve been very supportive, so it’s been helpful in that because there are so many ups and downs in this business – no matter who you are or what level of success you have. It’s really nice to have someone who gets it, who you can talk to about it and who’s been through their own struggles. Certainly both my mother and father have.
That being said, I worked with my father for the first time last year on Real Husbands of Hollywood, when I did a cameo. Some people think there was nepotism involved, but there really wasn’t. I’ve paid my dues just like everybody else and I’m proud of that. But it’s really nice to have my parents as a sounding board. That’s the advantage I feel I’ve had.
What roles if any have eluded you?
I don’t really feel that way. I really feel so blessed, the roles I’ve been able to play. This movie (The Perfect Guy) is really a highlight. It’s such a treat for an actor to be able to play a whole arc with a whole character.
The new movie is crazy.
I’ve heard it compared to No Good Deed, but it feels more like a 2015 version of Fatal Attraction.
I think it’s more Fatal Attraction, but it’s obviously different. There’s also an erotic element in terms of the hot, steamy; and the character is dealing with someone (portrayed by actor Michael Ealy) who is mentally a little off.
I think people liken it to No Geed Deed simply because we’re Black and it’s a thriller. But the movies are very different. Yes, it does have familiar elements of the edge-of-your seat, popcorn thrillers that we all love to watch. But there are some elements that are real that people will be able to identify with.
Did you use any past toxic relationships to get into character?
(Laughs) We won’t go into detail, but I was definitely able to draw on experiences I’ve had and experiences my friends have had!
Ultimately, your character Leah evolves from being a victim.
She really does. She has to take control of her destiny. There are so many colors, the romance aspect, so much fun to play the suspense. All of that, so I just feel like I’m really doing it. I want more (roles like that), please.
So in the movie, Leah is trying to get her boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) to commit to marriage, but I don’t see Sanaa in real life trying to settle down.
(Laughs) I know. But you know, I’ve been a career woman really focused on my career. I’ve had wonderful relationships, and I really believe that saying that some people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I’ve had great reasons and great seasons, but I just haven’t had that lifetime yet.
But I’m really complete. I don’t believe another person completes you. You have to be complete within yourself. And only then can you have a healthy relationship. I feel really good. So if somebody comes along that adds to that completeness, then great. But I’m having fun.
You’ve worked a lot with Morris Chestnut (in The Best Man movie franchise).
But I’ve never worked with Michael.
When I saw them cast as your love interests, I thought their roles should have been reversed, with Morris portraying the stalking psychopath.
What’s exciting about it is people would never expect that because Michael has played such good guys (with the rare exception in his turn as a serial killer on the FOX television series The Following). People are going to be pleasantly surprised, or horrified, by how chilling he is.
What insight does Sanaa have into men that maybe Leah doesn’t?
As I get older I realize that it does take time to get to know people. Michael’s character seems just so perfect and she gets caught up in this sweeping whirlwind romance instead of taking her time and getting to know him better. In this day and age, with the Internet and social media, just the way our lives are changing, everything needs to be immediate for us.
Would you ever consider Internet dating?
I have a couple friends who are happily married from online dating, so I’d never say never.
What’s the surest way to your heart; who’s your “perfect guy”?
Nobody’s perfect, so it’s really about levels of imperfection.
What can you absolutely not tolerate in a guy?
Somebody who has no sense of humor, who takes himself too seriously. I like to have fun. I like to be silly. I like to laugh. Life is too short not to laugh. I laugh all day every day. I have great friends. In a guy I need to be able to do that, but also somebody who has integrity; somebody who likes to communicate because I love philosophizing about life and spirituality – I love all of that.
For any woman who’s doing her own thing, you have to have a very confident, strong man. When I say that, I mean strong from the inside out because it can be intimidating to be the guy who’s dating the girl who goes to work with Morris Chestnut and with Michael Ealy. It’s not normal. Some guys think, “Oh, I could handle that.” But put yourself really in that situation; it’s not for the faint of heart – let’s put it that way.
What do you want the audience to take from the film in terms of empowerment and/or dealing with relationships?
The audience always bring its own message to the movie, so it’s whatever you’re going through. You’re going to take something different than what your girlfriend’s going through. But I want people to really lose themselves in the ride. It’s a really great thrill ride. I think it’s going to start some conversations about relationships. But I also want people to really enjoy it and want to go see it again.
Story by Cindy Barrymore