It was her breakout role, but Sanaa Lathan says working on Love & Basketball was not a positive experience.
Nineteen years after the iconic sports film was released in April 2000, Lathan revealed the director wanted someone else to play Monica opposite Omar Epps.
“I think Gina [Prince-Bythewood] really wanted, and the producers, they really wanted a basketball player who could act as opposed to an actress who they could teach to play basketball,” Lathan told Los Angeles TV station, KCBS.
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The actress said the team behind the film kept her on their shortlist, just in case they couldn’t find anyone else.
“I would always get to the last step and they would throw in another basketball player,” she said. “They were giving the basketball players acting coaches.”
Lathan refused to give up and requested a coach to teach her how to portray a believable basketball player.
“Finally I demanded, ‘If you want me to continue, you’re going to have to get me a basketball coach because I hear you’re giving these basketball players acting coaches,’ and they did,” she recalled.
She trained extensively and Prince-Bythewood, who wrote and directed the film, finally gave her the part.
“Here I am, nobody knows me really, and she has to hire me,” Lathan said. “She gets to the point where she knows it, she makes this decision with me, but yet, I was like the default. That’s hard.”
The actress said shooting the movie was difficult.
“I was miserable. I can laugh about it now,” she stated. “I got the job and I think Gina 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, so there wasn’t a lot of joy and there wasn’t a lot of trust in me.”
Despite those initial issues on set, Lathan and Prince-Bythewood bonded during production.
Years later, they would work together again on the limited Fox series Shots Fired, which Prince-Bythewood and her husband, Reggie Rock Bythewood, co-created.
Lathan currently has a role in The Twilight Zone on CBS All Access.