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June 2001
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Smart, Sumptuous and Talented

Sanaa Lathan

Real Name: Sanaa Lathan
Born: October 19,1971
Place of Birth: New York, NY
Sign: Libra
Height: 5' 8"
Spouse/Dating: currently dating Omar Epps
Family: Parents divorced; Mother, Eleanor (Ellie) McCoy, Broadway stage actress and dancer; Father, Stan Lathan, director and producer; Stepmother, Marguerite; four siblings (one older brother, Tendaji, a director; three younger sisters – Liliane, Arielle and Colette)
Education: Education: BA English, Berkeley; MFA Drama, Yale

Awards Include:
>2001: Winner, Best Actress, NAACP Image Award for "Love And Basketball"
>2001: Nominated, Best Actress, Indie Spirit Award for "Love And Basketball"
>2000: Nominated, Best Supporting Actress, NAACP Image Award for "The Best Man"
>1996: Nominated, Best Actress, Los Angles NAACP Theatrical Award Committee for "To Take Arms"

Film/Acting Credits Include:
>2000: Disappearing Acts…Zora Banks (TV)
>2000: Love and Basketball…Monica Wright
>1999: The Best Man…Robin
>1999: Catfish in Black Bean Sauce…Nina
>1999: The Wood…older Alicia
>1999: Life…Daisy
>1998: NYPD…Shirley Barish (TV)
>1998: Lateline…Briana (TV)
>1998: Blade…Vanessa Brooks
>1997: Family Matters…Alison (TV)
>1997: Miracle in the Woods…(TV)
>1997: Built to Last…(TV)
>1996: In The House…Charese (TV)
>1996: Drive…Carolyn Brody


   Self-admitted former tomboy, Sanaa Lathan (pronounced Sa -Naa, "like Sinatra without the tra" and meaning "work of art" or "beauty" in Swahili) was raised early in life by her mother, Ellie, a professional dancer on Broadway who performed in big budget productions with the likes of Eartha Kitt and others.
   "She was actually dancing while pregnant with me," Sanaa says. "As a kid I was always hanging around the theater. I remember watching her from the wings."
   As a young girl, Sanaa was so impressed with the theater and its dancers and cast members that she would go home and, when alone, pretend she was one of them. As a young girl trying to realize what she had seen on stage, she also trained in gymnastics and dance.
   Second oldest of five siblings, at first she shuttled her youth between New York City to spend time with her mom and Los Angeles to be with her dad, director Stan Lathan. But after the 9th grade at Beverly Hills High School, she decided to end her bicoastal existence and stay in New York to attend the city's renowned High School of the Arts. Upon graduating high school, however, it was back to California to major in English at the University of California at Berkley.
   While at Berkeley, she continued the acting started in high school by joining the Black Theater Workshop. After earning her B.A in English, her graduate school plans were initially for law school, but these days she laughs when admitting she dallied with the idea of being a lawyer. "I just like the way it sounded," she says.

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Sanaa Lathan

   Law went by the boards when a recruiter came from the Yale School of Drama to suggest she pursue graduate study in the arts. "That kind of made the decision for me," Sanaa remembers. So instead of law, she applied and was accepted to the Masters program at the Yale School of Drama. After three years she earned her M.F.A in acting. While at Yale, she performed in Shakespearean school productions that included 'Othello', 'Romeo and Juliet', 'Winter's Tale', and 'Twelfth Night'.
   Needing to polish her craft and wanting to be near her mother, Sanaa decided to return to New York where she worked in off-Broadway and Public Theater productions, which included 'Por' Knockers' and a starring role in "A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White" at the Signature Theater Company.
   Her father, who had at first discouraged his daughter from pursuing an acting career, finally saw her perform in a number of productions and quickly realized how skilled she had become. He experienced a change of heart and now encouraged her to continue her acting career, but in Hollywood instead of New York. Sanaa could see the advantages, but it meant leaving her Mom and the Broadway scene. She was reluctant, but knew it was a necessary career move.
   After arriving in Hollywood in 1996, Sanaa worked on her own without the help of her famous father (executive producer of the Steve Harvey Show) to eventually land appearances in television shows such as 'In the House,' 'Moseha,' 'NYPD Blue,' 'Family Matters' and the made for TV movie 'Miracle in the Woods' opposite Meredith Baxter and Della Reese. She also landed regular series roles in two short-lived sitcoms: 'Built to Last' and for two seasons in 'Lateline.'
   While striving to establish her screen career, Sanaa also realized that she missed the stage and so began performing at the South Coast Repertory Theatre in various productions that included the play 'Our Town.' Her performance in "To Take Arms" in Los Angeles was rewarded with a nomination for Best Actress by the NAACP Theatrical Award Committee.
   Recalling the start to her California career move, Sanaa says, "My first job---I played LLCoolJ's date in 'In the House.' I think I had one line."
   During her first year, she also landed her first movie role in the action film 'Drive' (1996) playing the estranged wife opposite Kadeem Hardison. Over the next couple years, she landed other brief roles in such movies as the action hit 'Blade' (1998) where she played the mother of lead actor Wesley Snipes; the comedy 'Life' (1999) playing the girlfriend opposite Eddie Murphy, and the comedy/drama 'The Wood' (1999), where she played the adult girlfriend opposite Omar Epps. Working with Epps, the two soon realized that their genuine friendship was more than just professional, and it wasn't long before the two were romantically involved. It is a friendship and romance they still share today.
   Sanaa's career was finally starting to heat up and her next move was to New York to film the comedy/romantic drama 'The Best Man,' (1999), where she played girlfriend Robin, opposite Taye Diggs. The quality of her work did not go unnoticed. She received an NAACP Image Award nomination for best supporting actress in a motion picture for her role in 'The Best Man.' In 2000 she appeared in the independent comedy/drama 'Catfish in Black Bean Sauce,' again playing the girlfriend, this time Nina, in an interracial relationship opposite writer/actor director Chi Moui Lo. Also in 2000, under the direction of her brother Tendaji, she appeared in his award winning film short 'The Smoker.'
   Her hard work and acting talent finally came to the attention of writer/director Gina Prince Bythewood, who eventually cast her in the lead role of Monica, opposite (of all actors) Omar Epps, for the romantic drama 'Love & Basketball' (2000). But at the time of casting the roles, Bythewood had no idea that Lathan and Epps were dating.
   "Gina had no idea that Sanaa and I were dating," says Epps. "Neither of us had mentioned it."
   Lathan and Epps even kept their relationship secret for the first few weeks of the shoot. Bythewood says "I didn't know they were lovers, but I could sense they had great screen chemistry

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Sanaa Lathan

and got along on and off camera. As a director, that's what you dream will happen for actors playing screen lovers. I was actually the last to know they were a couple."
   For Sanaa, though, the toughest part of making the movie would be the basketball skills necessary to the movie's plot. Basketball was not on Sanaa's otherwise long list of talents. Knowing she was being considered for the role, but without any guarantee yet that she would actually get it, she spent months training with her brother, friends and finally a professional coach just to make herself suitable for the role of a professional b-ball player.
   "I wanted very badly to get this part," she said, "and prior to even being cast I began training in preparation. It took four grueling months to get up to speed, but after that I could go on the court and really play. I was fighting for this part." She wanted the role of Monica so badly, she even turned down an offer to be in the movie 'Monkeybone' just for the chance at 'Love And Basketball.'
   The fight was worth it. She was magnificent in the role and the movie proved to be her breakthrough performance. She would eventually capture the 2001 NAACP Image Award for best actress in a movie for her role in 'Love and Basketball.'
   But looking back on the movie and the grueling training, Sanaa says, "I trained to look good. I can do all the tricks, around the back and through my legs and all that." But smiling, she adds, "But put me in a real game---forget it." And she says boyfriend and co-star Omar Epps, who played a lot of one-on-one in the parks and just happened to be good at the game, cut her no slack during filming. "Omar was really hard on me, especially when we went one-on-one. He didn't pull back. he didn't make concessions because I was a woman or his girlfriend. He made me work for every basket I got. He has a real competitive spirit when it comes to sports. He wouldn't let me get away with any of that 'I'm an actress, not a basketball player,' stuff," she grins.
   Bythewood was so impressed with Sanaa's performance and work ethic that she asked her to audition for her next film, the HBO feature movie 'Disappearing Acts,' (2001). Based on the best selling novel by 'Waiting To Exhale' author Terry McMillan, the film would once again paired Lathan with super star Wesley Snipes, only this time as a co-star rather than a bit player. She played the lead of Zora in the modern-day black romance, and so committed is Lathan to her craft that she deliberately gained 20 extra pounds for the film, just to better depict the book's character.
   "My audition was all about my chemistry with Wesley ," she says about landing the job. "Chemistry on film is like chemistry in real-life---it's there or it isn't. Omar and I definitely have it. So do Wesley and I."
   Once again, her performance was stellar. When asked to nominate their favorite actors for 2000, BET fans voted her best actress in a television movie or mini-series category for her role in 'Disappearing Acts.'
   Lately, Sanaa has begun to extend her film skills by co-producing the yet to be released movie titled 'Finding Cassanova Brown' starring Queen Latifah. During the summer of 2001, she plans to return to the New York stage to appear in the Shakespearean Comedy 'Measure for Measure.'
   Sanaa has said that one thing she enjoys most about acting is the challenges of making it happen. "It’s hard to be an actor," she explains. "Doing anything freelance is hard work. ---You never know what your doing next. But hey, it’s my career and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I really love this business." While it is the acting, itself, she enjoys most about the business, she admits her least favorite thing is, "The number of auditions before they make a decision."
   This young and rising star on Hollywood's horizon may not have the long list of credits and super star recognition yet, but if her early career is any indication, the day is soon coming when her own notoriety will rival that of her own acting idol, Meryl Streep. And that is a day we all look forward to.