EXCLUSIVE: Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps on the 15th Anniversary of ‘Love and Basketball’
New Line Productions, Inc.

We all watched as childhood friends Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (Omar Epps)—who both had a love for basketball—fought for each other’s love…And won. They fell into that deep and envious fairytale love that only years of friendship can bring.

Monica was the powerful and uncompromising ball player who was determined to prove that girls ball better, while Quincy was the popular swoon-worthy basketball star and ideal lover. Who could forget their palpable passion? Like when Monica told Quincy “I’ve been in love with you since I was eleven, and the sh*t won’t go away.”

On the 15th anniversary of this cultural treasure, ESSENCE spoke with the film’s stars Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan to reminisce about the making of the classic love story, a potential sequel.

On the film’s impact:
Sanaa Lathan: It’s so cool and amazing that it has become this beloved film that people love. Just last night I went out to dinner and these two girls came up to me and said they grew up on the movie and they are looking for their “Q.” Who knew, when I was shooting it, I had no idea. To me I was just coming in everyday and doing the work. It’s one of those things that happen once in a while. Not very often does a film speak to different generations across cultural and gender lines.

Omar Epps: I think it’s sort of that fairytale love story for women. Monica and Quincy had a real friendship and that’s the basis of every great relationship which is really hard to do. It’s that fairytale where you grow up with someone, you know him or her as a person, [end up] taking their virginity, then she [moves on] and lives her life, he lives his. Then they go off to college. I think that part of it is timeless.

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On learning to play basketball for the film:
Lathan: I had never played basketball before—it was like putting a basketball in a five-year-old’s hands. I’m not going to romanticize is, it was hell, it was not fun—what made it worse was that I was training and didn’t even have the part yet. Before the director Gina Prince Bythewood had a deal, she had a stage reading of the script just to get feedback. The original actress she wanted to read the script got sick and couldn’t make it. Gina had heard about me. A couple of years later when she got a movie deal, she kept me in mind.

She didn’t have any intention on hiring an actress who could play ball. She wanted to hire a ball player who could act. It was like this long on-going thing because every audition I would do, they would throw in another ball player but she kept bringing me back and I kept coming back. I would go out with my brother and guy friends and try to learn dribbles and she would kind of check in with me and watch me play and it was disastrous. She kept bringing in basketball players; it was like Gina really resisted hiring me [laughs] and so they found every basketball player from all over the world to come in. The process drew out for months and finally they got me a coach from the L.A. Sparks just to see if I would improve. Then finally she gave me the part. I was just kind of emotionally drained by that time. I guess it worked for the character because she always had to prove herself.

On the script:
Lathan: It was a great role and I knew a good script, even early in my career I knew that those scripts don’t come around that often. It was emotional.

Epps: I just thought it was a dope script, it’s really empowering for women, certain undertones of the film resonated with me also. I just thought it was fresh, I thought it was of that time and progressive and we hadn’t seen something like that.

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On identifying with the character:
Lathan: Well I’m a romantic so I understand that kind of growing up in love and falling in love and going through the struggles of being in a relationship and how a career path can be a conflict to a relationship, or not.

Epps: I didn’t identify with the character at all. He had a mother and a father; I grew up without a father. He was popular and I wasn’t a popular kid. I don’t think any of us artists/actors were popular kids; it kind of doesn’t work that way. We are like the weirdoes growing up. [laughs] Quincy was an athlete. I played football growing up but I wasn’t trying to do it professionally. For me it’s always fun to discover those characters that you don’t naturally relate to versus playing characters that you can relate to.

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On the evolution of Quincy and Monica:
Lathan: I see Monica having a great career in the WNBA and maybe becoming a coach.

Epps: I have no clue, which way do you go? Instinctively I would show the other side of love, like how Monica and Quincy didn’t make it—to me it could be more interesting. It’s all opinion, some people want to see left, some people want to see right.

Thoughts on a potential sequel:
Lathan: I’m not sure if the director Gina wants to do a sequel, I think Love & Basketball is perfect the way it is. But it depends, like with one of my other films Best Man Holiday, originally I wasn’t into the idea of a sequel but when I read the script I was like OK this makes sense, so it always depends.

Epps: Gina and I actually spoke about that and she has this you-don’t-touch-a-classic-thing and I agree but it’s tempting because it’s like what would the story look like now. The best sequels are when they were in mind during the original, when you are searching for the sequel that’s when it doesn’t really work.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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