Few actresses can get us into the theater like the romantic comedy queen of film herself, Ms. Sanaa Lathan. However, as a stage-trained actress who boasts a Tony Award nomination for her turn as Beneatha in Broadway’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lathan isn’t interested in creating a typical career. Instead, the Los Angeles native is opening herself up to the independent film scene with “Wonderful World,” which comes out on DVD today. The film follows the transformation of Matthew Broderick as a curmudgeon whose life is changed by Ibou, played by Micheal Kenneth Williams, and his sister Khadi, played by Lathan. Lathan spoke with ESSENCE.com about crafting an adventurous career, making out with Sarah Jessica Parker’s husband and international cuties. ESSENCE.com: With so many romantic comedies under your belt, what made you take a role in “Wonderful World”? SANAA LATHAN: For me, a career is about the body of work and the thing that excites me as actress are roles in all kinds of stories, not just one genre. When I read the script, I loved it and that’s a rare feeling. I was also interested in playing character of another culture. ESSENCE.com: Your character Khadi is Senegalese, how did you master that accent and the character’s background? LATHAN: For the accent, I worked with a guy named Robert Easton, who’s a wonderful accent coach who also worked with Forrest Whitaker for “The Last King of Scotland” and Al Pacino in “Scarface.” I didn’t have much time to get it down because of the shooting schedule, but I worked with him in the month before shooting. There’s also a great Senegalese population in Los Angeles, so I found some women who I could sit and talk with. I even cooked with them, the food was delicious! ESSENCE.com: “Wonderful World” has scenes in Senegal, but you and the cast were actually shooting in Shreveport, Louisiana? LATHAN: We did, we shot it in Shreveport, which is a couple of hours from New Orleans. We shot the whole movie in three weeks, very fast and low budget. It was really funny to see because while we were shooting the Senegal scene, we’re really in a field in Shreveport with all these Louisiana natives dressed in their African garb but then between scenes, they’d say ‘How you doing, Sanaa?’ with a southern accent. It was a funny little scene, but that’s the world of indie film. ESSENCE.com: You and Matthew Broderick have a love scene. How was it making out with Sarah Jessica Parker’s husband? He looked pretty thin, was he ready for your Black girl curves? LATHAN: (laughs) I just have to get into the mind of the character. I try not to judge, and just be a part of the character’s circumstances and that’s what they went through. ESSENCE.com: Do you ever feel stiffled by romantic comedy roles like “The Best Man,” “Love & Basketball” and “Something New?” LATHAN: I don’t want to be pigeionholed into any specific role. I’ve been blessed in this business and I want to keep growing and challenging myself, I don’t believe in staying in a box. ESSENCE.com: Speaking of which, you’re currently in London playing Maggie the Cat in the UK production of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” alongside Phylicia Rashad and James Earl Jones. How’s theater different than filming a movie? LATHAN: I love theater and yet I really love film, too. They’re like apple and oranges. My grandkids will be able to see “Brown Sugar” and “Wonderful World” ten years from now. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is just literally for the people in the audience at that time, but that’s the magic of theater. Playing Maggie the Cat is one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my career, but I am so glad I decided to do this. I do eight shows a week in a beautiful theater in the West End, which is London’s answer to Broadway. I have to give it up to people that make their living in theater because it’s all about the play. I have Sunday off and Monday I’m back at the theater. I just love pushing all of my boundaries, you have to stretch yourself as an actress. I’ve been here since October and London is so incredibly beautiful, but I can’t wait until I get home. ESSENCE.com: James Earl Jones plays the frisky senior Big Daddy, your character’s father-in-law, is it odd to see him so sexualized? LATHAN: No, he’s a living legend, at 79 he’s the youngest guy in the theater. He comes to the stage every night with a twinkle in his eye, and anytime I feel tired I just look at him. Don’t forget, in his day, James Earl Jones was a super sex symbol and you don’t forget that when you get older. ESSENCE.com: You’re also the voice of Donna Tubbs on Fox’s “The Cleveland Show,” sister cartoon to the wildly popular “Family Guy.” How’d that happen? LATHAN: It was a regular audition and I didn’t think I was going to get it because after 15 years I haven’t had alot of luck with voiceovers, but I got the part. I’d heard about “Family Guy” but never watched it. In fact, I didn’t watch “Family Guy” until after I began doing Donna’s voice, but now I’m in love with it. After “Cat” shows, I always watch “Family Guy” and “The Cleveland Show” to get me out of the mood, so I can go to bed with a smile on my face. ESSENCE.com: Speaking of smiles, we know you’re single. Have you seen in cuties over there in London town? LATHAN: There are always cuties! But these six months are just about me, the character literally takes every ounce of my energy and it’s not over yet. I’ve got four more weeks. But outside of this job, dating’s not really an issue. When I have a lot more time, I guess. There’s something about being in London, I haven’t been thinking about it but I know I’ll be thinking about dating as soon as I get back to LA! Read more:
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