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Sanaa Lathan: Drama Queen

Not since Diahann Carroll’s small-screen turn as Dominique Deveraux on the eighties nighttime soap “Dynasty,” has an actress known how to push people’s buttons and make audiences tune in to her villainous spirit. Well, that is, until Hollywood darling Sanaa Lathan started lending her indelible talent to sordid characters such as the cunningly ruthless vixen Michelle Landau on “Nip/ Tuck”. As of late, Lathan’s mercenary, on-screen personas are a far cry from the stand-by-and-get-my-man heroines she’s often depicted in cult classics such as “Love & Basketball” and “Brown Sugar.” In the recently released “The Family That Preys,” Lathan continues her wicked ways as Andrea, the sultry accountant whose corporate ambitions and voracious pursuit of money, power and respect results in family mayhem. ESSENCE.com caught up with Lathan to talk about why she’s become a Queen B.

ESSENCE.COM: So Ms. Sanaa you play Andrea, a money-hungry, married woman who bears the juicy fruit of her labor by any means necessary. Lately, you’ve become the Black woman that White men desire for your roles in “Something New,” “Nip/Tuck” and now “The Family That Preys.” Are you concerned about becoming that chick?
(Laughs) Well, it’s funny because it’s not planned that way, it just happened to be the way those characters have been developed. I suppose it’s the phase I’m going through with my current roles, but I definitely haven’t set out to be that chick.

ESSENCE.COM: You’ve played some pretty disdainful characters. Are you ever concerned that your fans will believe you play them too well because they are an extension of who you are?
Yes, I’ve played some pretty not-so-likable characters, such as my role in “Nip/Tuck,” but for some reason on that show I didn’t feel alone because I wasn’t the only shady one—there were so many shady characters. It is not my job to judge, I have to play the role and not judge anything but my ability to breathe life into that character and hope that people get something from it that allows them to reflect and be inspired. 

ESSENCE.COM: You’re also the voice of the main character’s love interest, Donna, on the animated series “The Cleveland Show,” the spin-off of  “Family Guy.” There’s been talk about the Black character and star of the show, Cleveland, being voiced by a White man. Do you have an issue with that?
Well, the show is hysterical and I love how I can just roll into work in my sweats and go into the booth and not worry about how I look. I think they have been conscious of the fact that this is a Black family so they’ve hired me, Nia Long, who plays my daughter, and other Black cast members. Even Kevin Michael Richardson does the voice of a White character and voices several others. So I’d say they are aware of trying to have some semblance of balance regarding ethnic representation. Don’t get me wrong, Black actors still have their struggles, but the network is trying to be aware and proactive about this issue.

ESSENCE.COM: We’re sure your boyfriend, Chicago Bears’ Adewale Ogunleye and the ESSENCE 2007 Do Right Man of the Year, doesn’t have an issue with your choice of roles. By the way, thank you for sharing him with 8.5 million ladies. He’s your Kiiiing to beeeeee (in the vocals of the “Coming to America” soloist). So how is it dating a prince?
(Laughs) I know, I couldn’t believe it when he told me he won the Do Right Man contest. We’ve been dating for two years and he’s just wonderful. He’s really regular. I suppose it’s a fun conversation piece to say I’m dating a prince, but what’s so great about him is his activism in uplifting his community. He’s given back to his country and built water wells and schools.

ESSENCE.COM: Activism is how you really preserve your sexy. I understand you are playing an African woman in the upcoming film, “Wonderful World” with Matthew Broderick. Does Adewale give you tips on your African accent?
Not really because I play a Senegalese woman and he’s Nigerian so it’s a different accent because they speak French. I worked with an accent coach, but Adewale loved it when I would practice in front of him. He got a real kick out of it. That’s when I knew I must have been doing a good job.