It’s no surprise that we all love actress Sanaa Lathan for her iconic role in the film “Love and Basketball,” but the multifaceted artiste is far from conventional, and has continued to prove that, especially with her latest role in the 10-hour Fox drama series “Shots Fired”. In an exclusive sit-down interview sponsored by the Pan African Film Festival, Lathan spoke to film reporter Tre’Vell Anderson before an intimate crowd of film artists about the art of acting and her atypical role as a criminal investigator in “Shots Fired”.
Initially, Lathan received criticism from fans that slammed the show’s first episode for depicting a Black police officer killing a white child. Contrary to popular belief, however, Lathan says the series actually explores both sides of the racial divide, capturing the shootings of both a white and black child, and how the cases are handled. “That is not the whole story, so I just ask you guys to just breath, and relax, lean back, get your popcorn, and keep watching,” she said affectionately.
To prepare for her role in the series, Lathan says she used a combination of tools, including mixed martial arts, imagination work, writing, and a unique monologue provided by the shows’ creators Gina Prince-Bythewood and her husband, Reggie Rock Bythewood.
Lathan also says she shadowed quite a few members of law enforcement, including a Black, female patrol officer who served in that capacity for many years. “She told me about all of the racism and sexism she dealt with; she actually was suicidal at one point because of how polarizing it was for her,” Lathan said.
The famed actress also spoke about the varying dynamics in her role as Ashe Akino, one being that she serves as the lead investigator to her much younger male counterpart, Preston Terry, played by actor Stephan James. Lathan says she enjoyed the rarity, citing her excitement to serve in a role where a man and woman work together in solving crimes. “As an artist, every character brings kind of a different set of your tools, I don’t approach any character in the same way,” she noted about the process.
In terms of artistry, Lathan says that her longevity stems from sheer perseverance and faith. “The business is hard, it is brutal. It’s like an emotional – it can be so abusive. As an artist, you have to have a steel exterior, you have to be a warrior, and yet you have to still keep that soft heart in order to make your art,” she declared.
Aside from her parents who’ve always supported her career, Lathan says she leaned on spiritual guidance and the wisdom from her three-time TV mom Alfre Woodard. “She said to make all of your decisions as if you had all the time in the world and all the money in the world. Now that’s making decisions out of love and not fear,” Lathan said. “That is so hard though, you have to go through the fire in order to do that sometimes, and that takes faith,” she continued.
In today’s society, Lathan considers it the responsibility of actors to reflect the times. ”Some of the greatest artists took on that responsibility from Langston Hughes to Lorraine Hansberry to Nina Simone, James Baldwin and so on and so on. It’s a privilege to be in our position and it’s exciting for me to be able to do a piece like this,” Lathan stated.
Lathan says that she often encourages young artists to seek objective help, outside of family and friends to help gain a clear perspective on life, their identity and how to balance as an artist. “I tell young artists, you have to have something, whether it’s therapy, or church, or a spiritual mentor like I did, or a life coach,” she said.
As far as sharpening one’s craft, Lathan says the key is truly to do the work and consistently train. “You always know when you can do better, just keep doing better and don’t settle. A lot of these studios actually will accept less than good, and I just think that the people who rise and the people who endure, are the people who do the work.”
When asked about what’s next on her list of roles to conquer, Lathan said that she believes that some of the most intriguing films that she’s seen in recent years or coning are independent, and that she’s “open to everything”.
“I kind of have a high bar, I’ve been dreaming about projects like “Shots Fired” for years. I want to continue working on that caliber,” she said. “There’s always some reason that I’m doing it, that I’m choosing a role,” Lathan added. While we’d all like to know what Lathan’s ultimate role would be, the actress says her dream is simply to “continue to grow and to continue to be challenged”.
“I don’t have that. It’s not any one role, my dream is to be able to step in to different characters, that’s what’s fun for me,” she said. Be sure to catch the new season of “Shots Fired” on Fox and visit lasentinel.net to see the exclusive interview with Sanaa Lathan.