Sanaa Lathan says Love & Basketball was horrible for her…
“I was miserable. I can laugh about it now,” said Lathan. “I got the job and I think Gina [Prince-Bythewood] finally got to the point where she had to hire somebody. It’s almost like she hired me because she couldn’t find somebody else. There wasn’t a lot of joy and there wasn’t a lot of trust in me. It was her baby and it was her first time directing. It was a big deal for her and nobody knows me then really. She gets to the point where she makes this decision with me, but I felt like the default.”
Lathan said she bonded with Prince-Bythewood throughout the shooting of the movie and has told her about all these emotions. The two actually went on to work together later on in Lathan’s career. The other challenge of this part was the fact that Lathan had never played basketball prior to the film.
“I had to go through so much to get the part and in all the basketball scenes, [they] surrounded me with real ballplayers,” said Lathan. “There was a lot of crying behind the scenes for me.”
The other interesting wrinkle of the “Love & Basketball” story is that the producers wanted a real basketball player to be the actor. Spike Lee’s company produced the film and wanted to follow the Ray Allen model from “He Got Game.”
“The hardest challenge was getting the job, which I think weirdly prepared me for Monica,” said Lathan. “I had a dance background, but I had never picked up a basketball. Gina and the producers really wanted a basketball player that could act as opposed to an actress they could teach to play basketball. I was very lucky… I did a staged reading of the script when she was still working on the script. She couldn’t get my stage reading out of her head. She wasn’t auditioning a lot of actresses. I would always get to the last step and then they would throw in another basketball player. They were giving the basketball player acting coaches. They would always do a basketball audition for me, which was just the worst. Finally I demanded that if you want me to continue, you’ll have to get me a basketball coach. They gave me an assistant coach for the LA Sparks and she had me training five hours a day before I got the job.”