The romance between fictitious characters Quincy McCall and Monica Wright in the popular 2000 film Love & Basketball depicted devotion, heartache and redemption in their reunion.
Sanaa Lathan, who played Wright, told CBS Los Angeles on Tuesday, that her arguably most memorable role didn’t come easy, however. According to the veteran actress, the movie’s production process was a real-life heartbreaking experience for herself and cited that dealing with then first-time director Gina Prince-Bythewood was stressful.
“I was miserable. I can laugh about it now,” Lathan said. “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.”
It was Lathan’s fourth feature film and she had to put her method acting skills through the hardest test of her then young acting career. “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.”
Lathan said that she was didn’t have a background in basketball, and Prince-Bythewood wanted to make the final as the female version of the 1998 Spike Lee-directed film He Got Game which starred NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen in its leading role. Lee also produced Love and Basketball under his 40 Acres and a Mule imprint.
“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.”
Lathan received critical acclaim for her role in Love & Basketball. She earned an NAACP Image Award for Most Outstanding Actress In A Motion Picture in 2001 as well as nominations for Best Actress at the BET Awards and Independent Spirit Awards that same year. Prince-Bythewood and Lathan recently worked together on FOX’s short-lived series Shots Fired.