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Showbiz Today Star of Tomorrow
NEW YORK (CNN) -- They say there are not enough strong roles for African-American women in film and television. Perhaps that is because Sanaa Lathan lately seems to be getting them all.
You may remember Lathan from "girlfriend" roles she played in three films last year -- "Life" (opposite Martin Lawrence), "The Wood" (opposite current boyfriend Omar Epps) and "The Best Man" (opposite Taye Diggs).
This year, Lathan, 27, has graduated to lead-acting status, carrying two high-profile projects on the big and small screen, and appearing on stage.
She starred in "Love & Basketball" earlier this year, teaming again with Epps. Lathan also took a turn in the "Vagina Monologues" on stage, and plans to return to the Los Angeles production early next year.
Lathan also recently finished her biggest role to date: playing Zora Banks in HBO's "Disappearing Acts," airing now on the pay channel. She co-stars with Wesley Snipes in the adaptation of Terry McMillan's best-selling book of the same title.
CNN recently talked to this rising star at the world premiere of "Disappearing Acts."
CNN: This is a very sexy film. Do you get nervous watching this with a live audience?
Sanaa Lathan: Oh yes, definitely. My mother is here tonight and a lot of my family is here as well, so I know I am going to want to hide. The scenes are pretty hot. I saw a screening of it the other night in Los Angeles and my dad was there and, woo, that was hard. ...
Actually, I was a little bit nervous about making the film in the beginning. I had never done anything like it. I had read the book ... and I knew what a great chemistry these people had and how Terry McMillan had written such hot, hot love scenes, and that is part of the thing that you loved about the book. So I wanted to live up to it.
CNN: In one year you have starred in film, stage and TV productions.
Lathan: It's exciting -- everything I have always wanted. These roles have been dream roles for me. Monica in "Love & Basketball" is everything I have been wanting. And Zora in "Disappearing Acts"? If anyone had told me I'd be doing something like this, I would have been like, "Yeah, right." And "The Vagina Monologues": I come from the theater, and that is my first love.
CNN: Your father is a director/producer of shows like "Hill Street Blues," and your mother is a performer. Do you think you had any other option than to go into the entertainment industry yourself?
Lathan: You know, I tried to deny it for a long time because I was really smart. I was always getting good grades in school, but I was always performing, too. So I said, "You know, I want to do something that is going to use my brain."
That was at a time when I wasn't thinking acting was using brains. ...I know now that you have to be very smart to be a good actor.
CNN: Did you sense that "Love & Basketball" was going to enhance your career so profoundly?
Lathan: I don't really think that way. For me, just doing that part is what I love. I love acting, and to be able to do that part that had such a beautiful arc -- she went through so many different transformations -- that's what I was focusing on at that time. I think stardom affords you greater possibilities, which I am glad about, but it's not something I really focus on.
CNN: You seem to have lost some weight. Did you gain weight to make you look more like an everyday woman in "Disappearing Acts"?
Lathan: Yeah, I gained 20 pounds for the part. After I finished "Love & Basketball" I was a size 6, and in the book Zora is a woman who struggles with her weight. She is constantly going up and down. She loves to eat, she loves to cook, and she eats out of depression, and we really wanted to be true to that.
...You see character roles that are bigger than a size 4, but you never see a romantic leading lady that is bigger than a size 2 or 4, so I think it is important to put those images out there.
CNN: Many people say that there are not a lot of strong roles for African-American actresses in Hollywood, yet you are busy. How do you do that?
Lathan: If I were to look at the reality of what it is to be a black actress, or an actress, period, in this business, I wouldn't have become an actress. I am doing this because I love it and I think that I give my all every time, and I have been fortunate enough to meet some really wonderful people who want to continue working with me.
One of the things that I do in my life is look at the things that I am appreciative of, and I feel so blessed. I mean, I have a wonderful family, I have great friends, and I have this great career.
Fast-breaking Omar Epps
HBO: Disappearing Acts
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