Sanaa Lathan earned a Tony Award nomination for her Broadway performance as Beneatha Younger in “A Raisin in the Sun,” a role she later recreated in the highly rated and critically acclaimed ABC production, alongside Sean “Diddy” Combs. Sanaa most recently appeared in the title role in the comedy “By The Way, Meet Vera Stark” in an extended engagement at the 2econd Stage Theatre in Manhattan. 

Here, Sanaa talks about her new film, “Contagion,” an apocalyptic thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh and featuring an ensemble cast including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Elliott Gould.

KW: Great, thanks. I told my readers and editors that I’d be interviewing you, and they sent in so many questions I’d like to get right to them. Larry Greenberg says: Contagion has such an amazing cast, yourself included. Was there anyone in particular that you felt a strong affinity with whom you would like to work with again?
SL: Well, the truth is, I only worked with Laurence , because Steven Soderbergh kept each of the movie’s storylines separate, although they’re obviously intertwined cinematically. So, all of my scenes were with Laurence.

KW: What was Soderbergh like as a director?
SL: He was amazing! I would love to work with him again.

KW: The film struck me as very similar to ‘Traffic,’ except revolving around an outbreak instead of around drugs.
SL: Exactly! Here, the virus is the main character.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: Your role in ‘Vera Stark’ was a marvelous, breakthrough theatrical performance. It was a privilege to be in the audience. How does your preparation and performance change when you move from stage to screen?
SL: I feel that every role is different, regardless of whether it’s on the stage or on the screen. The great thing about the stage is that you have a structured month-long rehearsal period where you’re going in every day. You have to have lots of run-throughs with theater because there are no second takes in front of a live audience. It’s very different with film. There, the preparation depends on the role and how much time I have. Each character speaks to me differently. I have to assess the demands of the role and what’s going to bring the character to life. So, I don’t have a set approach with film. But I’m always trying to get to a realization of truth with each character.

KW: Harriet also says for ‘Raisin in the Sun’ and ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ you took on parts that had been made famous by others. Did you study their performances in preparation?
SL: No, in fact, I made a point to not watch any of the movies. That is one of my rules. If someone has already done a role I’m about to do, I won’t watch the original until after I’m finished playing the role.

KW: Why is that?
SL: Because I believe the subconscious is very impressionable. At least mine is. Whenever I take on anything where I might be tempted to emulate a prior performance, I try to go off the text in order to ensure a fresh interpretation.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman says: I just saw you in’ Meet Vera Stark’ off-Broadway recently. You are great on screen and in theater. How do you think growing up in show business influenced you during your formative years?
SL: Let’s see… I really don’t know, because I don’t know anything else. I was always around the arts. My mother was in the original productions of ‘Timbuktu’ and ‘The Wiz’ on Broadway, and I was always in the way, running around backstage. And I was always taking art and dance classes. One good thing I do have is compassionate parents who understand my trials and tribulations because they’ve been through it before as well.

KW: Bernadette has a follow-up. Are you interested in directing?
SL: One day. I’m presently into producing. I have a partner with whom I’m developing some projects right now. Directing is something I might try further down the line. You never know.

To see a trailer for “Contagion,” visit:


Kam Williams

Special to the AFRO