'Something New' for Actress Sanaa Lathan

Sanaa Lathan talks about her new film, Something New, and parallels between her onscreen portrayal of a harried urban professional and her real life. Something New follows the story of a Lathan's character, an attorney, who starts an unlikely romance with a white landscape architect.

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GORDON: While interracial dating has become more common, interracial couples still get second looks. A new film addresses the problems these couples face. It's called Something New and it opened this weekend, taking in over $5 million at the box office. The movie looks at interracial dating from the black female's perspective, and stars Sanaa Lathan. They Yale Drama School grad spoke with me about the film and also how her professional ambitions required taking a leap of faith with her father, who's a veteran Hollywood director and producer.

Ms. SANAA LATHAN (Actress): I always said I was going to be a lawyer. And when I finally told him, Dad, I want to go after this thing called acting, he was very disappointed, and I think disappointed because it's a business that everyday you're getting rejected on every level, and very few people make it, and he didn't want me to have to go through that. But I think once I started doing it, and he saw me in plays, he saw that I really had passion for it. I've been in the business professionally now about nine years.

Now, the challenge is, you know, the bar is really high for me in terms of the roles that I've done. And now it's about finding those roles that are going to take me to the next level, that are going to challenge me in new ways.

GORDON: Right. Let's talk a little bit about the new project, Something New. You said that this was written with you in mind. Talk to me about how the project came to you.

Ms. LATHAN: Kriss Turner, the writer, and Stephanie Allain, the producer, came to me with the idea several years ago before there was a script, and I said, you know, sounds great. Then it went away and I went off and did Alien vs. Predator, and A Raisin in the Sun, and then it came to me through my agent. And the script was great. It was fresh. It was funny. It was moving. And one of the things that was really exciting to me is this issue of interracial love we've seen on the big screen before, but usually it's a black man and a white woman. And we really haven't seen it on this level from a black woman's perspective.

The other thing that's different about it is that usually it's the couple against the family, or the couple against the world. And in this, it's really my character coming up against her own conflicts about being with a white man, her own prejudices. And that's such a reality in my experience with my friends who have dated outside the race. I think there have been quite a few--I think there's been way more black men, white women interracial stories on the big screen, than the black woman and white man.

I feel like with black women, in a way, I feel like it has been harder for us to go there just in terms of culturally. I know that there's this statistic that says that like 13 percent of black men are in interracial relationships. And don't quote me on this, but it's like four percent or three percent of black women are in interracial relationships; and I think that says a lot about, you know, either black women's loyalty her black man or her either guilt about stepping outside of the race, or... It just shows basically that there is a bit of a double standard in terms of black men being with white women and black women being with white men. Like somehow it's a little bit more acceptable, I think, for a black man to be with a white woman.

GORDON: How much of the movie conversation mirrored real conversations that you have had with your real crew?

Ms. LATHAN: Oh, that's the thing that I love about the movie is that it really is -- I mean, we were having similar kind of conversations in between takes. It really to me captured that dynamic that happens between adult women, you know, and how bold and open and funny the conversations are. That's the thing that I loved about the movie is that there's a lot of shocking moments in it where you're like, oh my gosh, I recognize that, I recognize that from my life.

(Soundbite of movie "Something New")

Unidentified Woman #1: I'm just tired of being classified as a victim. A single black professional women destined to be unhappy and alone. I mean, I just have to keep believing I'll find the one.

Unidentified Woman #2: I don't even need all that, I just want a good brother. He doesn't have to make a lot of money, so long as he's got a job. He just has to be taller than me, college educated, and not crazy. No kids. Good taste. And no kinky sex. I mean, I like to switch it up a bit, but...

GORDON: Let's talk a little bit about the future and what you want to do, not maybe even what's on the plate, but what you want to do.

Ms. LATHAN: Oh gosh. You know, I feel like I love the way my career has gone, and I just want to continue to do more of the same. I love acting. I feel like it's my passion. I'm living my passion and I'm living my dream, and I just want to just do this until I'm a little old lady. I want to play the grandmother role. (laughter)

GORDON: It's really fun to talk to someone who clearly loves their craft.

Ms. LATHAN: Oh, thank you.

GORDON: In talking to you, you hear and feel that. What's upcoming for you after, Something New dies down?

Ms. LATHAN: I'm developing a project with Gina Prince-Bythewood, the writer and director of Love and Basketball and Disappearing Act, and it's about a woman who's married to a man in prison, and how she's kind of lost herself in that and has to re-find herself. It's really just a simple, beautiful story about this woman, a slice of life.

GORDON: I'm sure that your fans will look forward to that as they always do. Your new project, the latest, Something New, and people will line up and, I'm sure, will be talking about it after the fact. Sanaa Lathan, always good to talk to you.

Ms. LATHAN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of movie "Something New")

GORDON: Sanaa Lathan stars in the movie, Something New.

(Soundbite of movie "Something New")

GORDON: That's our program for today. Thanks for joining us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. And if you'd like to comment, call us 202-408-3330; that's 202-408-3330. NEWS AND NOTES was created by NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

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