The 2000 sports drama “Love & Basketball” has become a staple in the homes and hearts of many fans. But as delighted as viewers feel when watching the love story of basketball players Monica and Quincy, it’s not the way star Sanaa Lathan felt when she shot it back in the summer and fall of 1999.
On the contrary, Lathan told CBS Los Angeles she was suffering behind the scenes.
“I was miserable. I can laugh about it now,” she says. “I got the job and I think [director] 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.
“I had to go through so much to get the part … They also surrounded me in all the basketball scenes with real ballplayers,” she added. “There was a lot of crying behind the scenes for me.”
Prince-Bythewood has not publicly commented on Lathan’s present statement, but Lathan said the writer/director knows about her feelings and by the end of the shoot the pair bonded. The actress said she now considers Prince-Bythewood a sister, and they have since worked together on other projects.
Earlier in the sit-down, Lathan had explained that getting the part was a tough process, calling it “the hardest challenge.”
“I had a dance background, but I had never picked up a basketball,” she explains. “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,” she continues. “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 L.A. Sparks and she had me training five hours a day before I got the job.”
The demand for a coach paid off for Lathan. She earned a BET Award for Best Actress the year after the film was released along with an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture.
Still, Lathan doesn’t necessarily look back at the film any chance she gets. She’s not the nostalgic type.
“I’m really into cleaning out and being present,” she says. “My philosophy is I do it and I sent it into the world and it’s like, ‘see ya!'”