The One Role That Got Away From Sanaa Lathan

Sanaa Lathan has played roles that have impacted Black cinema and will for years to come. Whether it’s the ambitious “Monica Wright” in Love & Basketball, the passionate “Sidney Shaw” in Brown Sugar, or the humorous “Donna Tubbs” on TV’s The Cleveland Show, Sanaa Lathan continues to shine on screen. Now as she gears up to reprise her role as “Robyn” in the latest installment of The Best Man franchise, The Best Man: The Final Chapters, Sanaa is revealing that she was originally supposed to be cast in another role!

Sanaa Lathan comes from an extremely talented family. Her mother, Eleanor McCoy, was a famed Broadway actress. Her father, Stan Lathan, is a well-known producer and director of many iconic television shows, films, and major comedy specials for the likes of Dave Chappelle, Steve Harvey, and Cedric The Entertainer.

Lathan is a classically trained actress, earning degrees from UC Berkeley and Yale, where she get a master’s degree in drama. She would then move to Los Angeles to pursue acting full-time and was soon seen in episodes of Moesha and Family Matters. Sanaa then took it to the big screen, landing a role as Wesley Snipes’s mother in the 1998 film Blade. In 1999, she appeared in three films, two of which would forever remain as classics in African-American culture. The films Life, The Wood, and The Best Man were all released that year, and the latter two exceeded box-office expectations.

But it was 21-years-ago when the cult classic Love & Basketball would be released that solidified Sanaa Lathan’s place in the world as a bonafide star. Her depiction as “Monica Wright” in the film as well as the film’s strong storyline would live on in fans’ hearts and souls for years. Unbeknownst to many, Sanaa Lathan had a background in dance but never played basketball prior to being cast in the film. The role of Monica Wright was initially auditioned for by actress Gabrielle Union. According to the director and writer of the film, Gina Prince-Bythewood, she felt that Sanaa Lathan had a better connection with the role, thusly casting her.

Sanaa Lathan went into extensive training with an LA Sparks coach, and the rest was history. Monica Wright was fully able to come to life thanks to her devotion and commitment to fully developing the character. But Sanaa Lathan was not the only one contending for the role, as another top athlete at the time, Niesha Butler, was also being coached as a potential lead. The experience was a “miserable” one for Sanaa Lathan, as she told CBS News, that she went through “so much to get the part and in all the basketball scenes.” She also revealed that “There was a lot of crying behind the scenes for me.”

Prince-Bythewood’s choice of casting Sanaa Lathan proved to be worth it, or “meant to be” as she aptly described it to the L.A. Times. As for her role in The Best Man, Sanaa Lathan recently revealed that audiences could have seen her in a much different light. Speaking with Jemele Hill on her Jemele Hill is Unbothered podcast, she shared that producers of the film initially had her in mind for the role of “Candy”, which was ultimately played by actress Regina Hall.

The role of Candy was a more sexy one, as she was a stripper in the film. Sanaa chose to instead audition for the role of Robyn, as she felt that she could portray her better and connect more. Perhaps her confidence was not as strong, as Sanaa didn’t believe that she could have pulled off a potential striptease in the audition process. “Well I would have had to…well, I don’t know if I would have gotten that,” Lathan said to Jemele Hill.

The success of The Best Man lead to a highly anticipated sequel in 2013, The Best Man Holiday, which proved to be another success. Originally the third film in the franchise, The Best Man Wedding, was due to begin production. Instead, it was announced in February of this year that the franchise would end in a 10-episode series called The Best Man: The Final Chapters, which would reunite the original cast. The series will debut on the streaming platform Peacock.

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