Sanaa Lathan

The rom-com queen branches out

Pop quiz: What’s the most recent psychological thriller you’ve seen starring an all-Black cast? After last week, it’s a lot easier to come up with an answer. because we’ll have had a one to readily recall. Forest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Mike Epps, Sanaa Lathan and Nicole Ari Parker take moviegoers deep into New Orleans for a tale of Repentance.

The film details the story of an author slash life coach, Thomas Carter (Mackie), who’s abducted by a lunatic client, Angel Sanchez (whom he originally declined services). Sanchez uses Thomas’s therapeutic techniques and teachings of karma against him to wreak havoc on his family for its “past sins.”

We chatted with Lathan about her supporting role, what she calls a “Black renaissance” in film, and her legacy as an actress.

RELATED: Forest Whitaker: The Quiet Storm [INTERVIEW]

EBONY: How did you come on board for Repentance?

Sanaa Lathan: I’ve known Forest forever—I don’t even remember when I first met him. We’ve had a mutual admiration, and he produced the movie, so he sent me the script. I was excited, because you don’t really get to see Black people in these psychological thrillers; it’s kind of very rare. I don’t even remember the last time I’ve seen Black people in a thriller like this. The fact that it was him and Anthony Mackie—and the script was kind of outside of the box from what I was use to reading—I [had] to jump on board.

EBONY: What caught your eye about this script in particular?

SL: I love the fact that it was a thriller that would not only have you on the edge of your seat, but was also about something.

EBONY: What is it like working with Forest?

SL: He gives 1,000%, and I think you can always see that in his performances. He’s very focused on set; you can tell he’s always in character. He’s very giving and very sensitive to other people’s needs. He’s just great; it was a real treat for me to get to work with him.

EBONY: How did this movie differ from other thrillers that you’ve been in?

SL: The whole story is different. We shot in New Orleans in August, which felt like sitting in a sauna. (laughs) But Anthony is from New Orleans, so it was great because he really showed me the city. I got to have all of that delicious food! We were on Bourbon Street listening to jazz, and I got to really get a feeling for New Orleans, which was great for the character because she’s from there.

‘Repentance’ trailer

‘Repentance’ trailer

EBONY: There has really been a reemergence of Black films. Is this the result of some type of shift in the powers that be in Hollywood?

SL: There’s definitely a shift in Hollywood, which is the microcosm of the world. There’s a shift everywhere. Because of the perfect storm of a couple of movies that did well at the box office that happened to have Black people… Hollywood is motivated by money. So when they see that these movies are making money, all of a sudden there’s a bit of a Black renaissance in terms of movies. Let’s hope that it’s here to stay.

EBONY: What does it feel like to be a part of that renaissance?

SL: It feels great! I want to see us win. I don’t even like to call them “Black movies” because we don’t call movies with White people in them “White movies.” We just call them movies. These are movies. Any good movie, it’s really about the human condition… it should be universal. I think one of the reasons why Best Man Holiday did so well is because it’s universal. I know a lot of White people who went to go see that, and loved it just as much as the Black people who went. That’s how all of these movies should be. We are the human race, and, yes, we have our cultural differences. But like Repentance—it’s a Black psychological thriller, but there’s nothing Black about it except that the cast is Black. (laughs)

EBONY: How do thrillers challenge you as an actress?

SL: I definitely think that shooting a thriller is more physically demanding. When you’re terrified and you’re bound and gag… it’s not like you’re not feeling those emotions. When I did Alien vs. Predator, the shoot was about six months, and I literally had to wear the same outfit for six months. Plus we had 20 different exact versions [shot] of it. Every day, it was about me running and being terrified. By the end of that, I was wasted. I was so emotionally drained, physically drained.

EBONY: What are some things you do shooting movies to get yourself back to Sanaa?

SL: I think it’s important to have a life outside of work for anybody, no matter what the profession is. But I definitely laugh a lot. There’s a lot of laughing going on. It’s the quickest way—aside from the spas and all that kind of stuff—to nurture yourself. I really love to laugh. I just go retreat into that world and be in the moment.

EBONY: What’s your hope for your legacy and impact, not just as a Black actress but an actress in Hollywood?

SL: I would love for people, generations from now, to look at my body of work and still get enjoyment from Love & Basketball, Best Man Holiday, Repentance. I want to entertain, inspire, uplift. And I want my work to stand the test of time. Those movies that people watch now that were made in the ’40s—there were like 1,000 other movies that were made that we would never watch now. I want my movies to be the movies that people are watching forever.