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Sanaa Lathan’s Breakout Role In ‘Love & Basketball’ Almost Didn’t Happen

Sanaa Lathan wasn’t supposed to star in Love & Basketball. 

The actress is currently starring in FOX’s new mini-series Shots Fired, which is her third collaboration with creator/director Gina Prince-Bythewood, whom she also collaborated with on HBO’s Disappearing Acts and Love & Basketball. However, Lathan and Prince-Bythewood’s working relationship didn’t begin so smoothly, and it almost cost Lathan her most infamous role.

Recently, Prince-Bythewood and Lathan stopped by ESSENCE’s Yes, Girl! podcast to chat about Shots Fired and their relationship. Recounting their first meeting Prince-Bythewood said, “When I met her, the first thing she did–you did a photo shoot…But she was in a bathing suit with the sexy pose, and that’s the first thing she showed me. I was like, ‘This is so not the character, dude.”

However, the actress that Prince-Bythewood wanted for the role of Monica fell ill, so she decided to pull Lathan in for a script reading which was disastrous. She said, “We did have a rehearsal prior to the reading. Sanaa comes from theater. She wasn’t giving me anything. To me, she was awful. And I remember calling my husband after and saying, ‘Oh my God, I gotta find somebody else, she was awful. She’s going to kill it.” Luckily, Prince-Bythewood pulled the then up and coming actress to the side and gave her a bit of advice. After that chat, the director recalls, “She was truly brilliant.”

Even though she eventually nailed the script reading, the long and tedious audition process continued for Lathan, who was competing against basketball players who wanted to try their hand at acting. However, Lathan wanted the role so badly that she began training in basketball on her own time. It was a move that truly impressed Prince-Bythewood.

The Beyond the Lights director said that Lathan’s actions and determination really set the bar, “Again, this is why I love Sanaa and why we keep working together.” Sanaa Lathan’s casting wasn’t the only major shakeup during the production of Love & Basketball. Originally, Mekhi Phifer was supposed to play Quincy McCall. The role eventually went to Omar Epps.

Do you live for Love & Basketball as much as we still do? What do you think of Shots Fired?