Sanaa Lathan

Sanaa Lathan Headshot

Actress • Voice Actor

Birth Name: Sanaa McCoy Lathan

Birth Date: September 19, 1971

Age: 52 years old

Birth Place: New York, New York

Talented, versatile and intelligent were all terms used to accurately describe Sanaa Lathan throughout her career as a supporting and lead actress of film, television and stage. A graduate of the prestigious Yale School of Drama, Lathan quickly landed work on TV soon after making the transition to Hollywood from the New York theater scene. A minor role in the bloody comic book adaptation "Blade" (1998) led to more nuanced performances in projects such as the romantic comedy-dramas "The Wood" (1999) and "The Best Man" (1999).

It was, however, her role as an aspiring hoops player alongside Omar Epps in the critical darling of that year's Sundance Film Festival, "Love and Basketball" (2000), that truly marked a breakthrough for the actress. Other roles included a pairing with superstar Denzel Washington in "Out of Time" (2003), a turn as the heroine in the big-budget spectacle "AVP: Alien vs. Predator" (2004), and the reprisal of a character she had originated on stage in "A Raisin in the Sun" (ABC, 2007). Ironically, it was her work off-camera that brought Lathan one of her more successful roles as the voice of the unflappable Donna Tubbs in "The Cleveland Show" (Fox, 2009-13). Whether she was cast in a high-octane action movie or as a member of an ensemble family drama, Lathan consistently brought an undeniable realism and integrity to each and every performance.

Born Sanaa McCoy Lathan on Sept. 19, 1971 in New York City, she was the daughter of parents Eleanor McCoy and Stan Lathan. Considering that her mother was a veteran stage performer and professional dancer who had performed with the likes of Eartha Kitt, and her father was a television producer, it was hardly surprising that Lathan chose to pursue a career in acting.

Initially she did have other plans, and although Lathan had studied acting and dance as a youngster, the undergraduate degree she earned from California State University, Berkeley was in English. A brief flirtation with the idea of becoming a lawyer was nixed as soon as she was accepted to the Masters program at Yale's School of Drama. During that time, she performed extensively on stage in school and in off-Broadway productions until, after completing the three-year program, she was encouraged by her father to relocate in 1996 to Los Angeles and make a go of an acting career.

Within the year, Lathan had landed guest starring roles on such TV series as "In The House" (NBC, 1995-96/UPN, 1996-98) and "Moesha" (UPN, 1996-2001). The following season brought her a slew of appearances, including turns on "Family Matters" (ABC, 1989-1998), a pilot for the short-lived series "Built to Last" (NBC, 1997), and a bit part in the made-for-cable action-adventure "Drive" (HBO, 1997). More notable that same year was Lathan's performance as the young incarnation of Della Reese's troubled elderly woman in the TV-movie "Miracle in the Woods" (CBS, 1997). Lathan then landed a featured guest spot on the groundbreaking police drama "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005) in 1998 before scoring a regular role on an experimental show-within-a-show sitcom created by Al Franken, in which she played Brianna, a booker for the late-night news program "Lateline" (NBC, 1998-99).

Although canceled by the network within its first year, unaired episodes were picked up by Showtime and broadcast during the 1999-2000 season. Lathan made her film debut as the doomed human mother of Wesley Snipes' half-breed vampire hunter in the horror-action adventure "Blade" (1998). More work soon came with a pair of African-American ensemble films: "The Wood" (1999) and "The Best Man" (1999).

In the nostalgic comedy-drama "The Wood," Lathan played a grown-up version of the protagonist's teenage crush who eventually becomes his best friend. Although given little screen time, her work opposite Omar Epps and Taye Diggs gained her valuable recognition with audiences. As Robin in "The Best Man"(1999), she played the girlfriend of commitment-shy novelist Harper (Diggs), a man bestowed with the titular honor in a friend's upcoming wedding. Lathan's subtle, well-rounded character - one that could have easily fallen into two-dimensional caricature - earned the young actress an NAACP Image Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. That same year, she appeared as Eddie Murphy's love interest in the Ted Demme-directed buddy comedy "Life" (1999), which co-starred Martin Lawrence.

Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood's "Love and Basketball" (2000), was a time-spanning look at the evolving relationship between two young neighbors (Lathan and Epps), whose mutual love of the game eventually leads to the undeniable feelings they have for each other. Although having no basketball experience of her own, Lathan's dedication to achieving a semblance of competence in the game and her nuanced performance garnered her acclaim in the well-received film. Later that year, she reteamed with Prince-Bythewood when she co-starred with "Blade" star Wesley Snipes in the director's adaptation of Terry McMillan's best-selling novel, "Disappearing Acts" (HBO, 2000). Reuniting with "The Wood" director Rick Famuyiwa, Lathan shared top-billing with that film's co-star, Diggs, in "Brown Sugar" (2002), a hip-hop infused romantic-comedy that also featured rapper-turned-actor Mos Def. The actress then secured a high profile, breakthrough role opposite Denzel Washington in director Carl Franklin's crime thriller "Out of Time" (2003), in which she played a married woman embroiled in a potentially disingenuous and deadly affair with a Florida police chief (Washington).

Between film projects, Latham kept busy with frequent returns to the stage, such as a starring role opposite Sean Combs and Phyllicia Rashad in the Broadway production of "A Raisin in the Sun" in 2003. For her stunning performance, the versatile actress received a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play. That triumph was immediately followed by a leading role as the young leader of an ill-fated Antarctic expedition suddenly caught in the middle of an age-old battle between extraterrestrial killers in the fusion franchise "AVP: Alien vs. Predator" (2004). In a far more down-to-earth role, she played a successful career woman navigating highly-charged societal territory when she begins dating a working-class white man (Simon Baker) in the romantic comedy-drama "Something New" (2006).

Simultaneously, she picked up a regularly recurring guest spot as a rich woman with a wealth of secrets on the plastic surgery pot-boiler "Nip/Tuck" (FX, 2003-2010) throughout the 2006 season. Lathan then reunited with most of the original cast for the made-for-TV adaptation of their Tony Award-winning play "A Raisin in the Sun" (ABC, 2007). Lathan followed with a prominent role in actor-writer-director Tyler Perry's cross-cultural family drama "The Family That Preys" (2008) as an adulterous wife with high aspirations, starring opposite Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates.

A small turn in the multi-narrative ensemble drama "Powder Blue" (2009) preceded a role in the comedy-drama "Wonderful World" (2009) as a woman who finds herself unexpectedly attracted to her critically-ill brother's sad sack roommate (Matthew Broderick). That same year, Lathan took on what would likely become one of her most memorable roles, albeit in voice only, as Donna Tubbs, the supportive, patient second wife of Cleveland Brown (Mike Henry) on the animated comedy spin-off "The Cleveland Show" (Fox, 2009-13). She later appeared amidst an all-star cast that included Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet in the global pandemic disaster thriller "Contagion" (2011), directed by Steven Soderbergh.

By Bryce Coleman

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