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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

Getting around while grounded

September 14, 2008|Choire Sicha | Special to The Times

Sanaa LATHAN appears in "The Family That Preys," Tyler Perry's new film about two families torn apart by greed and scandal. But she's also been busy, having starred in a TV adaptation of "A Raisin in the Sun" on ABC this year, costarring in the forthcoming Fox "Family Guy" spinoff "The Cleveland Show" -- and dating Adewale "Wally" Ogunleye of the Chicago Bears. We caught up with her while she prepped for "Prey's" New York premiere.

So how did you end up in that "Alien vs. Predator" mess?

Oh, listen, there are a lot of people who liked that mess! It was a last-minute kind of audition thing. My agent was like, "You've been very careful and this is a big movie and you should go for it." It turned out to be a great experience -- I got to live in Prague for five months! I got to travel around Europe on my off time. Acting-wise? It was one of the most challenging roles I had -- regardless of what you think of that movie. Being in that state of terror for five months, the same outfit, the same dirt on your face -- it was a real acting exercise. You do take after take because of the technical aspects.

What did you see in Europe?

Oh, gosh, Prague is so beautiful, the architecture is so preserved. . . . I probably would not have gone if I wasn't there for work! So it was good -- a good education for me.

You have an excellent education already.

I do, huh. My education is in some people's minds unnecessary for what I do. . . . Nobody in the industry cares that you went to the Yale School of Drama.

What sort of things are you getting to read now?

I just finished doing a movie ["Wonderful World"] with Matthew Broderick where I play a Senegalese woman. I'm doing "The Cleveland Show," which is a spinoff of "The Family Guy." It's Cleveland, the neighbor. He's black, and I guess he's really popular, and he's got his own show. I play his wife, Donna. It's so great -- you get to work in your sweats. It's really smart, really funny. You go to work and laugh, and it's two hours of your week. That'll be out in fall.

Tyler Perry: What gives?

He's great! I was very impressed by him. Regardless of what you think of his work, he has a huge following. The thing I respect about him is he's reflecting a whole community of people who don't get reflected in Hollywood. For years, black actors were told, "You can't open a movie. Black movies don't make money." He's proving there is an audience for it. And I just love how he is doing his own thing. He's created his own model. I went down to Atlanta -- he has an amazing studio down there.

He's taken this and made it big money, not to be crass.

That's what it's all about: money. That's what people care about, unfortunately. You know what I mean? The dollars.

You have a small group of friends who are also actresses.

I have other friends besides the actresses too.

You what?

I took my best friend to Chicago to see my boyfriend; she's a fifth-grade teacher. She's getting her PhD in education [and is] going to write a book about the educational system and black children. She's my best, best friend. I took her for Wally's birthday, and he had a barbecue at his house the next day -- people were playing games, charades and Taboo. And we were going to the airport and she was like, "I want to leave L.A. . . . All day I talked to so many people" -- and no one asked her what she did! People were cool and down to earth and just wanted to enjoy each other. You don't realize that until you get out of L.A.

What's your three-step program?

To keep your sanity, for me, I believe in finding some kind of spiritual outlet, whether that's church -- or therapy for somebody. I have kind of a spiritual mentor who's like a therapist but more spiritually based. Not in any one denomination! But I've been talking to her for the last 10 years. She helps me keep grounded and keep things in perspective. I think everybody needs that.

As long as she's not taking 10% of your money.

No! She's not.

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