“You may think you know someone, but often what looks good on the surface isn’t like that at all,” said Sanaa Lathan, in Chicago recently to talk about her new film, “The Perfect Guy” (opening Friday).
The actress, whose first starring role was in “Love & Basketball” in 2000, noted that “it is ironic that today — with the Internet and all the social media — it is so much easier to find out about a person than was possible just a few years ago.”
Yet with all those tools provided by today’s technology, Lathan said, “even though it’s easy to do the research if youtakethe time to do it, people don’t. Especially, I think, with women that’s the case. You want something so bad that you’ll overlook the warning signs — the red flags. It is crazy how social media has changed the world in terms of dating, but I still see problems, because a lot of people overlook those troubling signs.”
In “The Perfect Guy,” Lathan plays a highly successful lobbyist named Leah Vaughn, who has a painful breakup with her longtime boyfriend (played by Morris Chestnut), due to his inability to commit to marriage and building a family. Vaughn then leaps headfirst into a very passionate relationship with a charming but mysterious stranger, played by Micheal Ealy. After Chestnut’s character resurfaces in her life — and after number of a suspicious (and potentially dangerous) actions by Ealy’s character, Vaughn suddenly must decide who she can trust and who she should deeply fear.
Lathan thinks that there’s a theme that runs through many relationships — especially ones that are dysfunctional on one level or another.
“It’s that old thing where you think you can change somebody. But in many ways — frankly the most basic, important ways — I don’t think people really can or do change. I think that’s especially true about how a man treats a woman, and how people, both men and women, deal with the truth.
“I sincerely believe that what is inside of you is set in stone pretty early. It’s all about the way you’re raised, the environment you were exposed to, from the earliest age.”
The concept behind “The Perfect Guy” was simmering for a number of years but came to fruition after Lathan met with top Hollywood executive Clint Culpepper. “We had dinner, like three or four years ago,” said the actress. “Clint pitched the idea [for the film] to me, and I said, ‘That sounds great. Let’s get it written.’
“Of course, one thing I’ve learned from the 17 years I’ve been in the business: That kind of thing happens all the time. You hear a great idea for a movie, but then you never hear anything more about it.
“Then, the script came to me. It needed work, but the bones were there for a good story.”
All that tweaking and rewriting ended up turning into “The Perfect Guy,” which was filmed in Los Angeles in the summer of 2014.
Lathan was delighted that frequent Culpepper collaborators Ealy and Chestnut agreed to jump on board. “It’s kind of like a throwback to the old studio days. Clint works with the same actors over and over again. It creates a nice team feeling between people you enjoy working with. I was very happy to be part of that.”
The film marks Lathan’s first outing as an executive producer on a project, but “that was the natural evolution for me, as I had been doing it informally — without the title — for some time.”
Noting this is the 15th anniversary of “Love & Basketball,” the film that made her known to the moviegoing public, Lathan laughed. “You never know when you’re doing something — especially at the beginning of your career. I was just trying to get through it all! It was my first starring role, and I knew people would be looking at me very, very closely to see if I had ‘it.’
“I just tried to get through those basketball scenes. I was so stressed out! I was only hoping I didn’t look like a fool!”
In the end, Lathan said she is extremely proud of what was accomplished by “Love & Basketball,” adding that “people literally come up to me almost on a daily basis and say, ‘I watch it over and over again.’ It’s nice that it seems to be one of those films that does stand the test of time.”
As for Chicago, the actress has very positive feelings about Our Town — where she previously shot the “Boss” TV series and the “Contagion” film.
“Chicago is a great city. I love it in the spring, summer and early fall. But that wind chill in the winter is hard to take. I’ve learned that from experience,” said Lathan, echoing a line both visitors and us natives have said many, many times.