Sanaa Lathan Shares Candid Memories About How Working On ‘Miserable Sets’ Helped Inspire Her Directorial Debut

The latest great actor to go into directing is Sanaa Lathan for On The Come Up. The movie is a coming-of-age drama based on The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas’ book of the same name. Following the actress’ over 25 years in the industry, notably in modern classic films like Love & Basketball, Blade and Alien vs. Predator, Lathan shared how her experiences led to getting behind the camera and helming a feature for the first time. 

When CinemaBlend spoke to Sanaa Lathan about On The Come Up, which is now in theaters and streaming with a Paramount+ subscription, the 2022 Emmy-nominated actor shared what inspired her to transition into a bigger role in her Hollywood career. In her words: 

I worked with so many great directors, my wanting to direct probably came more from working with directors who I didn't love [laughs] unfortunately, and I won't name those, but, yeah, just over the years you realize, ‘Oh wow. I have a point of view. I have a vision for this.’ I've been so blessed and fortunate to be able to star in many movies where you're on set all day, every day for many years. And that in and of itself is an education. So yeah, I've had both the experience of people who I wanna be like and people I don't wanna be like.

Often we talk about the positive influences that play a role in leveling up in life, but there are many instances when we become the people we are after having negative experiences and not wanting to feel the discomfort we’ve felt before. Sanaa Lathan got honest about working with multiple directors in the past she didn’t have an enjoyable time working with, along with realizing she had her own eye for being behind the camera to bring a creative vision to life on film. Lathan continued:  

I know for a fact that the director sets the tone for the set and I've been on a lot of miserable sets, unfortunately. And I've been on sets that are great, where you feel like a family and there's like an energy and going towards telling the story from every aspect. And I wanted people to be happy to come to work, to be excited to come to work. And when they're done with the movie to have fond memories and so for me, it was very important to set a great tone and keep everybody uplifted and excited towards the telling of this story.

Lathan, who recently gained Emmy recognition for the first time for guest starring on HBO’s hit series Succession, along with voicing Catwoman in the Harley Quinn series, shared with CinemaBlend that she really made an effort to make her actors feel like a “family” and in an overall good environment as On The Come Up’s director. When I spoke to one of her young stars, Miles Gutierrez-Riley, he echoed Lathan’s hopes as well. Gutierrez-Riley said the actor/director was “extremely nurturing and supportive” to them, whilst also “challenging” them to rise to the occasion during one of his first acting gigs. 

On The Come Up stars newcomer Jamila Gray as Bri, a teen who has aspirations to be the next great rapper. Sanaa Lathan pulls double duty, also playing Bri’s mother, who is struggling to provide for her children after the murder of her husband. The movie, which also stars Method Man and Mike Epps, follows the teen as she finds viral fame and how she navigates being a young rapper in the industry. 

On The Come Up, which has found positive reviews overall on Rotten Tomatoes, is in theaters and streaming now. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.