The Real Deal: Sanaa Lathan
Coaching Sanaa Lathan to play an R&B singer/songwriter/keyboard player in HBO’s Disappearing Acts was one of the most rewarding projects I've ever worked on. To begin with Sanaa is a doll: fun, real, joyous, loyal, interested in everything and willing to work hard on stuff. She truly loved learning piano (and studying with me, of course).... so much that she continued her lessons with me for quite a while after her coaching for the film was over.
Since we spent so much time together Sanaa felt like a friend. She was very respectful and loyal, constantly showing me off and asking me to play my original pieces for everyone on set. That relationship is one that I do cherish.
Sanaa's lessons began in Los Angeles but as we started moving forward she insisted I go on set with her. So for six weeks, March 21- May 6th, 2000, I was in New York with her...Which were needless to say... a total blast!! Sanaa was staying at the Essex House at 59th and Central Park South, with a piano in her gorgeous suite. And I was staying up the street at my Uncle’s fabulous apartment at 69th and 5th Ave., and so everyday I walked to the Essex House to give her a lesson.
Disappearing Acts starred Sanaa & Wesley Snipes, and was directed by Gina Prince Bythewood. I had an initial meeting with Gina at her house where we talked about all kinds of stuff. I liked Gina immediately and still have the utmost respect for her. Gina & Sanaa had their first collaboration just before Disappearing Acts on a film called Love & Basketball which became a HUGE hit and propelled them both onto stardom. The premiere for Love & Basketball was in Los Angeles while we were shooting in New York and Sanaa even insisted that they fly me back to LA for the premiere as part of the deal. That was so beautiful and kind of her. Love & Basketball is a wonderful film and in case you have never seen it, I highly recommend you do.
The music supervisor, Barry Cole, was incredible and I am forever grateful to him. I composed a piece for Disappearing Acts called “Franklin’s Hands” which we recorded in the pre-records and shot, but it ended up not making it into the film. Barry gave me a real shot at having my music in this film and he even got me my first arranging credit for a song called “Knuckles”. In 2004 he ended up hiring me again for a pivotal film in my career, Beauty Shop. I absolutely adore Barry and always try to spend time with him whenever I am in New York.
The pre-records and the recording sessions for the film were at the world famous Hit Factory with Wyclef Jean’s younger siblings, Melky & Sedeck. It was amazing to be part of these sessions. Melky/Sedeck and I got along great and really enjoyed working on music together. There were many other fantastic musicians there like Mos Def and Wyclef Jean, who was at most of the sessions. I loved the enthusiasm of all these incredible music people.
I was on set for 9 scenes that had piano playing or singing in them. There was a different type of camaraderie on set than on any other film I had worked on. It was probably because the film's author, director and many of the producers were female which I later learned was intentional. In an interview with the LA Times, Gina said, "Having numerous women on the set was integral to setting the right mood during filming."
You never know who you're going to meet. On Disappearing Acts I met people that had a major positive impact on my life. What a great experience…