Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind the Making of “Love and Basketball”
Love and Basketball was the bridging of two seemingly unrelated worlds, athletics and love. But the story came together seamlessly, with the help of the talented Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. The film, the first for director Gina Prince-Bythewood, would go on to become the highest grossing film produced by a black woman at that time, (2001). Let’s dive in and see how this movie was made, and the secrets behind this romantic classic.
How did this come together?
Gina Prince-Bythewood got her start in television writing for shows like “Felicity,” “South Central” and “A Different World.” (Obviously not in that order.) It was during “A Different World” that Prince-Bythewood would meet her husband Reggie “Rock” Bythewood (who co-wrote Spike Lee’s Get on the Bus.) He encouraged Gina to take time off from television to write her own script. Prince-Bythewood admitted that leaving television was hard because it was a market she had already mastered and the money was good. But she took a break and took two years to write the script. Once it was completed, she shopped it around. Her script was turned down by every major studio, leaving Prince-Bythewood depressed. Later, she was invited to read a script at a screenwriting program at Sundance. She choose what we now know as Love and Basketball. She and her husband improved the piece and when Prince-Bythewood read it, she was approached by New Line Cinema’s president of production, Mike DeLuca. He said it was the best love story he’d ever read and offered to finance it. The rest is history.
Prince-Bythewood didn’t know if white people would get it
Before Love and Basketball hit major theatres across the nation, it was first screened at Sundance…in Utah…for a predominately white audience. Immediately after the film was over, Prince-Bythewood couldn’t tell whether the audience liked it or not. In 2000, she told the L.A. Times “I was nervous because for other screenings we always had like a 99% black audience. So here’s 1,300 people in Utah. At the end of the movie it was so quiet. I thought, wow, they didn’t get it. Then people started applauding and it got bigger. I was so happy for Sanaa and her standing ovation because I knew how hard she had worked for this role.”
Sanaa had no hoop skills
Sanaa also told the LA Times that before she started working on the film she had no prior experience with basketball. She recalled that her basketball tryout with Prince-Bythewood was terrible. “It was so embarrassing because literally I didn’t know how to dribble. I didn’t know how to hold the ball. But I’m proud of how it looks [in the movie]. I had no idea I would be able to do it.”
Spike and Prince-Bythewood didn’t agree Sanaa should get the lead role
Spike Lee, who served as a producer of the film, disagreed with Prince-Bythewood about who she should cast for the lead role. He believed that it was more important that the woman have the believable basketball skills. Here’s what Prince-Bythewood had to say about the final decision. “I saw over 700 people for the part–actors, ballplayers, people who had never acted before in their life. It finally came down to Sanaa and Niesha Butler [a star player at Georgia Tech and 1999 Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year]. I put Sanaa with a basketball coach for two months and Niesha with an acting coach.”
Prince-Bythewood ultimately decided that it was a love story first—which is why she ultimately went with Lathan.
“He had strong opinions about it, but at the end of the day it was my movie. You can fake basketball but you can’t fake a close-up.”
Good decision. Looking at the movie, you can’t tell Lathan didn’t play ball all her life.
Why Omar decided to take the movie
Omar Epps told “I can relate to his vulnerable qualities”, the 27-year old actor quietly explains. It was a script, Epps recalls that spoke volumes to him. “When I first read it, it jumped off the page at me. I think Gina really, as a first time director, did a good job. Also the one thing that me want to do the movie besides it being a good movie was that the guy didn’t get the prize. He ultimately got what he NEEDED, but this time round, it’s the woman who gets her cake and eats it. That’s a rare thing in movies.”
Why did Alfre Woodard take the role?
Since Spike Lee was producing the film and worked with Alfre Woodard in Crooklyn, he was able to convince Woodard to take part in the film. Woodard told Jet magazine: “I loved the way it moved and loved what it was about. I was a jock growing up in Oklahoma, and one of the things I think is wonderful about sports for women, especially young girls is that once you realize your physical strength, your quickness and your ability to reason on the move, nothing that society is saying to you can hold you back.”
Dennis Haysbert wasn’t down to be a dog…again
After playing the smooth-talking player in Waiting to Exhale Haysbert was hesitant to play another cheater. He also told Jet what made him take the role. “Then I saw the emphasis was going to be on the father-son relationship. That was something that was close to my heart.” That’s a pretty valid point considering Quincy had to learn that just because his dad wasn’t a good husband didn’t mean that he wasn’t a decent father to him.
That Love scene
If you recall, the scene where Monica loses her virginity to Quincy. It was honest. Subtle in its sexiness and real in the emotions a girl might feel her “first time.” Surprisingly, Prince-Bythewood and others on the set thought the scene wasn’t steamy enough. This is what she had to say about that.
“For us, it hurts, it’s scary, it’s someone you love and it shows your vulnerability. I kept saying, ‘Thank God, I’m a woman and in control. I’m not going to do that because it’s not what the scene is.'”
In case you need a refresher, here’s the scene below. What do you think, was it too soft or pretty accurate?
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