“As my character in the script was written, the description for her was ‘skinny, bleached-blonde sexy soccer mom,’” Sanaa Lathan recalled during a recent Dallas interview she shared with Carl Franklin, the director of the new white-knuckles thriller, “Out of Time,” in which she co-stars with Denzel Washington. Washington plays Matt Whitlock, a Florida cop who works desperately to save himself from false suspicions of theft and murder. Lathan plays his married mistress, the wife of an odious character played by ex-Superman Dean Cain. The dark-haired African-American beauty is certainly sexy and petite but hardly fits the description otherwise. So how had the easy interracial quality of the triangle come about?

“In the casting process it all changed,” Franklin explained. “They were [all] written as white characters, and in the casting process at one point…someone mentioned–it may have been my wife–going to Denzel. I was reluctant. I thought, Denzel is not going to sign on to do this, it’s not heavy enough…He’s always looking for some kind of social-historical source or some kind of universal theme, at the very least a definite character arc for himself–to make sure he’s in something where he’s got something to be. And in this particular case it’s just entertainment. It’s all about the narrative, more so than it is about the characters, so that kind of distances an actor. It literally means a different way of working. In a lot of instances instead of coming in and rehearsing a scene and then setting the blocking and lenses to that–to the acting–everything was storyboarded–which I don’t usually do, except for action sequences. So that meant that oftentimes the actors were coming in and it was already decided…For actors, it’s just not a very good way for them to work, to be put into a template and moved around, or to not have a strong subtext to draw from.”

But Washington proved willing to consider the role, in large part because he’d worked with Franklin before in the 1995 “Devil in a Blue Dress.” And his signing changed things. “Once he came into the mix, it opened up our casting opportunities,” Franklin said, “because then the studio started to think we want to take advantage of some of the other demographics. And that meant we could go interracial with the relationships and give us a chance to mix it up some…Denzel has proven himself at the boxoffice with movies that people didn’t even think would be boxoffice, like ‘John Q.’ So they had a legitimate star with a following. And then they wanted to open it up. They were co-conspirators in the whole thing.”

That opened the door to Lathan. “She’s classically trained,” Franklin noted, “and is going to bring that to the work. It’s the same thing that Denzel does.” She admitted some trepidation stepping into scenes with Washington, even though she’s previously worked with the likes of Taye Diggs, Omar Epps and Wesley Snipes. “I did [feel intimidation] at the beginning,” she said. “It scared me the first couple of days, because there were moments when I was acting and looking at him, thinking ‘It’s Denzel,’ instead of thinking of him as my co-actor. I had to really throw that out the window and say, ‘Look, he’s this character,’ because otherwise it would have been a whole other performance.”

Lanthan jumped at her part because it offered a chance to broaden what she’s done on screen before, providing a broad range of emotion and motive. “Those are the roles that are challenging,” she said. “I come from the theatre, and I’ve been able to play some of the greatest roles ever written, so it’s really great when you get a role you can sink your teeth into. It’s not necessarily a genre thing I’m going for, it’s just a character I want to play. I never really want to do what I’ve done before. But the business is, you do something well, then that’s all they see. So it’s really great to be able to do something very different from what I’ve done before. I just want to do characters that are new to me.”

“Out of Time” was well received at the Toronto Film Festival, and Franklin was pleased because he wasn’t entirely certain how the audience would react. “We knew that that’s a friendly audience, but it also is an industry audience…They’re cinephiles, and for a movie like this, which is primarily an entertainment movie, you don’t know if they’re going to take that ride with you. They won’t be as irreverent as a regular house that comes in very forgiving–they just want to be entertained. When you really find out is when the popcorn comes out, and the cokes and stuff start going around, when you’re in a real theatre–then you find out what you’ve got.”

“Out of Time” is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release.