'It's so cool that they hired an African-American woman,' American Assassin star Sanaa Lathan tells PEOPLE in this week's issue
Premiere Of Universal Pictures' "Girls Trip" - Arrivals
Credit: David Livingston/Getty

Sanaa Lathan was pleasantly surprised that elements of her Broadway experience came into play when she auditioned for American Assassin, the spy thriller based on Vince Flynn’s book series.

“I come from the theater and do colorblind casting,” the actress, 46, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “One of the things I loved about my Assassin character, Irene, is in the books, she’s white. It’s so cool that they hired an African-American woman. I’m really interested in seeing movies that start to reflect the world that we live in.”

As Lathan points out, colorblind casting has “been happening the other way around since the beginning of Hollywood.”

The New York City native also learned a bit about the White House from playing a CIA deputy director.

RELATED VIDEO: #TBT – Sanaa Lathan Reveals It Was Terrifying Filming ‘Love & Basketball’

“We had real experts, like ex-CIA [agents], and pretty much everything that goes on in the movie has happened,” she says. “I didn’t even realize that they had these top secret organizations within the CIA, that even the CIA doesn’t necessarily know about.”

Credit: Lionsgate

Lathan warns that the film’s realness, especially its likeness to today’s political climate, might keep viewers’ minds racing after they leave the theater. “It takes you on the roller coaster ride of the action-thriller and has another layer that’s so chilling and deep because this society is inspired by this society that we’re living in,” the Yale School of Drama grad explains. “There are some real echoes in this world that make you think.”

It even consumed Lathan when she watched.

“Usually when I watch a movie with myself in it for the first time, it’s very hard to get lost in it. I can be very hard on myself — I’m just analyzing everything,” Lathan says. “I brought my mom, and this is not my mother’s genre, but 20 minutes in, we were on the edge of ours seats cringing and cheering and screaming and gasping. We were completely locked in it.”

American Assassin, also starring Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien, is out now.