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Sanaa Lathan joins Boss for its second season.

Sanaa Lathan pulls no punches as the new girl on Boss.

If you’re going to dance with the big boys of the Chicago political machine, you’d better have the perfect mix of guts and charm. Fortunately, Sanaa Lathan, 40, has both to spare. The Yale-educated, Tony-nominated actress joins Boss in its second season, now airing on Starz, to shake things up and beguile Kelsey Grammer’s ruthless Chicago mayor. She caught up with American Way about taking on a new role and a new town.

American Way: Boss has gotten loads of critical acclaim. Is that what drew you to the role?
Sanaa Lathan: My mantra over the last couple of years is that I wasn’t going to do TV, unless it was really exceptional. But I watched the first episode and I said, “Sign me up.” It’s great material, it’s larger than life, it’s dark, and it has kind of this modern-day Shakespearean feel.

AW: Tell us about your character.
SL: I play Mona. I become an advocate for these projects based on the real-life projects called Cabrini-Green, which were infamous for being so downtrodden and a place where police wouldn’t even go. And Kelsey’s character sees my passion and becomes obsessed with me a bit.

AW: How do you like living in Chicago?
SL: I love it. I was a little resist?ant, because I’m an L.A. girl, and I love New York. I had no idea that when I walked out my door, I’d be right across the street from Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs and Barneys. I’ve been here for a couple of months, and I have not shopped. It will be out of control, so I’m just waiting for as long as possible for that barrier to be broken.

AW: Being a stage buff and a foodie, are you enjoying all the theater and cuisine Chicago has to offer?
SL: I just went to see one of the women who is on Boss do her [theatrical] two-woman show. And last weekend, I went to Rick Bayless’ restaurant. They make the best margaritas and the best guacamole.

AW: Do you watch his show?
SL: I’m obsessed with the Food Network, so, I was like, “Oh, Rick Bayless!” I saw Bobby Flay once. I’ve never been starstruck, and I was totally freaking out. They’re rock stars.