Taraji P. Henson has carved her image into the African American viewing public’s psyche for over 15 years. For some it was her role in John Singleton’s Baby Boy, for others it was her role as Shug in Hustle & Flow, and for others still it was her appearance in CBS’ "Person of Interest" as Detective Jocelyn Carter. But Henson has captured the hearts and minds of the entire country with her role as Cookie in Fox’s "Empire."
Recently throngs of Cookie aficionados swarmed the New York Hilton to attend the American Black Film Festival. Among the hot ticket items was A Conversation with Taraji P. Henson. Moderated by the ageless Gayle King, Taraji P. Henson spoke at length and in depth about everything from raising a privileged child of African descent, to her post-Oscar nom struggle for recognition and more.
The Shadow League was in the audience and thought that our readership would love to get the 411 straight from a beautiful heart and mind who we all love. As you can probably guess, Ms. Henson can be a transcriber’s nightmare with her anecdotes, stories and heart-felt candidness. So to that end, we cut some of her comments short to give you the best of what makes people love Taraji.
On helping her son find his passion:
I said ‘I don’t want to hear that’. You need to find your passion. You’re young. I don’t care what it is. It could be basket weaving. We’re going to find something that you really enjoy doing. We’re going to find what it is that makes you happy. I can’t tell you what it is. This is your journey. I’ve done all the raising. So now, you gotta figure it out.
On her parenting style:
I had to be good cop, bad cop, Mom, Dad, I had to do it all. But what I want to say, because I don’t want y’all to think that he’s not in school, music is his passion. I try to tell him that all these other classes help your music because now you know what you’re talking about in the music.
On her Oscar nomination for her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:
The first call I got after I got nomination for an Oscar was Tyler Perry. The first person to call and give me a number one position for I Can Do Bad All By Myself. The first call. That was the first time I was making real money. He told me what to ask for. He said ‘You ask for this much.’ See, I’m not greedy. I feel like, if you keep doing the work the money is going to come. Greed will kill you. Diddy will tell you ‘More money, more problems.’
Taraji on why she chose to star in Empire
As human beings the first thing we do is judge. First of all, I wasn’t interested. I had just gotten finished doing a play. I was done with TV. To me, art should move and breathe and attract…So, I did a play in Pasadena. I didn’t care if nobody came to see it. I did it for myself. That show sold out every night. They earned their money back in two days.
I challenged myself because I never starred in a play. I was always in the chorus. My name was never on the marquee:
So, I’m reading the script and thinking ‘This is so stupid. This is corny.’ Then, Cookie gets out of jail and I’m like “Woo!” It just scared me. It scared the life out of me. I was like ‘I’m going to piss off the President, the NAACP. I went to Lee (Daniels) and said ‘Are you crazy? I will never be invited to the White House.’ But when the fear arises, that means it’s a challenge. That meant I had to do it because I’m not going to let fear win.
On her inspiration for the outrageous-ness that is Cookie:
I love my Dad, I love him. He’s a good guy. He makes up nicknames for people even when they don’t like it. He may say some things and I’ll be like ‘Just go along’. He was a blunt talker. For example, my friend Jeffrey. He was gay. This was my father’s way of asking if he was gay. At the time, he was a born again Christian and he had a prayer closet. First time I bring him to the house, my Dad comes downstairs and says ‘Aye, who is this?’ I said ‘this is Jeffrey. He’s my friend’. He says ‘Uh-huh, I’mma put you in my prayer closet and see if you don’t catch fire.' So, he picks Jeffrey up, he's about 5ft 5in tall, and puts him in the prayer closet, and slowly walks up stairs. I go and open the prayer closet and Jeffrey is like 'I didn't catch on fire yet'.''