Taraji P. Henson on 'Empire' Role: "Cookie Scared the Hell Out of Me"

"If we do it well, if we handle it well, then it's going to force people to have conversations that they are afraid to have, and that's what art is supposed to do."

"I hate that bitch Cookie. She has stolen my identity," says Empire actress Taraji P. Henson on her iconic role during The Hollywood Reporter's Drama Actress Roundtable. "I'm getting called Cookie everywhere. My friends don't want to talk to me unless it's about Cookie."

After reading the Empire pilot script, says Henson, "Cookie scared the hell out of me." She was mad that her agent even sent her television role, as she was currently doing a play. "I said, 'F— it all, I'm going back to theater.' I just wasn't fulfilled in what I was doing, and I felt lazy, and I felt like I needed to sharpen the tools again."

Until Empire arrived. "I was petrified. But for me, that fear means it's a challenge that I had to take on. Because if it doesn't shake me up, then why am I doing it?"

"Art is so powerful," says the Oscar-nominated actress. "I felt like this subject matter [Empire] is dealing with is something that we'd never seen on primetime network television. And if we do it well, if we handle it well, then it's going to force people to have conversations that they are afraid to have, and that's what art is supposed to do."

Henson gets many questions about how much of her own personality she brought to the role of Cookie, as well as inquiries about what woman from her life she is channeling onscreen. "Actually, Cookie is my dad," she says. "He was a very straight, no chaser. He said it like it was, and nine times out of 10, he was right. You either loved him or you hated him because he was speaking truth, straight truth right at you."

Henson has been working for nearly two decades, but there are many roles she wants to explore beyond Cookie. "I want to play a superhero; I want to play a Bond girl; I want to play a man; I want to play a white woman. I want to play everything I've never played before."

Henson joined fellow actresses Ruth Wilson (The Affair), Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Honourable Woman), Jessica Lange (American Horror Story), Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex) and Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder) for THR's Drama Actress Roundtable, where they discussed the dynamic and powerful dramatic roles currently being offered to women on television.

The full Drama Actress Roundtable aired on Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday, Aug. 2, at 11 a.m. EST on Sundance TV. Tune in this Sunday for the next episode.

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