Taraji P. Henson may no longer star on “Person of Interest” but we can guarantee the film industry will be quite interested in her this year, as will audiences. Prepping for what could likely be the actress’s biggest year since her 2009 Academy Award nomination, Taraji chatted with us this morning about all the great things she has in the works, like becoming the new host of BET’s Celebration of Gospel and starring in Lee Daniels’ Fox pilot Empire. The 43-year-old also imparted her wisdom on maintaining a spiritual connection to God among all the distractions of Hollywood and she told us how she really feels about the criticisms of Black female characters on television. Check out the Q&A below:
Tell us about your new project Empire and your character, Cookie Lyon?
“Empire is like the Sopranos meets Dynasty, plus hip-hop. The empire is a record label and Lucious (Terrence Howard), who plays my husband, is about to take the company public so they stand to make a lot of money. My character and Lucious both sold drugs when they were really young and silly to start the record label so my character goes away, does 17 hard years, comes home and now that the company is about to make so much money, the crabs come out the barrel. What I love about it is we deal with a lot of heavy subject matters. It’s a Lee Daniels project and he’s not afraid to push the envelope so we deal with the taboo of being gay in the African American community because one of my sons is gay.”
How do you think audiences will react to the exploration of homosexuality in the Black community?
“I think audiences will enjoy it. Art is supposed to ruffle your feathers and make you think. It’s not supposed to be safe. It’s supposed to show you life’s ugly truths and that’s the only way you make a change. If nobody knows you can’t make a change. We didn’t really understand Boyz n the Hood until John (Singleton) made a movie about it. I never understood what gangs were until I saw colors. So you can’t change anything you don’t know about. I don’t judge any of it. I don’t judge any of my characters. I look at is as God gave me a talent to share with the world and I think art saves lives.”
This year we’ll see you in Empire, Think Like A Man Too, and From The Rough, how have you managed to stay working and on such diverse projects?
“God is good. What you’re about to witness is a perfect storm. It’s the perfect timing. I filmed From The Rough four or five years ago and back then I was like ‘It’s got to come out now’ and God was like I have a plan for you. Watch what I do. So now I have a film coming out in the spring, I have one coming out in the summer, and I also have one coming out in the fall with Idris Elba that’s a thriller and that was filmed two years ago. Everything is coming together all at once.”
How’d you feel when you were asked to host Celebration of Gospel?
“I almost dropped the phone. I know the history of that. They’re trusting me with something that’s been around. Celebration of Gospel, that’s 14 years strong. It’s not new, but I think it’s a great marriage because a lot of the people who watch that show follow me so I was honored to do that.
“I’m very spiritual. I believe in God. I don’t do anything without praying first and listening to God’s voice. I do go to church. Church is in me. When you’re a God-fearing person, you recognize someone who has God in their heart. So I needed that at that moment. Just as I was about to go off and do all of these things, I had to host that show and it just gave me the spiritual soundness that I needed to stay grounded and focused. Everything happens for a reason and I truly believe it.”
How do you maintain spiritually grounded with so many distractions in the industry?
“I can truly see the snakes in the grass and I know that devil when I see him. When something’s not right I can feel it and it’s a lot of that in the industry. People who are trying to be your friend because of what — for shallow reasons. You don’t even know if I’m a cool person. You saw me in a movie and you want to be my friend.
“It’s an industry that’s very narcissistic, people are just out for self and I catch myself doing it. I’m human. We’re all beautifully flawed and so I catch myself and I check that girl. Check it. But the only way you can do that is if you don’t have a bunch of hanger-oners. I travel very light. I don’t have security. All that is probably about to change soon, but I wouldn’t have it every day. I’m not stupid; I don’t like to leave myself vulnerable because it’s a lot of crazy people out there and if they know you move a certain way you’re setting yourself up to be a target.”
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