taraji henson

“This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my career,” Taraji P. Henson says from her temporary residence in Chicago—the city where Hollywood mogul Lee Daniels tapes Fox Network’s new record-breaking series, Empire, which he created and brought to Henson. “The cast is family. Bryshere [Gray] is always over here rattling through my pots and Jussie [Smollett] came over here the other day and spilled red wine all over my area rug,” she laughs. “I wake up the next morning, come out here and Gabby had told him to put salt on it. Salt is everywhere!”

She’s captivating within the first few minutes of our conversation, with her distinct Washington, D.C. native accent permeating our connection. Her charisma is wide-awake even during breakfast hours, when most folks are comfortably settled into their nine-to-fives or watching the second hour of Today. Shaking off the sandman with ease, she immediately weighs in onCookie Lyon, her starring role as a sassy matriarch who, sprung from a 17-year bid, hopes to rebuild the connection with her three sons and reclaim her piece of her successful music family’s pie. “I played a lot of characters that could’ve been borderline stereotypical women, but my job as an actress is to make the audience understand and empathize with the people. Cookie is a lot,” she says. “She wears me out but I know this woman. I’ve done my research inside and out. I took Cookie from Lee and made her my own.”

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