Taraji P. Henson is photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott and styled by Edward Enninful for the latest cover of W Magazine. Taraji talks to W about her audition for the role in Empire and more. Read more below.When the director, producer, and provocateur Lee Daniels asked Taraji P. Henson if she was interested in playing Cookie Lyon, the outrageous, captivating, and highly theatrical ex-wife of the hip-hop mogul at the center of Empire, his outrageous, captivating, and highly theatrical dynastic melodrama on Fox, her answer was a flat-out no.” Originally, Empire was pitched as a movie to him by Danny Strong, the screenwriter of The Butler, Daniels’s 2013 hit film about the life of the head servant to seven presidents. Daniels, who started his career as a producer (Monster’s Ball, his 2001 drama about bigotry and interracial love, won Halle Berry an Oscar for her performance), was intrigued by Empire but saw it more as a TV show, along the lines of popular ’80s series like Dallas and Dynasty. In considering Empire, that kind of fluidity greatly appealed to Daniels. “And I wanted to finally make some money,” he said. “You don’t make any money doing independent films, even if they get nominated for the Oscars and the world says you’re a genius. Doesn’t pay the bills.” A Skype audition session with Daniels, who was in Japan—Henson insisted that the Academy Award–nominated actor Terrence Howard play Lucious Lyon, Cookie’s ex. Henson had worked with Howard in 2005’s Hustle & Flow, in which he played a pimp who dreams of becoming a rap star, and she, one of his prostitutes. At the Academy Awards, Henson performed the film’s Oscar winning song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” “I sang that in front of my peers,” Henson said. “It was both amazing and embarrassing. But I think the song won for the same reason that people love Cookie. It was about coming from nothing, having goals, and going after them.” She paused. “And it was extreme. People love extremes.” When Henson demanded that Daniels hire Howard, Daniels remembered thinking, “This bitch just Cookied me! So I made them do a screen test to see if they had chemistry.”
Cookie has become the reigning heroine of 2015. Empire is the season’s No. 1 broadcast series with adults 18 to 49 and has unseated The Big Bang Theory. More than 17 million viewers watched the season finale, a bizarre mash-up of revealed secrets, attempted murder, quasi-incestuous sex, and a sudden plot twist involving an incurable disease, which got 2.4 million tweets in the space of two hours. The show’s soundtrack was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. And Taraji, who in June won the Critics’ Choice Television Award for best actress in a drama series, has 3.49 million followers on Twitter alone. “They want Cookie,” Henson declared. “They see her heart. They see her intentions.
However a lot of criticism has come with this new fame of Cookie, especially from the black community, which feels Cookie is not a good role model. “When I hear that Cookie is a bad representation of black women, I don’t get involved. Maybe Cookie makes you uncomfortable because she reminds you of yourself. People miss the bigger picture when they start judging.” “Not only would I never be offered a character like Cookie in a movie, but she doesn’t exist,” Henson said. “Cookie is bold and crazy, and she loves the struggle. She started from nothing, and now she’s at the top. In that way, we’re alike: Cookie is the American Dream.”
Source: W Magazine