“I thought people would hate her,” confesses Taraji P. Henson as we chat via webcam (watch above) about her iconic role as Cookie Lyon on the FOX mega hit “Empire.” “She beats one son with a broom. She comes out of jail talking crazy. She went to jail first of all for selling crack, so I was like ‘people are going to hate this woman. That was the fear.” However, she continues, “whenever something makes me scared I feel like I have to conquer it. So that was just a sign to look further and deeper. I felt like it was my job to portray her so that people would not judge her.”
After a record-breaking first season, “Empire” continues to be network TV’s #1 rated show. The show centers around parents Cookie and Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) and their three sons — Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) — who battle each other and outsiders for control of their multi-million dollar record company.
The actress admits she almost passed on the role that won her the Golden Globe in January and the Critics’ Choice TV Award last year. “I fought it. I would not read ‘Empire’ for about a week. Then one day I read it and at first I thought it was corny and then I got to the part where Cookie got out of jail and I just couldn’t put it down.” Indeed, Cookie roared out of the gates, or prison bars to be exact, to take pop culture by storm.
Henson was nominated for Best Drama Actress at last year’s Emmys and is a strong contender again this year. Says the one-time Oscar nominee (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” 2008), “Whenever you’re included in the elite crowd of Hollywood you feel special.” As to which episode she’ll submit to Emmy voters, she has little hesitation: “‘Rise by Sin’ (episode 17) because that’s where you see Cookie go through every range of emotion. I was like ‘Really? what else would you like for me to do in this episode.’ That’s the one for me.”
To hear more about her take on Cookie, the chemistry on set, and why she loves interacting with her fans watch our exclusive video interview above.