We’ve been watching Taraji P. Henson put in work for nearly two decades in some of our favorite films, but now the mainstream (ehem, white folks) is finally catching on. After her scene-stealing performance as Cookie Lyon in Fox’s hit drama Empire, it seems like everybody finally sees what we’ve known all along: Taraji is straight up DOPE.
This month, Henson covers the October issue of Glamour and dishes on Empire, being a single mom, and if Hollywood’s latest diversity trend is here to stay.
Check out a few highlights.
On handling the pressure of being Cookie Lyon…
GLAMOUR: The show takes on homosexuality and mental illness, and Cookie speaks frankly about her views on both. How do you handle the pressure of saying un-P.C. things before nearly 17 million people each week?
TPH: Cookie is the reason I drink. [Laughs.] She uses every emotion inside of me. She uses everything. When I saw the scripts, I was nervous, but then I realized that if I based everything in her reality and her pain, people would empathize instead of judge.
On whether or not Hollywood is really ready to be more inclusive…
GLAMOUR: Because Empire has the largest African American cast in a network drama on TV, people see it as a sign of racial progress in Hollywood. Do you feel like things are changing?
TPH: I think we are making strides in Hollywood. It’s the world that I’m more concerned about…. My son grew up in a pretty much all-white situation and went to the best of schools. I saw the change when he got older and started to get that life is different for him [as a black male]. He came home crying, like, “Why do white people hate us? Why can’t we fix this?” This can be fixed. I’m gonna try my best to make change.
On not giving up her dreams because she was a single mom…
GLAMOUR: Speaking of your son [Marcel], you’ve shown firsthand that you don’t have to forget about your dreams when you become a mother. How did you make it work?
TPH: When I got pregnant in college, people said, “This is it for her.” But I did not stop. I never missed a class. I was in the school musical when I was six months pregnant—we just made the character pregnant. My mother swears Marcel came out doing the dance; he had learned the choreography. When I graduated, I carried my son across the stage. I wanted to be an actress; I moved out to L.A. with him. People were like, “Are you crazy, moving to California with your son?” My father was like, “Leave him home.” I said, “I can’t leave my son at home.” [And eventually] my father said, “That’s your baby. That’s your blessing. He’s going to be your strength.” And you know what? He was. I didn’t have time to go to the club to “network.” That’s B.S. No business deals go down at the club. So I didn’t get caught up in that. I had a mission. I had to make my dream come true. If I didn’t, what was I proving to my son?
On Empire’s surprising reception abroad…
GLAMOUR:Why do you think people connect so strongly to Cookie?
TPH: She is everybody’s alter ego. She crosses cultures. [Last year] we went to Paris and screened the pilot for a thousand people. Lee Daniels [the series’ co-creator] brought me onstage. The audience stood up on their feet and clapped. I cried because, for so long in Hollywood, I’ve been told that black women don’t do well overseas, that they can’t open a film overseas. That moment for me was the best moment of my life. That’s better than any trophy, any award, any nomination. You know how they say music can heal the world? I feel that way about art in general.
Head over Glamour.com to read Henson’s entire interview.