Taraji P. Henson Is the American Dream

Taraji P. Henson talks about how her dad encouraged her to be an actress, what it was like to sing about pimps and whores at the Oscars, and how she landed the role as Cookie in Empire in her Screen Test interview with Editor at Large Lynn Hirschberg.

Released on 6/23/2015

Credits

Starring: Taraji P. Henson
Featuring: Lynn Hirschberg

Transcript

00:03
I remember the first time I was in front of an audience,
00:05
and that was kindergarten.
00:07
I remember it like it was yesterday,
00:09
and I'm not,
00:10
well I am twenty-something.
00:12
And I remember
00:14
going to the mic and doing something really quirky,
00:17
and the audience laughing, and I was like,
00:19
I like this, I like this attention. (laughs)
00:23
I love that feeling, and so, my dad saw that,
00:26
he recognized that at a young age and he was like,
00:28
you know, you're gonna be a great actress,
00:30
that's what you're gonna do, you're gonna be an actress,
00:32
and then, I auditioned for Duke Ellington,
00:36
School of the, performing,
00:39
High School of the Performing Arts,
00:41
in Washington, DC, and I didn't get accepted.
00:43
Actually, I went away to, North Carolina A&T
00:48
to become an electrical engineer.
00:50
But I failed,
00:52
pre-calc. (laughs)
00:56
That's what prepares you for all the math you have to take,
00:59
and I failed it.
01:00
Pre-calc, not calculus, pre!
01:03
And I called my dad,
01:06
and he was like, you needed to fall on your face!
01:08
(laughs) Now get back up here,
01:11
and enroll in Howard University for acting.
01:14
Get back on your life track, you know!
01:16
When I first got the script of Hustle & Flow,
01:20
I was nervous.
01:21
I knew that people would judge the script,
01:22
oh my god, a black pimp and a white whore.
01:26
We didn't even get to the black whores yet,
01:28
let's just deal with that.
01:30
What I love about art is you have to take risks,
01:34
and that's the work that sticks out.
01:37
The stuff that's not so safe.
01:39
I sang about pimps and whores at the Oscars,
01:42
I did, I sang It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp.
01:45
Yeah, they won.
01:47
My manager calls, and he's like, I have this script.
01:49
You know, and I was like, what is it?
01:50
And he's like, it's a pilot.
01:51
I was like, for TV?
01:53
Didn't I tell you I'm done with TV? (laughs)
01:54
So he's like, read it.
01:55
I read it, I'm like, this is stupid.
01:57
Oh, hip-hop. (groaning)
01:59
Dumb, dumb, da-dumb, dumb, ooh, ooh.
02:02
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.
02:05
And then that fear thing comes up,
02:07
and it's like, okay, well, clearly this is a challenge,
02:09
oh my god, Cookie, we're gonna piss so many people off.
02:11
And then once I wrapped my mind around
02:13
how to deal with Cookie, tell her truth,
02:16
you know, tell the why she's this woman,
02:18
why she hit her son with the broom.
02:20
If you stick to the truth, people will love her.
02:22
They set up a Skype session with Lee.
02:25
Well, yeah, I knew Lee, but I didn't,
02:27
I never worked with Lee.
02:29
Because you know, the last time we met,
02:30
was in the audition for Precious,
02:33
and he wanted me for the teacher,
02:34
and I was like, but I wanna play Precious.
02:36
That's the role.
02:37
I mean, he thought I was crazy.
02:39
But I was like, look,
02:40
you turned Charlize Theron into a monster.
02:43
But yeah, so that was the last time I saw him on a job,
02:46
you know, a potential job.
02:47
So he probably still was thinking,
02:49
oh, why this bitch is crazy.
02:51
I don't even know if should call her.
02:53
But so he's in Japan, and we have a Skype session.
02:57
And you know, I'm not trippin'.
02:59
I don't care, I don't have to go back to TV.
03:00
I'm waiting for my big movie. (laughs)
03:03
Spielberg is gonna call me for sure, I know.
03:06
I'd say to him, I really liked this script.
03:09
I think it's amazing, I think it's game-changing.
03:11
I think, you know, if I can't do it with Terrence,
03:14
I'm not interested.
03:15
I didn't even have the job.
03:17
And in the Skype session, he was like,
03:18
this bitch just Cookie'd me! (laughs)
03:21
Cookie is the American dream.
03:22
She started from nothing, and now she's at the top.
03:26
Started from the bottom, now we're here.
03:27
I mean, that's like, I'm the American dream. (laughs)
03:31
I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, you know?
03:35
I had a passion, I had a dream, and I dived,
03:39
I dived in and I went for my dream, and here I am.