6 Seconds of Cookie

Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson

For #ThePopIssue, W’s Editor at Large Lynn Hirschberg interviewed Taraji P. Henson about her role as Cookie on Empire, failing math class, and more. Here, some video highlights.

On what she has in common with Cookie: “Cookie is the American Dream. She started from nothing and now she’s at the top. ‘Started from the bottom, now we here.’ I mean, I’m the American Dream. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I had a passion, I had a dream, and I dived. I dived in and I went for my dream, and here I am.”

On her false start as an electrical engineer: “Actually, I went away to North Carolina A&T to become an electrical engineer, but I failed pre-calc! That’s what prepares you for all the math you have to take, and I failed it. Pre-calc, not calculus, pre. I called my dad and he was like, ‘You needed to fall on your face! Now get back up here, enroll in Howard University for acting, and get back on your life track.’”

On her first reaction when she read the script for Empire: My manager calls and he’s like, ‘I have this script!’ And I was like, ‘What is it?’ And he’s like, ‘It’s a pilot.’ I was like, ‘For TV!? Didn’t I tell you I’m done with TV!?’ So he’s like, ‘Read it.’ I read it, and I’m like, ‘This is stupid. Hip-hop—dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb—oh, ooh! Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!’"

On her relationship with Lee Daniels: “Yeah, I knew Lee, but I never worked with Lee—because, you know, the last time we met was in the audition for Precious. He wanted me for the teacher and I was like, ‘Well, I want to play Precious. That’s the role!’ He thought I was crazy. But I was like, ‘Look, you turned Charlize Theron into a monster!’ That was the last time I saw him on a potential job, so he probably still was thinking, ‘This bitch is crazy. I don’t even know if I should call her.’"

On catching the acting bug: I remember the first time I was in front of an audience and that was kindergarten. I remember it like it was yesterday, and I’m not—well, I am 20-something... I remember going to the mic and doing something really quirky and the audience laughing, and I was like, ‘I like this. I like this attention!’ I loved that feeling. And so my dad saw that. He recognized that at a young age and he was like, ‘You’re gonna be a great actress. That’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna be an actress.’”