Taraji P. Henson Almost Passed On “Empire” Because Cookie “Scared Her”


(AllHipHop News) Taraji P. Henson was reluctant to take on the role of Cookie Lyon on TV drama “Empire” because she didn’t want to become a Hollywood stereotype.

The actress has received much praise for her portrayal of the tough music business executive in the highly-popular drama series, but when she was first approached about the role she wasn’t sure if she wanted to play Cookie, because she thought she was too similar to other characters.

“I’ve been deemed as the edgy one in Hollywood sometimes,” she told U.S. chat show The Talk on Wednesday (January 4). “In your career, when you’re building, you’re trying not to pigeonhole yourself and so I’ve been the girl in the hood, I’ve been the pregnant prostitute, I’ve done the woman that could be stereotypical and so Cookie scared me.

“But the beauty in studying the craft is you don’t judge those characters. You find a way to make people empathize. Now, if I played her loud and sassy all the time people will go, ‘She’s a stereotype’. You don’t connect, but if you play the why the person is the way that she is then the character is not a stereotype. Then you are allowed to identify with her choices because you see her as a real person.”

EMPIRE: Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) shows up at Empire in the "Outspoken King" episode of EMPIRE airing Monday, Jan. 14 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Chuck Hodes/FOX

Taraji jumped at the opportunity to play one of the African-American mathematicians who helped launch the first U.S. space mission in “Hidden Figures,” and the 46-year-old explains she wanted to show young girls and women they can take on careers in math and science if they choose to.

“I was hurt (when I read the script) because growing up as a young girl, there was an understanding that math and science was for boys,” she continued. “So immediately I felt like a dream had been stolen from me. After I got the script I thought, ‘That’s horrible, because what if I was allowed to dream to be a rocket scientist?’ Who knows where my life would be…

“I can think back in class when you have to pick your seats all through my educational life I chose to sit in the back of the classroom when it came to math and science because it was like, ‘Well it’s not for me’,” she added. “So I was upset and I made it my mission to be a part of this film because I didn’t want another girl to ever believe that her brain cannot understand numbers and rocket science. If boys can do it, you can do it too. A brilliant mind doesn’t have a color or a gender.”