After her name was announced as the winner of Best Actress in a Drama at last night’s Golden Globes, Taraji P. Henson handed out cookies to fellow audience members like Leonardo DiCaprio on her way to the stage. It was a spontaneous tribute to her namesake character on the Fox hit drama Empire, and an indication that once Henson got to the mic, we were in for something special. She did not disappoint, snapping back after she was told to wrap up. “I waited twenty years for this,” Henson said, “you gon’ wait!” Backstage, she was in a similarly jacked up mood—can you blame her?—and spoke about the risk of playing a character as controversial as Cookie, how she deals with haters, and being a strong, black woman in Hollywood.
What is the biggest risk you have taken that has paid off?
I would say Cookie. I was very nervous when I received the script. She wasn’t the most likeable character. I played some edgy characters, but this one was a challenge because it was prime-time network television and I wasn’t sure how people would receive her. I mean, she beat her son with a broom, even though he deserved it. She called one son a faggot. It was scary, but I am the type of artist that if the role doesn’t scare me, I don’t want it because it is not going to change me as a person.
Can you take us back to the moment when they called your name and you grabbed the cookies off the table and started passing them out? What was going through your mind?
I just never expected them to call my name. I never put that much on it. I document these events and have fun because you never know how it is going to pan out. When they called my name, it was visceral. Well, the cookies are here, I guess I should hand them out. It was a spontaneous moment.
When your show’s second season came out, 50 Cent said that some of the ratings are dropping because there’s too much gay stuff on the show. How did you feel about that?
We ignore that. That’s fear. There’s nothing to comment on that. The numbers speak for themselves, and we ignore it. It is what it is. People are dealing with this—it is not a joke. That’s why it is in the script. It is not for show, for sensationalism—it is because people are struggling with this, and that’s why we shed light on it. You can’t make everybody happy. We don’t try to. We try to touch and affect lives. I think we have. We are always going to have haters. So here’s to all my haters: I’ll send you cookies, thanks.
When Viola won her Emmy, she talked about opportunity. In your speech, you said you have been waiting 20 years for this. Can you talk about the opportunities for an African-American actress?
I wasn’t the actress that said there was no work. Look at my resume, I really can’t complain. I am an extreme optimist, that’s how I was raised. I came from the hood. You can’t be a pessimist coming from the hood if you think you are going to make it out. I never thought about how bad it was. I was thinking about how can I make a difference, how can I make a change? That’s what I focused on, not about woe is me, no one is going to give me a job. You are going to give me a job and let me in the room.
Lee Daniels has talked about a potential spin-off or a deeper look at Cookie in her earlier years. Is there any movement on that?
I think he’s pretty busy with his other show. I think they are trying to accomplish that in flashbacks on our show. Stay tuned. They tell me nothing. So I wish I had more to tell you.
Do you have anything in common with Cookie?
I love clothes and to dress up. My fetish is shoes and purses—no fur— but Stella McCartney, who I am wearing tonight, she’s laced me with all these incredible faux furs. I wish I was bold enough to live in the now like she does. I wish I could speak my mind, but because I am Taraji Henson, all the cameras are looking at me. I have to monitor what I say. I think Cookie is a lot of people’s spirit animal or hero because she does not compromise. She’s complex and doesn’t compromise. She understands living in the now and no one does that. We have been taught by society when you are asked a question, breathe and then begin to manipulate your answer. Cookie does not do that. She is going to be real. You have to be ready for it.