In Taraji P. Henson's world, people of all races love and hurt the same

In Taraji P. Henson's world, people of all races love and hurt the same
Taraji P. Henson at the premiere of Fox's "Empire" at the ArcLight in Hollywood. (Jason Kempin / Getty Images)

There are a lot of black actors in the new drama "Empire." Taraji P. Henson is one of them. And she kind of wishes we'd all get over it.

"I don't see color," the actress told Marie Claire in its February issue. "I want society to get past that. If we don't, it will always be the black and the white. Just the word 'black' says to others, 'It's not for me. It's a black thing.'"


What "Empire" is, apparently, is a ratings thing: The show, which centers on a hip-hop record label, made quite a splash when it premiered last Wednesday as Fox's highest-rated premiere in three years -- one that placed first in the most desirable demographic.

Henson continued: "I look at it like: Humans. Pain. Struggle. Love. Black people don't hurt differently than white or Asian people. That's how I see it."

The 44-year-old, who left "Person of Interest" last year, wasn't looking to do more TV when "Empire" came along.

"My manager said, 'I have this script. You have to read it,'" she told the mag. "I was getting paid $5 a week to do theater in Pasadena, eight shows a week. I said, 'I don't even have time to read a script.'

"One day, I picked it up, and I couldn't put it down. It scared the hell out of me. I was like, 'We're going to offend so many people!' I love that it made me nervous. Cookie is not playing it safe."

Henson's character Cookie Lyon is the ex-wife of music mogul Luscious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard. On the show, she's back after 17 years behind bars -- a hit she apparently took for the team -- and she wants her half of his company back.


"She took the bullet for the family," Henson said, "because Lucious was the talent."

So, yeah, about that play? It was "Above the Fold," which was staged last February at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty didn't love the show, but he gave Henson a nod, calling her "very appealing" and noting that she "wins us over with her likability" and "provides glimpses of a conscience that [playwright Bernard] Weinraub runs roughshod over."

That said, L.A. Times TV critic Robert Lloyd loved loved loved Henson in the first episode of "Empire."

"Henson owns the pilot," Lloyd wrote. "She elevates every scene she's in and every actor she plays against, brings music and truth and a whole person to even the least promising line. She grounds the more sensational ones ("I'm going to make him a star, and I will take down anything that gets in my way"), even as she can make a whole story out of 'Hello.'

"She's sexy, maternal, fearsome, fearful, physical and funny. It helps, certainly, that hers is the most interesting storyline and that her character's mind is the liveliest; but there's magic in there too."


The February issue of Marie Claire is on newsstands now.

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