We first really fell in love with Henson as Yvette in the 2001 film Baby Boy. “Some people in the Black community may have called her stereotypical. ‘Why do you take those roles? I wouldn’t want to play a baby-mama.’ But these girls really exist. They need a voice,” Henson told Entertainment Weekly.
Friends at Howard University used to call Henson “Cookie.” Fast forward to the hit Fox TV drama Empire, on which she plays the tough-as-nails ex-con Cookie Lyon. “Cookie scares the hell outta me, which I like,” says the actress, 44.
The Oscar-nominated actress recently added “executive producer” to her resume as she worked behind the scenes on No Good Deed (with Idris Elba), and the Lifetime original movie, Seasons of Love, which premiered in December 2014.
Henson reunited with Baby Boy director John Singleton in 2005 for Four Brothers. She played Andre 3000’s wife, Camille Mercer.
Henson’s mother’s name is Bernice Gordon.
Though she started her college years at North Carolina A&T, Henson really found her calling when she transferred to Howard University to study theater. While there, she won the “Triple Threat” scholarship from Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad.
Henson and Elba co-produced their psychological thriller, No Good Deed.
Henson played Detective Joss Carter in the JJ Abrams’ spy thriller, Person of Interest, for two and a half seasons. “She reminds me a lot of myself. She’s very strong, has very respectable morals and values, is someone you can look up to. A hero, basically,” she told EW.
Henson starred in the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid with Jaden Smith.
Henson has a 20-year-old son, Marcel, born during her junio year at Howard University. Marcel’s father was Henson’s “first love,” her high school sweetheart, who died unexpectedly in 1997.
Henson’s middle names is Penda, which means love in Swahili. She’s also a huge Prince fan. “You cannot be a music lover and not be a Prince fan,” she told Entertainment Weekly.
Henson’s turn as Queenie, a young Black woman who runs a home for the elderly in New Orleans in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, earned her an Oscar nomination.
Henson recently admitted that she—like the rest of us—was totally addicted to reality shows like The Real Housewives. “Sometimes, I’ll just sit in front of the TV, screaming, ‘Ratchet, ratchet, ratchet! Where’s the ratchet TV?’ ” she told Ebony.
The name Taraji means ‘hope’ in Swahili. “That’s all I moved to [Hollywood] with,” Henson told ESSENCE in 2009, recalling the time she moved across the country to pursue her dream with only $700 and her baby in tow. “Being a mother upped the ante for me. I had to do it. I had to be a living example,” she said.
Henson has starred in two installations of the Think Like a Man franchise, playing Lauren, a wealthy, high-powered media executive who works at the fictional film version of ESSENCE magazine.
Henson played Washington D.C. radio personality Ralph “Petey” Greene (played by Don Cheadle) over-the-top girlfriend Vernell Watson in the 2007 biopic, Talk To Me.
Henson grew up in Southeast D.C. “I grew up in the hood,” she told ESSENCE in 2005. “I watched my mother get robbed twice on the streets of south D.C., where we lived, when I was a child,” she added.