If you haven’t already noticed that Taraji P. Henson has been earning her Hollywood star, you had better recognize. This year alone, the single mom is scheduled to grace the silver screen in four films. But it’s not only about the credits she has amassed but the depth of her portrayals that loyalists trumpet.
We couldn’t help but criticize and sympathize with Henson in her breakout role in John Singleton’s coming-of-manhood tale “Baby Boy.” As Yvette, one of the mothers of Jody’s (played by Tyrese Gibson) children, Henson set the tone for her career, demonstrating a knack for playing oddly strong and yet vulnerable women with savior complexes. There was also her stint as Shug, the pregnant prostitute who supported the father of her child and pimp’s hip-hop dreams in the Oscar-winning “Hustle & Flow”; the overprotective wife of Andre 3000 in “Four Brothers”; Don Cheadle’s tempestuous main squeeze Vernelle Watson in “Talk To Me”; and now as Pam, Tyler Perry’s lovingly ambitious better half in the just out “The Family That Preys.”
In December she stars as Queenie, Brad Pitt’s adoptive mom in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” ESSENCE.com chatted with Henson about tending to her motherly duties on the red carpet, dating Common and rearing Brad Pitt.
ESSENCE.COM: In “The Family That Preys” you co-star as Pam, Sanaa Lathan’s rival sibling and Tyler Perry’s wife. What attracted you to the role?
TARAJI P. HENSON: Besides the amazing cast, I’d always wanted to work with Tyler Perry. The two together, well, that’s a no-brainer. He’s approached Hollywood differently so that he could call his own shots. I’d never worked with a director–actor before. Our chemistry was very natural and easy breezy.
ESSENCE.COM: Yes, he’s a phenomenal talent, but c’mon, spill the beans! What’s the craziest thing that happened on the set?
HENSON: Nothing too crazy except Tyler is so spontaneous. Apparently, he had this ad campaign for Coca-Cola. He came up to me one day without warning after we finished this scene. He handed me a soda and asked me to say something about it. I was like, huh? I had to be totally spontaneous. I have no idea what I said and he wouldn’t tell me why he was asking me but he was asking everyone to do the same thing. It was hilarious because I was looking at him sideways at first.
ESSENCE.COM: (Laughs) I bet you were thinking, Where’s my check for my endorsement? As a single mom in the biz has it been difficult to live a starlet’s life?
HENSON: Well, I have a 14-year-old son and he comes first—always. If he calls me while I’m on the red carpet I answer his call. He understands that acting is just my job. I don’t take myself too seriously. Yes, I’m passionate about my work, but family is always first for me.
ESSENCE.COM: As a mom, you have your hands full, which probably makes dating difficult. It was reported that you and Common were dating and you mentioned to former New York radio personality Miss Jones that he wasn’t the person you believed him to be. Is that true?
HENSON: No, it’s a rumor. We were never dating. Regarding Miss Jones, well, she wouldn’t let it rest–she backs you into a corner until she gets an answer.
ESSENCE.COM: Sometimes it’s hard to avoid responding to aggressive personalities. Thankfully, you didn’t turn down a chance to work with Brad Pitt and some other heavy hitters. Before you go tell us what’s new with you and Brad?
HENSON: (Laughs) Absolutely not! I’ll be starring in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” as Brad’s adopted mom. He’s left on my doorstep as a child and like any good ole southern woman I do my good deed and raise him. But it wasn’t too difficult for me to play because that’s who I am in real life, a person full of unconditional love.