Empire has put Taraji P. Henson on the map.
After appearing on the July cover of Allure (and dishing on why she refuses to date her co-stars inside), Taraji is now gracing the August cover of W, and she’s on fire.
Inside the issue, Taraji poses provocatively (and even lets a little nip show) in stunning photos shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott and styled by Lynn Hirschberg.
Read an excerpt from Taraji’s cover story below.
When the director, producer, and provocateur Lee Daniels asked Taraji P. Henson if she was interested in playing Cookie Lyon, the outrageous, captivating, and highly theatrical ex-wife of the hip-hop mogul at the center of Empire, his outrageous, captivating, and highly theatrical dynastic melodrama on Fox, her answer was a flat-out no. Daniels and Henson had met once before: She had auditioned for his award-winning 2009 film Precious, about a 350-pound black teenager who is HIV-positive and pregnant by her father for the second time. “Lee wanted me for the thin, pretty teacher in Precious,” Henson told me in late spring, with her usual mix of confidence and enthusiasm. She was wearing a short blue romper that showed off her great legs and made her seem much younger than her age (44). “And I was like, ‘Well, I want to play Precious—because that’s the role in this piece.’ Lee thought I was nuts. I was like, ‘Look, they turned Charlize Theron into a monster! I could be this girl!’ When I think about that now, it was such a Cookie move.”
Daniels turned Henson down, but he remembered her. Unlike a lot of directors or producers, Daniels is fueled by profound self-invention, and his characters are extensions of himself. On Empire, his DNA is in Lucious Lyon, the strong-headed father/kingpin; in Jamal, the musically talented gay son; even in Andre, the oldest child/businessman with the severe bipolar condition. But Daniels is, most of all, one with Cookie: Her extremes are his extremes—from her fierce persistence to her outspoken honesty to her love of peacock fashion and attention. Like Cookie, Daniels loves to be the center of his (often crazy) worlds.
Originally, Empire was pitched as a movie to him by Danny Strong, the screenwriter of The Butler, Daniels’s 2013 hit film about the life of the head servant to seven presidents. Daniels, who started his career as a producer (Monster’s Ball, his 2001 drama about bigotry and interracial love, won Halle Berry an Oscar for her performance), was intrigued by Empire but saw it more as a TV show, along the lines of popular ’80s series like Dallas and Dynasty. In the past, the idea of segueing from a successful movie career to one in television would have been considered risky, if not a total mistake. But TV today, from the creative talent inventing the programs to the stars acting in them, is a kind of mecca. The parts, especially for women, are more complicated and diverse than in the superhero-saturated cinema. Unlike studio films, which are usually very expensive and geared to a global (read: male) audience, television can afford to be quirkier. On TV, there are real housewives, killer zombies, and Silicon Valley nerds. In considering Empire, that kind of fluidity greatly appealed to Daniels. “And I wanted to finally make some money,” he told me. “You don’t make any money doing independent films, even if they get nominated for the Oscars and the world says you’re a genius. Doesn’t pay the bills.”
For more, head on over to W.
This is undeniably our favorite Taraji shoot yet!