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January 2006
Something New: An Interview with Taraji P. Henson

Something New: An Interview with Taraji P. Henson

By Wilson Morales

After breaking and blazing into this business playing opposite Tyrese in John Singleton’s Baby Boy in 2001, we hadn’t seen a lot of Taraji P. Henson until 2005. In between those years, she had a role in “Hair Show”, which came and went, and had a recurring role as Inspector Raina Washington in the Lifetime TV series, The Division. Last year alone, Henson’s film career brightened and took a big turn as she appeared opposite Terrence Howard in the critically acclaimed film, “Hustle and Flow”, where she played a pregnant prostitute. That film was produced by Singleton and Henson also appeared in his other film, which he directed, “Four Brothers”. In her latest film, “Something New”, Henson plays one of Sanaa Lathan’s girlfriends, who try to guide her to a happy life. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Henson talks about her character, working with the cast, and what keeps her grounded in life.

Let’s talk about your character. What role do you play?

Taraji P. Henson: Nedra is actually the girlfriend who is so bitter and jaded by life and things that she’s been through, and she just wants to keep everybody in her space. She’s negative about everything.

How did you want to approach this character?

TH: Well, we all know this girl. She’s a good girl, good heart and everything, but what’s so beautiful about the movie is that it’s about letting down your guard. Letting go and letting flow. It’s like living your life and getting out of your own way. Even though she starts out that way, through Kenya, which is Sanaa Lathan’s character, through her transformation, she grows as well. Kenya has three girlfriends, myself, Golden Brooks plays a character, and Wendy Raquel Robinson; and we all have our different point of views, but Nedra happens to be the one who goes, “No girl, you need a brother. Why you dating this white boy. What is wrong with you?”

What’s your opinion on interracial romance?

TH: You know, if you are happy, fine. I would love to see Black men stay together, but everything isn’t perfect. Love has no colors.

Why did you decide to take on this film?

TH: It was a great project, written, produced, directed, and starring black women.

That seems rare in this business.

TH: Rare? How about the fact that it has never happened. This is the first

How was it working with Sanaa Hamri?

TH: Well, I had worked with Stephanie (Allain) before in “Hustle and Flow”. It was just an amazing, beautiful, stressed free process. They actually paid us to have fun. We had such a good time on this film. It was a great sisterhood bond, which you rarely see in Hollywood because we are always struggling and fighting for the same jobs.

Did you have to audition for the role being that you knew Stephanie from “Hustle and Flow”?

TH: I think it was more not to convince Stephanie but top convince the director. She wasn’t familiar with me. When I first got on the set for the camera test, the one thing she (Sanaa Hamri) assured me was that I would look beautiful. I hear that the film looked amazing. That’s all I keep hearing; how beautiful everybody looks. “You look so pretty. In “Hustle and Flow” you were so downtrodden and now the world gets to see how beautiful you are.” (Laughs)

As you just mentioned, with so much competition to get roles, how was working with the rest of the girls?

TH: I’m a fan of everybody’s work. I think the world has yet to see what Wendy Raquel Robinson can produce. The girl is so amazingly talented. Plus, I have a special liking to her anyway cause she’s a Howard Alumni like myself, so I already know what she’s coming with. She’s good, great at everything. Golden Brooks, of course, is very funny. I’ve been watching her and Sanaa, of course, from “Love and Basketball”. She’s always been on the top of my list of who I’ve always wanted to work with. I think we all came with a certain admiration for each other. It was just good to be in a movie that wasn’t in the hood or dealt with something like a downbeaten black woman. It was just an uplifting good movie and it good to be a part of it. You get to see four black beautiful sisters, sophisticated, got it going on. It was beautiful to see.

The film is a drama and there are so fun moments. Was there any particular fun scene you enjoyed doing?

TH: Every scene that we were all together in. As I said, they paid us to have fun. They paid us to show up and have a good time. One particular scene that sticks out is the one where we are in the church and Sanaa’s character has an asthma attack because Simon’s character shows up with his girlfriend. It’s the scene where she says, “Can you believe he showed up with a white woman” and we are in the back trying to calm her down and why that scene is so funny because some nights we were working to the wee hours in the morning; this one particular night we got the giggles and we could not stop. The cast and crew are all ready to go home and we’re just giggling and we can not stop. That’s we all talk about recently while promoting this film. It was like a drug; like somebody put laughing gas in the air. I can’t explain it.

This has certainly been a roller coaster year for you and the ride has not stopped. You’re in demand. Both “Hustle and Flow” and “Four Brothers” has taken you to new journeys. Congratulations on the SAG nomination for the cast of “Hustle and Flow” and as well as the NAACP Image Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. How do you feel about the nominations?

TH: It feels good to be recognized because this is not an easy industry for anybody for that matter and especially not for a black woman; but it just feels good to be recognized for all my hard work. It’s clearly not why I do what I do, but at the end of the day who doesn’t like a good pat on the back.

It’s good the SAG nominators recognized the whole cast.

TH: I think that is so fair because there was not one weak link in that cast. That’s a fair nomination and I’m so happy and proud.

What do you think is the status is these days for black actresses? There weren’t that many leading roles for black actresses last year.

TH: Even in “Hustle and Flow”, my character wasn’t the leading role. That belonged to Taryn Manning. This is the one genre or role where you would think I would be the lead because we’re talking about whores and prostitutes. (Laughs) But that’s what made the film so real. Even on the street level, the white whores are going for more and get more work than the black whores. That’s just what it is. That’s a real thing. I think that an interesting shift is beginning to happen because with the success of “Last Holiday” and what Queen Latifah is doing. For a while, all we had was Halle Berry.

Do you mean in terms of leading women?

TH: Yeah. I love her and I’m glad she broke many doors for me, but there are a lot of us out here. We got Queen Latifah and her movie is doing well and hopefully our movie will do well. It’s a good time to be a black actress because I think changes are about to start happening.

I see that you have “Smoking Aces” coming up next for you. What’s that about?

TH: “Smoking Aces” is a high testosterone film. It’s really like one of those “Kill Bill”, “Get Shorty”, “Natural Born Killers”, “Pulp Fiction” kinda of movie. Very bloody, gory, lots of guns and killing. Dark comedy, but it’s a fun film. You don’t take a film like that seriously. You’re not trying to win a bunch of awards. It’s a fun film. I get to play one of the guys. Alicia Keys and I are the only females in the film and we tote the biggest guns. It’s just good to flip it and change it. That’s what I do. I’m actress. I’m an artist and I look forward to playing different roles.

It also takes you out of the urban market.

TH: The movie will because it’s a white movie, but it’s still an urban character and that’s unfortunate. Once I finish with this urban thing, they will be like, “There is nothing from the urban spectrum that she hasn’t cover.” “She’s played the baby mamma, street assassin, the hooker.” (Laughs) At the end of the day, if the project is right, and I believe in the director, and I fall in love with the character, I’ll do it; but I have to start switching it up. I’m a trained actress.

How do you balance the work between TV, family, and films? What keeps you grounded?

TH: My child. I have a son. I’m a mom first, so that pretty much keeps me grounded.

You get to come home to reality.

TH: Yes. My son doesn’t understand the business. He’s trying to figure out what the equation is on homework. When I cross that threshold, I have to leave that world outside and I think that’s what keeps me sane. I’m not in this business all the time. I can’t. I’m not going to leave my child with a babysitter just because a party is going on here. We have homework or a science fair project and I’m very involved in his life. I’m at every game, every basketball practice, PTA meetings, school shows. As long as I’m not out of the country filming or something like that, I’m there.

Why should folks go see "Something New"?

TH: Because it’s just that. New faces. It’s fresh new faces that you don’t get to see all the time. It’s a feel good movie. You’ll learn a lot about yourself. It’s not about the great white coming in and saving the day. It’s about this woman building herself up and believing in herself; and it’s just a wonderful journey. You’ll laugh and have a good time.


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