Taraji's Time: Cookie is ready to take a bite out of Emmys

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — Taraji P. Henson says she's honored to receive the second Emmy nomination of her career for "Empire," but she's not letting the feat define her.

"It feels good, but I feel like I've been getting the love all through the years from the fans. You can't wait for Hollywood to say ... you just can't. And I never did," Henson said in a recent interview.

"Empire," the top-rated Fox series, helped put Henson's face on more screens than ever this year, thanks to her in-your-face, sassy and hilarious role as Cookie Lyon.

She's nominated for outstanding lead actress in a drama series at Sunday's Emmy Awards, pitting her against Viola Davis, Claire Danes, Elisabeth Moss, Robin Wright and Tatiana Maslany.

"The fact that I am getting nominated, that is amazing ... I am honored, I am pleased. But what that represents for me is I've touched even more people through my talent, with the gift that God gave me," Henson said. "And that is what matters most to me."

A win for Henson or Davis would make either of them the first black woman to win the top drama acting Emmy.

Henson earned her first Emmy nomination in 2011 for her role in the Lifetime movie "Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story." She's starred in a number of TV shows and films, from CBS' "Person of Interest" to "Hustle & Flow" to the 2001 cult favorite "Baby Boy," which regularly airs on BET. And she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," opposite Brad Pitt.

"I'm overjoyed for this girl because I've watched her work so, so hard and just still be amazing. But this is her moment and she deserves it more than anybody because she has always been ... an amazing actress," said Mary J. Blige, Henson's friend who also appeared on "Empire."

Bryshere "Yazz" Gray, who plays Henson's youngest son on "Empire," said he was with Henson when she learned about her Emmy nomination.

"She was so happy, and she deserves it, you know, she's been in the game for a long time. It is about that time for her to get these nominations and awards that she has always been striving for," he said.

The anticipated second season of "Empire" returns Sept. 23. Henson says her character will reveal more about her jail stint.

"You are gonna see what life was like for her, those 17 years she was in prison. You'll just learn a lot more about her backstory, what makes her tick," she said.

"You'll get to see her explore and build relationships with her other two sons, you know, which I think is beautiful," Henson said of her TV sons Hakeem and Andre. "Because everything she does is for her sons, so I was very adamant about wanting to explore the relationship with the other two boys."

Apart from the Emmys and "Empire," Henson is also rejoicing in her personal life: She celebrated her 45th birthday last week.

But did she have cookies or cake?

"Cake. I am Cookie, honey. I was the cookie eating the cake!" she exclaimed.