Hollywood Spotlight: Taraji P. Henson

298 views February 12, 2018 9:00 AM

Image above: Digital Spy

It's time for our Hollywood Spotlight and this week we're all about Taraji P.Henson! Henson is a fantastic actress and singer, in addition to being a kind-hearted philanthropist. Known for her role as straight-talking Cookie in "Empire" and for her stunning performance in "Hidden Figures", Taraji just keeps on shining brighter, continuing to earn well-deserved accolades for her superb work.

Born on September 11, 1970, in Washington, D.C., Taraiji is the daughter of Bernice and Boris Henson.  Her father was a janitor and metal fabricator while her mother was a manager at Woodward & Lothrop, a department store. Her parents divorced when she was just 2 years old, but they never let their differences interfere with raising their daughter. Both were attentive and loving as she grew up. She has always been incredibly close to her maternal grandmother, Patsy, and credits her for giving her inspiration and courage when times were tough.

After graduating from Oxon High School in Maryland, Taraji furthered her education by studying Electrical Engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. After a year, she transferred to Howard University to study Theatre. It was at Howard where Taraji really honed her performance skills and excelled in singing, dancing, and acting - eventually earning herself a 'Triple Threat Scholarship'.
In her junior year at Howard University, Taraji found out that she was pregnant. She was determined to continue with her studies and, instead of seeing this as a roadblock, it made her more driven than ever. On top of being a new mother and attending college, Taraji worked two jobs to keep afloat. During her pregnancy, she continued to perform in plays and never skipped a class. When her son, Marcel, was born in 1994, she kept up her perfect attendance and, in her graduation a year later, she walked on stage to receive her diploma carrying her baby boy.

Image: PopSugar

After graduating,  Taraji decided to head to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, so her and Marcel moved West in 1996. It was a struggle for the young, single mother - she started out in LA with just $700 to her name and spent the first two years working a 9-5 office job and auditioning when she could. Finally, she received a part in the television show "Smart Guys", which led to a role in the popular sitcom "Sister Sister". She appeared in several more television shows until she got her first movie role - a starring one - in the 2011 drama, "Baby Boy".  As with her first television role, this movie opened up numerous doors to even more opportunities.  

Taraji went on to star in the well-received "Hustle & Flow", alongside Terence Howard and Ludacris. She used her 'Triple Threat' status and sang on the soundtrack for the movie. From then on, she has been unstoppable! She bagged starring roles in "Smokin' Aces" and "Talk to Me", but when she played the adoptive mother in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", she really illustrated her versatility and range as an actress.

She is fully capable of serving up some comedy, having had major roles in "Date Night" and Tyler Perry's "I Can Do Bad All By Myself", as well as roles in "Think Like a Man" and the sequel, "Think Like a Man Too". Taraji has also made a name for herself with her dramatic roles. Her phenomenal performance in "Hidden Figures", the true story of a group of African-American women who played an integral role in the NASA space program, won herself and her cast members the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

It isn't just on the big screen that Taraji shines - in February 2014, she was cast in "Empire", a television series about the hip-hop music industry. Taraji plays Cookie, the strong, outspoken wife of Lucious Lyon, the CEO of Empire Entertainment. Taraji's stellar performance in "Empire" earned her the 2016 Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series; the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series in 2016, 2017, and 2018; the 2014 Critic's Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series; and the BET Award for Best Actress three years in a row.

Image: TheTake

In addition to her work on the soundtrack for "Hustle & Flow",  Taraji has worked with several musicians throughout her career. She performed the vocals for Three 6 Mafia's track It's Hard out Here for a Pimp, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2006. She has also starred in music videos for Common and Tyrese Gibson and performed in the charity album Unexpected Dreams - Songs From the Stars in 2006.  

A health scare last year led Taraji to reassess her lifestyle and she partnered up with Kellogg's Special K to promote healthy eating, especially amongst women. She has become more health-conscious and is also a strong believer in meditation and prayer to keep her grounded. In the rare moments that Taraji is able to relax, she works out, meditates or cooks and loves spending time with her close friends and family.

You can currently watch Taraji play a hit woman in "Proud Mary", which is playing in select cinemas across Nigeria. In March, we're super excited about her performance in the drama "Acrimony". Do you have a favourite movie of Taraji's? If you've seen "Proud Mary" let us know what you think in the comments!

Here are some more fun facts about Taraji P.Henson:
  • In 2016, she published her memoir Around the Way Girl.
  • She hosted "Saturday Night Live" in 2015.
  • Her nickname in college was 'Cookie', years before her role in "Empire".
  • She loves jazz and has an extensive vinyl collection.
  • She is related to the North Pole explorer Matthew Henson.
  • The movie "Fame" inspired her to become an actress.
  • She was the class clown at school.
  • Her star sign is Virgo.
  • She is close friends with Mary J. Blige.
  • She is a skilled cook.
  • When she was 5 months pregnant, she performed in "Dream Girls" at her college.
  • Her middle name is Penda - 'Taraji' means hope and 'Penda' means love.
  • Her nicknames are Tarj and TJ.
  • She is a spokeswoman for PETA.
  • She has worked with charities such as Keep a Child Alive and her 2017 M.A.C. campaign benefitted HIV and AIDs charities. 

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