Taraji Henson: Part Time Actress, Full Time Mother [Interview Inside]
Many may remember Taraji Henson from role in Hustle & Flow, where she was featured on the hook of 3-6 Mafia’s “Hard Out Here For A Pimp,” which received an Oscar for Best Song in a motion picture. She also had starring roles in the films Baby Boy opposite to Tyrese, and T.D. Jakes’s Not Easily Broken alongside Morris Chestnut. Despite being a single mother, she’s managed to accomplish so much in her career, and still has much ground to cover.
Andwepresent: Who are some of the actors or actresses in this industry that you look to for inspiration?
Taraji: “There are two women that I absolutely follow, one of which is not with us anymore, Betty Davis. I have and watch all of her films. I’m a huge fan of hers, as well as Maryl Streep. If you even think about those two, and how long they’ve worked, and the fact that people are still talking about their work. Maryn Streep still hasn’t stopped. She is one who embodies her characters! She’s phenomenal! I also admire Gabby, Monique, and Sanaa, along with anybody else with my skin color that’s doing it!
AWP: You have had the chance to work with the amazingly talented, Tyler Perry, in what I believe to be one of his greatest films, “A Family That Preys”, and you even starred in “I Can Do Bad All By Myself!” What was that experience like?
Taraji: “Working with him is just amazing! I love his process. I love how he challenges you. He pushed me. He wouldn’t let me get comfortable. He would sit at the monitor, and I would do the scene, and he would say, “I don’t believe you!”, and I’ve never had a director say they didn’t believe me. But I appreciate him for pushing me to do better.”
AWP: I love the fact that he pushes his actors to bring out their best. When you see poor performances from actors in a film, who’s to blame? The director for not being bold in asking for what they want, which would be a believable performance, or the actor for their poor portrayal?
Taraji: “Just like you have good actors, you have good directors. Just as you have some mediocre actors, you have mediocre directors. You have some directors who know how to get what they need from the actor, and others who don’t. I believe that so many times, directors make a horrible mistake in casting, because half of the work is done in casting. Tyler Perry said to me that if he hadn’t cast me as the lead in “I Can Do Bad All By Myself”, it probably wouldn’t have been the same movie nor had the same heart.”
AWP: You often speak of your spiritual life. What exactly do you believe, and what effect does it have on your career?
Taraji: “I believe there is a God. You have to believe in something higher than humans because humans will fall. My career isn’t about me. It’s more about me being able to touch and impact people surrounding me in positive ways, and about how God is using me!”
AWP: What has your spiritual life taught you about success in this industry?
Taraji: “I’ve learned that it’s not about chasing trophies and awards. I like getting paid, and yes, I like nice things, but that’s not what I’m thinking about when I go to work. It’s about how many lives I can affect, move, and inspire in positive ways. The trophies and the accolades just mean I’m exposed to more people. ”
AWP: Speaking of trophies and accolades, how has being an Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress affected your career?
Taraji: “I’m being considered for more roles, and more people know my name. It’s been a steady incline. I’ve asked for longevity and with that come a long road. I’m not interested in any overnight success. I’m interested in doing work that people will talk about and remember long after I’m gone.”
AWP: In many of your films, you’ve been cast as a single mother, as you are in “The First Karate Kid.” How does it feel to be the mother of the first African-American “Karate Kid”?
Taraji: It was so funny, because Will Smith and Jada, along with the movie producers were thinking that they wouldn’t be able to get me, that I wouldn’t be interested, and I’m like, “Are you kidding me? I would be a fool not to be the mother of the first black karate kid!” When I first heard about it, I’m like, “Yep! I wanna do it!” It’s amazing how people think without even talking to a person that they wouldn’t be interested, and I’m on my side like, “Yeah! When do we start?” When different agents and people in the industry started to see the screeners, they were like, “Oh My God, it is incredible!”.
AWP: What was it like to work with Jaden Smith, who stars as your son in that film?
Taraji: “Will and Jada are such amazing parents. They treated me so well, and they are beautiful people, and that child there is a superstar! He’s got swag, he’s articulate, his vocabulary is out of this world, he’s funny, he’s charismatic, he’s talented, and he’s gorgeous! He’s just got it going on, and he’s a great kid!”
AWP: Being a single parent in this industry, how do you find balance between your job at home and your job on the set?
Taraji: “I’m a mother first, so all of that gets handled first before anything else. What are my motherly duties and how does everything else fit in that?”
AWP: How old is your son, and what advice do you give to him about his future aspirations and potential career choices that can also be applied to other young people his age?
Taraji: “My son is 15, and he’s an athlete, so I tell him that he can do whatever his heart desires! If it’s something you want, you have to really want it. I can’t want success for you more than you, yourself, do! Life is about character. I’m raising somebody that the world will like, not just me. Sometimes the smartest man doesn’t get the job. Sometimes, the hardest worker gets the job. I don’t paint him these false pictures about life.”
AWP: When you faced the odds of never reaching your dreams due to the fact that you had a child to raise, how did you keep going, and stray away from giving up on your dreams?
Taraji: “That child drove me! If I gave up on my dreams just because I had him, then what am I teaching him? Why am I even having a kid? If you don’t chase your dreams, you’re not teaching your child how to dream.”
AWP: What advice do you give to young people who want to be where you are, as well as young mothers who have given up on their dreams?
Taraji: For young mothers, I want them to know that a child is not a curse, and there’s nothing bad about life. Life is a precious gift from God! When you have a baby, if you take care of that baby, then God will take care of you, and all your dreams. Don’t ever give up on your dream! Let that child inspire, motivate, and drive you! That’s your blessing, the child.
For those who are trying to reach success, I believe it depends on what you want. I’m not here to judge, but some people just want to be a celebrity and make a lot of money. Take Kim Kardashian for example. I’m not taking anything away from her and I’m proud of what she’s been able to do. I’m driving down the street the other day and I see a billboard with her on it, and she’s got perfume, and I think she’s very clear about what she wants out of life which is why she’s very successful at it, so God bless her! So my point is if you want that, then there’s an avenue for that; be a reality star. But if you want to be and do what I’m doing, I suggest you go to school and study, because that’s what I did!