TV Interview - Taraji P. Henson talks No Good Deed
The Academy Award-nominated actress ventures into new territory as producer for her new thriller
Few actors have an impressive streak like Taraji P. Henson. She has done more than 20 films, working with everyone from John Singleton to Brad Pitt. She has several stints on prime time television, voiced animation, and even some theater. But her hard work pays off. Henson received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008, and sang vocals on the Academy Award-winning song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from her film, Hustle & Flow in 2005.
Now Henson is trying something new. For her latest film, No Good Deed, she is not only starring but partnering with Will Packer and his Atlanta-based production company, Will Packer Productions as executive co-producer. In the film, Henson plays Terri, a suburban housewife whose life is turned upside down when she reluctantly opens her door for Colin (Idris Elba) after a car accident.
Recently Henson was in Atlanta to speak with Creative Loafing about the film, her trials as a producer, and views on current events.
This has to be every woman's worst nightmare. What drew you to the script??
Well, I think initially the writing. I love the fact she fought from the beginning to the end. She knew she made a bad choice for her family but she fought her way out of it. I think she gave him a run for his money.
We literally had to fight for this. They wanted us to do a comedy and Will said, "I will not do a comedy, not with these two actors. You have a Golden Globe winner and an Academy Award-nominated actress who are respected in the game." I'm so glad we fought because this is the beginning. That's why I took this project. I thought to myself, when was the last time you saw a woman stand up for herself and not play the victim in a thriller. It has been a long time since Julia Roberts did Sleeping with the Enemy, and its time. Women, no matter what color, you are will identify with this.
In a scene where you fight back, you kicked him “there.” How many times did you kick Idris in the nuts?
I never actually did that but I accidentally punched him for real and he accidentally hit me in the mouth with a gun.
Ouch, Not cool! But this is a very physical role.
Absolutely, the most physical role I've ever done to date. I've hit guys over the head with bottles, shot big guns, and chases, but never a choreographed fight scene.
NOTE: In 2011, TV Guide published a cover featuring the show Person of Interest with all the male leads of the show and omitting her. Henson was outraged and very vocal regarding the snub with entertainment media and on social networks.
Not long ago you had some controversy about your comments regarding the TV Guide "Person of Interest" cover. What was your takeaway from that experience?
It is always a fight, isn't it? Not matter what level of the game you get to. You're always fighting to stay relevant, you're always fighting for respect. I don't care what career choice you have, you always have to prove yourself. In the industry I'm constantly proving that you can’t stereotype me; you can’t pigeonhole me; you can't put me in a box. I'm a character actress — I studied, I trained, I can play any character. I'm being wise about the projects. But you know people are lazy so they say, "Oh she plays a great crack head, so lets keep calling her." I get bored, so I say, "What else you got for me?"
This is the first film you produced. Several occasions on Twitter you have posted crying emoticons when talking about it. Tell me about your experience as a producer.
It’s tough. I bow down to Will Packer because he has the perfect temperament; he never pops a vein; he tries his best to make people happy; you can call him at any time, he never leaves you twisting in the wind. He just makes it happen. Everybody can't do it as gracefully as he does it. Now that I'm on the other side of the table I get offended when you don't read the script or get back to me. I'm sure its karma for all the scripts I didn't call back on. It's tough putting a movie together with their egos and their team’s egos and everyone telling you what you should and shouldn’t do.
You are about to team up with your old co-star Terrence Howard on the new show Empire.
Yes, it's a mix of Dynasty, Sopranos, with a hip-hop version of Glee! It's the dysfunction of the Sopranos. The family is filthy rich, there's murder and mayhem going on. Terrence and my character got together really young, had three sons, started a record label, and sold drugs to finance it. We got busted and I didn’t snitch — he was the talent and my sons needed to eat, so I made the ultimate sacrifice, like most mothers would and took the fall. She did 17 years on a 30-year bid. So you have to stay tuned to find out how she got out. Because once you go to federal charge, there’s only way to get out and that's to snitch.
You're a triple threat: you sing, dance, and act. Is Broadway next?
I got close to Broadway, but the project fell apart. I was trained in theater so it is definitely something I would do. I go to theater to sharpen my tools. When I finished Person of Interest, the first thing I did was do a play in Pasadena California because I felt I was a little crusty. TV can make you lazy because it is so fast paced and you rely on your bag of tricks. I felt I needed to get back to my roots, back to basics to wake up my creative beast inside. So I played a journalist in the play Above the Fold at the Pasadena Playhouse. I was overwhelmed by the outpour of support. We had a full house every night.
What's up with the "Sisters of the Yam?"
Yams are very nurturing. They have a lot of nutrition, they are filling, it has empty calories. Its not bad for you its good for you — like my sisters of the Yam, they feed my soul, they keep me whole, they keep my grounded, so I call them my sisters of the Yam.
NOTE: For decades parents of color have had a coming-of-age conversation with their sons about how to engage police. We call it "The Talk." Lately this discussion has become a topic of conversation for some in light of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.
I was going through your Twitter feed, you had a lot to say about the situation in Ferguson. Lately there has been a lot of conversation about “The Talk.” Your son is at that age, have you had that talk with him?
Oh absolutely. We talked about it before I got on the plane actually. I asked him if he knew what to do, and he said "yes." He knows not to cause trouble. ... Communication breaks down, and people just need to talk. Cops need to spend time in their neighborhoods so they’ll know “Johnny” and when Johnny creates a problem, they could just tell him to stop. But if you don’t have any connection with the people, then everybody is running around scared and then we have a problem.