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Empire, News, Press, Television Series ♦ July 23, 2020

The offshoot is the first project to stem from the newly signed two-year, first-look deal for the actress turned producer, who is also launching production company TPH Entertainment.

The world of Empire will continue at Fox.

The independent broadcast network is reteaming with Taraji P. Henson for an untitled Empire spinoff, with the actress behind Cookie Lyon reprising her role in the potential series. The offshoot, which is in development, is the first project to stem from a newly signed two-year first-look deal that Henson has signed with Empire producers 20th Century Fox TV. Henson’s newly launched production company, TPH Entertainment, will also produce the Empire spinoff, which will follow what’s next for Cookie. Former vp television at Working Title Christine Conley will partner with Henson to run TPH.

Danny Strong — who co-created Empire with Lee Daniels — will be joined by the franchise’s Yolanda Lawrence and Stacy A. Littlejohn to co-write the series. All three will serve as co-showrunners. Sanaa Hamri is also attached to direct. Henson will also exec produce alongside Strong, Daniels, Littlejohn, Lawrence and Hamri. Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Samie Falvey will also return to exec produce the spinoff. The drama, like the flagship, hails from the now Disney-owned 20th TV. While official plot details remain under wraps, sources tell THR the spinoff will follow Cookie as she moves to L.A. and potentially feature some of her other family members. 

Sources say the spinoff could also help Empire come to a proper conclusion after its series finale was unable to be produced before the industrywide novel coronavirus-related production shutdown. In announcing that the series finale would not be able to be filmed, Empire co-creators Daniels and Strong left the door open for a potential follow-up, with rumors of the Henson-led spinoff circulating in industry circles for months. 

“I believe that normalizing stories around stigmatizing matters will make them more palatable for audiences to embrace,” Henson said. “Art can change perception and I plan to develop projects that can help further the conversation. I also aim to help cultivate and establish new young talent and their stories because they are our future and deserve a voice and a platform to be heard. I’m so excited to have 20th, led by the talented Carolyn Cassidy, support me in this new endeavor!”

Added Cassidy, president of 20th TV: “We were lucky to have a front row seat to Taraji’s meteoric rise as a fixture on television through Empire. Through that relationship everyone at the company grew to appreciate her passion for storytelling and her strong creative gut instinct. With Empire finished we look forward to helping her explore stories that need to be told through her talent and advocacy.”

The Henson-led drama arrives as Daniels has been open for years about wanting to do an Empire spinoff. Daniels previously co-created music drama Star, which existed in the same world as Empire but was not technically considered a spinoff despite the fact that both shows often crossed over. That series ran for three seasons before being canceled last year (much to Daniels’ chagrin). In 2017, there had been rumors of an Empire prequel series focused around a young version of Henson’s Cookie. That project was never ordered, though Henson was open about her interest in remaining a part of the Empire world for as long as possible.

Henson is repped by UTA and Ziffren Brittenham. Conley, who spent four years working in physical production before turning to development roles at Working Title (Gypsy, About a Boy), is repped by attorney Patti Felker. 

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Taraji P. Henson has a voice, and she’s not afraid to use it.

The Golden Globe-winning actor made a discovery once she finally joined social media platforms a few years back — she had an audience who was ready to soak up the gems that she was firing off. Henson, a Howard University grad who also is originally from Southeast Washington, D.C., has absolutely no qualms about speaking out against social injustices against black boys, how she feels about the NFL coming down on protesters or the problematic gender issues that women are facing, quite visibly, in Hollywood.

It’s her voice that speaks to, and for, a marginalized group of people.

And it’s her voice that stands out in Disney’s new animated sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Henson is sitting in a suite at the Beverly Hilton — the same hotel where 10 years ago people spoke in excitable hushed tones about a forthcoming, potentially breakout role she had in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — and is thinking about when she first realized that people were paying attention to her voice.

“When I got on social media, I guess,” says Henson, tilting her head to the side in deep contemplation. “For me, I knew people were listening, but around the world is what I was most interested in, ’cause numbers don’t lie. Movies open and it’s like, ‘OK, so people feel me here, but what are they feeling across the waters?’ It wasn’t until I joined Twitter and I was like, ‘People know me! What the f—?! They’ve been lying to me.’ ”

“At this point, you giving me some power, I’m gonna use it.”

Henson ended up getting an Oscar nomination for her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and her career really went on an uptick. And this year has been epic for her. She’s still holding steady as forever favorite Cookie Lyons in Fox’s Empire, and she’s also carried feature films like Proud Mary and Acrimony. She recently wrapped filming What Men Want, which will open next year and could prove to be an even bigger game-changer for the award-winning actor. In that film, she plays a female sports agent who gets the magical gift of hearing what men think and uses that to break through a glass ceiling.

“I felt that it was special one day when I was sitting, chilling, and they were setting up the camera angles, and they was like, ‘Paramount’s here to see you!’ I didn’t realize the entire Paramount — everybody … it’s like seven executives out there. I was like, ‘What?! We must be doing something really special,’ ” she says of her forthcoming sports film, which is a female take on 2000’s Mel Gibson starrer What Women Want. “You can tell when it’s something really special. On Benjamin Button, executives kept flying in and I had my driver — she was ear hustling! — she was like, ‘They talking Oscar for you!’ So when you start seeing a lot of executives coming from the studios, that means one of two things — you’re either doing really bad, you’re f—ing up a lot of money, or the movie is really, really good and they’re just figuring out how they’re gonna double down or triple down on it. That’s when I started paying attention to the producers and the people of power.”

There’s a word. Power. Henson’s flexing her newfound voice and, yes, power in Hollywood to get passion projects off the ground, like the story of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman, which she will both star in and produce with Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Pictures.

Her voice is mighty. And people are listening.

“I can’t help it. It’s like, my face don’t lie. I can’t pretend. It’s not that I’ve made it my mission, it’s just that that’s who I am. I can’t see injustices happen, and I’m on Instagram like, ‘Hey, look at my new shirt, look at my new skirt,’ and somebody’s kid just got murdered,” Henson says. “I can’t. I don’t know how to do that. I may come up missing that day, I might not post nothing, because it’s just like, my heart. That’s how I move, that’s how I operate. You either like it or you don’t.”

Henson recently launched a charity named for her father, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, to help abolish the stigma on mental health problems in the black community.

“I had some traumatic things happen in my life, and so did my son, and we needed help,” Henson shares. “When it came time to get help, especially for him, becoming a young black man, he had trust issues with whoever sat on the other side of the couch. So he’s not gonna tell the truth and be open and honest if there’s a trust thing. It was not the color of the skin, it was culturally competent. We have a lot to be angry about, a f—ing lot. Do your history homework! We have a lot to be angry about, so if you’re not culturally competent, that anger can be misconstrued as rage, out of nowhere. But if you’re culturally competent, you understand where it’s coming from; therefore, you won’t just give me a pill to calm my rage. You’ll give me exercises, constructive criticism or things that can help me when I get to these places.”

“I have moments in life where I have to be strong, as any other human, but just because I’m a black woman doesn’t make me supernatural.”

Henson’s father was a Vietnam vet who battled mental health challenges after his tour of duty.

“My dad was very vocal and open about his mental health issues,” she says. “He taught me to live and walk in my truth, so that’s a part of it. I started feeling really good about what I was doing. I remember Tyrese [Gibson] hit me up one day, he said, ‘Babe, I love you so much. What you are doing is you’re making it cool for people to say it’s OK to get help.’ I said, ‘That’s what we need in our community.’ All my white friends, they have their standing appointments every week, you know what I mean? ‘I gotta go see my therapist!’ Well, why don’t we do that when we need it the most? We’re walking around here wounded from generations and generations, and we still ain’t got it together.”

And then there’s the whole strong black woman thing. That’s crippling, Henson says.

“Had to break that down,” she says. “That feeds into the whole notion of us being superhuman. That’s bulls—. I have moments in life where I have to be strong, as any other human, but just because I’m a black woman doesn’t make me supernatural.”

The irony is that Henson is known for taking on strong and, at times, emotionally complex black female characters. The women she brings to life are the women who in their own ways are saving the world. Even in Ralph Breaks The Internet, her character is an algorithm who is key to saving the entire internet — and, thusly, the tools the internet helps us with in order to function daily in the world.

“The world is telling us that we should be strong. Stop it with that. Strong black woman — it’s a myth,” she adds.

Her real-life remedy for that particular escape is her fiancé, former Super Bowl champ Kelvin Hayden, who played cornerback for the Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears.

“I have a fiancé who is a very realized, full-on man, a man’s man, who likes his position, so I gotta fall back. It helps balance me because he is not of the industry. He is very grounded and very real and regular, and I like that,” Henson says. “I don’t want somebody who wants to try to come up, or, ‘Babe, let’s do a reality show.’ He forces me to leave that stuff outside because nine times out of 10, half the stuff I’m talking about, he don’t understand. I think that’s a great balance for me.”

This new animated film will be a major box-office draw — the 2012 film topped more than $470 million — and Henson’s likeness as Yesss is now a doll, which is a major coup for her. But what’s next beyond Ralph Breaks The Internet is the wait-and-see game: a familiar dance, as it turns out, for Henson. For the Till film, she’ll team back up with John Singleton (who directed her in 2001’s cultural classic Baby Boy) and her producing partner Laray Mayfield, whom she’s worked with since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

“If it doesn’t scare me then it’s not gonna transform me in any way and I’m not gonna transform the fans. I’ve done a lot, so I turn down a lot ’cause I don’t want to be repetitive. But right now the most important project on my to-do list is the Emmett Till story. That’s my passion project right now, and I’m just trying to get that pushed through. Stuff like that, that challenges me. I’m definitely looking forward to doing more comedies, but of course we gotta wait for What Men Want, see how well that does,” she says, pausing and mock rolling her eyes before adding: “I have lived my entire life and career waiting for this town to catch up.”

It’s just about caught up, and the right people are listening.

And it’s happening at an interesting time in her career. Henson is shifting. She’s moving behind the camera to bring important stories to life. And because of that, her voice is growing and at its most amplified.

“Things are missing in the industry,” she says. “Stories that I feel are very important, that are prevalent, that are now, that speak to some of the injustices and things that are happening in life. At this point, you giving me some power, I’m gonna use it. It’s weird because, yes, I have all this power, but I still doubt myself a little bit ’cause this hat is new to me, this producing hat. I had to call Holly Bario, over at DreamWorks, for my movie, for Till. I was in my trailer and I was pacing. I was like, ‘What do you say? Be a producer, this is your passion project!’ I had to talk myself up to it, it’s like, ‘Taraji, this is where you are in your career, why are you second-guessing yourself?’ When I called her it made her day. I talked to her and she called my agent. I was second-guessing myself, like they don’t want to hear from me. Yes, they absolutely want to hear from you!”

Author: MaricaLeave a Comment
Press ♦ November 20, 2018

Getting to voice an animated character in a major motion picture is a milestone for any actor, and should be worthy of any bucket list. So when Taraji P. Henson was offered the opportunity, her answer was a no-brainer.

The Oscar nominated actress has made her mark on the small screen playing brassy matriarch “Cookie Lyon” on the hugely popular series Empire, and on the silver screen by portraying real-life heroine Katherine G. Johnson in Hidden Figures. However, taking on a more animated role was a welcomed change of pace. As a self-confessed “character actress,” she was able to funnel all of her trademark wits and warmth into an integral, indelible character in Ralph Breaks the Internet.

In director Rich Moore and Phil Johnston’s highly anticipated sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) have jumped from their known world of Litwak’s Arcade to the unknown world of the internet in hopes of saving Vanellope’s broken Sugar Rush game from being permanently unplugged. As they search far and wide to find the money to pay for the surefire fix, their journey leads them to Henson’s “Yesss,” the brilliant, blue head of YouTube-like company, BuzzzTube. She advises them on a number of issues–not just how to become social media savvy superstars and how that translates into money, but also how to deal with the internet’s toxic elements.

I loved that Yesss is a capable, innovative leader, but also an empowering voice of reason. Where did you find her essence?

Taraji P. Henson: Ralph is basically this big kid, right? I’m a mom and I felt like it was like taking a mother or auntie role with him. He comes from a different era, so she had to tread lightly. I just had to tap into my motherly instincts.

Do you approach character collaboration any differently from your live action roles?

No, not at all. Rich and Phil actually encouraged me to ad-lib and add more me. That’s why they wanted me for the film. They’ve been watching me. They saw me being Taraji in interviews, and I guess they just liked the essence of who I was and wanted me to bring that to the character. They allowed it.

Did your character change much from the time you signed on to the final version?

She stayed pretty consistent. They were very clear on what they wanted out of this character. We shot it for over a year. I’m sure they were changing things around and by the time it got to me they had a clear picture. There were some scenes that we did go back and tweak, but that’s just the process of an animated film.

She’s the only one in this series that’s allowed wardrobe changes and different hair styles. Was that an idea you brought to Rich and Phil?

I think they decided to do that. I’m pretty sure “Cookie” had something to do with it. [Laughs] Not only that, if you’re a trendsetter, you have to be a trendsetter in every sense of the word. That’s where the fashion comes in.

As an actress, your body is one of your tools in your toolbox. When you were in the recording booth, did you feel like that tool was compromised? Or were you able to incorporate body movements?

I always do that. I have to. It’s funny. I actually posted a session of ADR for another film that I’m doing and I saw the comments. They were like, ‘What is ADR?’ And I would explain to them. You really have to put your body into it, especially if it’s dealing with something with movement. Your body should sound like it’s moving. Otherwise, it sounds like it’s ADR. Definitely in animation, since it’s not your body in the film, you want to make this cartoon character come to life. The best way to do it is to throw your whole body into it.

Speaking a little about the comments section, that scene where Ralph wanders into the comments section got a huge reaction from the press. We were screaming, “Don’t do it!”

Yes! That’s what I was screaming when I read that. ‘Don’t do it! Don’t go in there!’

Your advice to Ralph felt like it came from an authentic place as I’m sure you’ve had your own run-ins there too.

Oh absolutely. On a daily basis. Once you understand what it is–that humans are fragile creatures and hurt people. I will post something so powerful and inspirational and full of love, and then someone comes and poops on it. When you realize that’s not me, that’s this person, you take it with a grain of salt. Keep moving on. I just advise people to not go in the comments. You can start on a happy note and one comment can throw you off. Just stay out of there.

For that scene, John and I were in the same studio together. When they offered that to me, I said, ‘Yes. I’ll absolutely fly in.’ It’s very rare that you get to do that in animation.

Did that help to have that other person there when you had been recording solo?

Absolutely. It brings more heart because the other person is there. It makes it more authentic instead of trying to guess how he would say his line, so let me say mine like this.

Another thing that resonates is this idea of women helping other women. Yesss helps Vanellope. I kept waiting for a double cross, but that never happens. That feels huge in terms of progress. Was that something that attracted you or that you even noticed?

I didn’t even think about it like that. Since you mention it, wow, it’s very true. They all help each other. That’s just in me. I don’t look at it like, “Oooh! That’s special.” That’s how I move in life. That’s just how I am in life and that’s how I think we should be. The fact that we have to point it out means that we got a lot of work to do.

Since Yesss curates the content on BuzzzTube: What are your favorite YouTube videos?

I love animals. Any animal videos, baby videos, dancing videos. I like the clumsy videos–people falling. I like when people do remakes of videos. You see where I’m going–happy, happy, joy, joy.

How did this creatively fulfill you?

I checked off “do a Disney animated movie” from my bucket list. I’m a character actress, and have many characters in me and many voices that live inside me. So I need a creative place to do them instead of my shower.

Ralph Breaks the Internet opens on Nov. 21.

Author: MaricaLeave a Comment
Press, The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation ♦ September 24, 2018

Taraji P. Henson is opening up her closet for a good cause.

The “Empire” star celebrated the launch of The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, her nonprofit organization, on Saturday by inviting guests to purchase her personal dresses, shoes and purses in a special Los Angeles fundraising event. The foundation, named after Henson’s late father, focuses on erasing the stigma surrounding mental health issues, particularly in the African American community.

The cause is personal to Henson, whose son struggled with mental health after his father was murdered in 2003 and Henson’s father died two years later. When she started looking for a psychiatrist for her son, wanting “someone that he could trust, someone that looks like him and could understand his struggle,” she said it was very difficult because “they wouldn’t be African American and it wouldn’t get anything accomplished because he felt guilty for the things he was saying.”

“It was like looking for a unicorn, and the reason that happens is because we don’t talk about it in our community; it’s taboo, it’s looked upon as a weakness or we’re demonized for expressing rage for traumas we’ve been through,” Henson told Variety. “I have a lot of white friends and that’s what got me going. They say, ‘You don’t talk to anybody? Girl, I’m going to see my shrink every Thursday at 3 o’clock.’ So I was like why don’t we do that in our community?”

The star also pointed out the need for the cause to have a famous face attached, as she said there’s “the misconception about celebrities that we have it all together and we’re perfect and we’re not. Our kids aren’t perfect, we’re suffering and struggling just like the regular person and money doesn’t help. I thank God I can pay for the psychiatry bill but it doesn’t necessarily take away the problems.”

Later on in her speech inside the event, Henson revealed that she has also sought mental health treatment and sees a psychiatrist herself.

“I’m here to tell you that when they tell cut and the cameras go away, I go home to real problems just like everybody else,” she said, adding that she wanted to be open about her struggles so “people go, “Oh wow she’s going through it? Well I’m alright then.”

The money raised from the event, dubbed Taraji’s Boutique of Hope, marked the foundation’s first mission: bringing art to the bathrooms of inner city schools to help combat depression, bullying and suicide. Henson explains that this initiative — a partnership with artist Cierra Lynn — is because school bathrooms are “where fights happened, jumps, that’s where you got bullied because the teachers weren’t in there, so I thought that was a great thing to do to flip it. You go there to get your head together and instead of seeing hate stuff or whatever madness kids put in there, we decided to turn it into art.”

Jenifer Lewis, Lisa Vidal and John Singleton were also in attendance at the event, with Lewis joking that she and Henson are close friends because Lewis was the “original Cookie,” the character Henson plays on “Empire.” The “Black-ish” star, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 25 years ago, said that fighting against the stigma of mental illness has become an important cause for her.

“We are as sick as our secrets and it’s time for people to come together, to reach out to those who are hiding in dark rooms, reach out to those who are afraid to take the next step, reach out to those who want to be better and don’t know how to,” Lewis said.

Lewis, who recently made headlines for wearing a Nike sweatshirt to the Primetime Emmys in support of Colin Kaepernick, added that the cause seems especially relevant after having just seen Michael Moore’s most recent documentary, “Fehrenheit 11/9,” which she urged “every soul on the planet to go and see.”

“If you don’t register to vote after a movie like that then you are not human. We all need to come together right now and not let the Republican administration alter reality,” Lewis told Variety. “Molestation is wrong, attempted rape is wrong, I don’t care how you lay it down. It doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 93, if someone touches you inappropriately, you have been touched inappropriately for the rest of your life.”

In the wake of sexual misconduct allegations about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Lewis added that “there has to be a reckoning at some point,” and shared the message, “these are not dark times, these are awakening times, so wake the f— up.”

Author: MaricaLeave a Comment
Press ♦ April 19, 2018

Cardi B was made it onto TIME Magazine’s annual list of 100 most influential people in the world. Taraji had the pleasure of doing the writeup for her.

When I first came up, people said, “She’s too edgy.” But I can do Shakespeare in the Park! You can’t judge me based on where I come from or the colloquialisms that I speak with, because that’s who I am. And when you are cool with who you are, no one can use it against you.

I identify with Cardi B, because she knows that too. The first time I went on her Instagram page, she was so raw, coming at you, like, whoa! She used words like “shmoney” and “shmoves,” and she talked openly about being a former stripper. And she was proud of it—like, So what, I was on the pole, look what I parlayed that into? When she showed her soul like that, I hit the Follow button. I felt like she had the voice of the people, you know what I mean?

When her mixtape came out, I thought, That’s it. She found it! She’s clear on her talent, and she’s not trying to get in anybody else’s lane. She recorded “Bodak Yellow” because it’s what she loved. Now she’s the biggest thing in music. And even with all those eyeballs watching, she’s still unapologetically herself.

Cardi B’s here to stay, baby, and I’m happy to be a witness.

Author: MaricaLeave a Comment