Taraji P. Henson, best known for Hidden Figures and Empire, stars as the central hitwoman of a Boston-based organized crime family in the new film Proud Mary. Driven with the fierceness and strength that we know Taraji to emanate, the film follows the hitwoman as her life is thrown off course after crossing paths with a young boy. The Knockturnal’s own OJ Williams sat down with the star of this femme-driven film. Check out the video and the full interview below.
OJ Williams: You are executive producer and star. Talk about doing both roles, and how important it was for you to be EP on this project?
Taraji P. Henson: It was very important for me to be EP on this project because I’m number one on the call sheet. And, you know, when I got into acting, I never wanted to just be an actress. You know you want to make power moves. The actor is the weakest link, as far as I’m concerned, because we’re so interchangeable. ‘Oh, she doesn’t wanna do it? Hire her.’ That’s a weak position to play. And whenever I go out and I speak to kids, they always are like, ‘We wanna be like you!’ I say, no. You want to be better than me. You want to lead a studio, you want to own your own studio, you want to be the one who creates the doors to open. Stop thinking so small. So in order for me to preach that, I have to be that. So whenever I have a chance to executive produce that, I’m all about it.
OJ Williams: Talk about the physicality of the role – how you were just gun-toting, choreography, and all that?
Taraji P. Henson:: It is very – When you see these action films, I don’t think people really understand what they entail. I had bruises, I was sore. I crashed the car. I mean, you speak of stunts, people speak in the industry of stunts going bad, and people losing their lives. Talking about doing these stunts at weird hours of the night. We are in the fourteenth hour, and it’s like, 4 o’clock in the morning, and you gotta find that second wind, that backflip and shoot the bad guy coming through the door! You know, people don’t really understand what goes into it. I didn’t, really, until I had to do it. And it’s a lot of work. There were times when I was like, why, oh why. But then when I see the finished product, I’m like, oh. That’s why.
OJ Williams: In the film, you have little Jahi [Winston]. Talk about working with him – you’re new little protégée.
Taraji P. Henson:: He is amazing. This kid is – he’s been here before. He’s a wise soul, and he is quite the little actor. He has a very bright future ahead of him.
OJ Williams: What about Mary attracted you, what about her personality did you identify with that said, this is the role for me?
Taraji P. Henson:: I don’t think it was anything. I think what intrigued me the most is a woman who is wired to kill. What is that about? Because women, we’re emotional creatures. We’re nurturers. We give life, we don’t take it. So, that was very intriguing to me, to find out what made her that way. And then, the challenge was, how do you make people like her? Because she’s killing people. You know, that’s someone to hate. It’s like playing God, out here playing God, taking lives. But that’s the job of the actor: to bring humanity to the character. And I like doing that. I like taking characters that can be hated, and then making the world fall in love with them. Cookie, for instance. That’s one. It could’ve went left. You know? In the wrong hands, people could have hated her. She could’ve come off as just a loud-mouth black woman. But she has heart. It was me finding the “why” she is the way that she is, and when you do that, people empathize.
OJ Williams: With an assassin, who do you look to for inspiration?
Taraji P. Henson: I did a lot of research, but I couldn’t find a lot of women – like, famous female hitwomen. But I did come across this one guy Iceman. But I actually saw live footage of him. I liked him. I was feeling very conflicted. Because he was killing people. He wanted to try out a nail gun. He was just walking down the street. Guy was in his car, probably going to work, going to provide for his family. He just killed him, right there. Shot him right in the temple, cause he wanted to try the gun out. But I liked him. It was something about him that was very inviting and charming. Very charming. What I did learn about, because I’ve played cops before, I’ve played a sniper before, but I’ve never played a hitwoman. What’s interesting about a hitwoman, they’re dangerous. They’re dangerous. This could be a hit right here, and you’d never see it coming. They shake your hand, and right when they pass you, they shoot you right in the dome. Or they shoot you in your face. That’s the dangerous thing about a hitwoman. Or hitperson, hitman. You’d never see it coming. They’re dangerous. Iceman talked about how he killed someone in the club. He killed him. He was experimenting on all different ways to kill, because he had to do hand-to-hand, and straight up. He drugged – he put it in a needle, went out on a date, dressed like a gay guy, it was a gay club. He dressed like a gay guy. He was out there, he was dancing – this guy was big. He’s like seven feet tall, 200 pounds.
OJ Williams: Oh, so he doesn’t blend in.
Taraji P. Henson: No, not at all. But he put on the whole garb. He had the serum in a needle, he hit him in the neck and was out. Nobody saw it coming, ever. Didn’t see him.
OJ Williams: Well, that was dark. Thank you so much, Taraji.
ATaraji P. Henson: Thank you!
Proud Mary, starring Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Winston, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery, and Billy Brown, comes to theaters January 12.