In her new upcoming film, Taraji P. Henson challenges herself in a way she has never done before.Henson will star in the film Proud Mary set to release January 12, 2018. In the film, she plays Mary, a hit woman working for an organized crime family in Boston whose life completely changes when she meets a young boy she crosses paths with when a professional hit goes bad. The role explores a new side of Henson and pushes boundaries in more ways than one. Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège held a private tastemaker dinner at Zuma in New York City honoring Taraji P. Henson for being a master at her craft and celebrating her role in the upcoming action film. The dinner was hosted by on-air personality Bevy Smith followed by a Q&A session with Taraji P. Henson. We were able to interview Henson on her upcoming film and gain more insight into the film as well as discuss her first time as a lead in an action movie, female empowerment and much more.
They say 2018 will be the year of the woman, how do you think Proud Mary fits into that narrative?
I mean, uh, I was thinking about how things happen. If I write the story of my life, I couldn’t have written it any better. Like, this happened and the timing was impeccable. I mean you think about what we’re addressing, you know, women given up the victim role–creating this narrative so we can change the story and Proud Mary is about a woman fighting for her freedom. Fighting for a better life for herself and for her child, in a world run by men. Also, this project and me starring in it as African American woman over 40, roles like this don’t come for us, let alone for a woman. But for a woman in her 40s, a black woman, this is like what. Which to me I always question it because we can rattle off men 40 and over and how many times they get to do movies that become franchises. You’re not getting any younger, you’re getting older and they still believe in you. And so this is like for me it’s freedom. Another attempt for me to kick open another door for us, another attempt to break open a glass ceiling, and I’m proud… really very f-ing proud.
What elements of Proud Mary’s character did you extrapolate from your own life?
I guess the one thing that stood out for me is how she becomes very protective of this kid. And I just knowing me growing up, I was always the smallest little — in the bunch but I did not like mean people and I did not like bullies. And, I was always the one taking up for people because I’m just about justice, I guess that’s just how I’m made. I guess it’s the Virgo in me, I don’t know. But, Proud Mary was facing bullies. You know, she’s saying hey, I’ve done my job, I’m ready to move on with my life. I wanna do things, I wanna change my life and they’re telling her no. To me, that’s a bully. That’s somebody telling me you can’t do this with your life. I’m holding some kind of power over you and it’s my way or the highway. So I just thought, wow I believe in what she is fighting for. And, here’s the thing as an actor I can’t judge a character. If I do this I don’t serve any justice to these characters. These are real people like I can’t judge how they live. My job is to find the why and you recognize them. But, that’s the whole point it’s not how you start, it’s where you finish. And, what I love about humans is that we’re quite forgiving. If you’re able to go hey you know what face that man in the mirror — you know you to have face it and when you do that, people go okay, I forgive you. That was brave of that person to say I messed up. It’s when you lie and try to continue selling that lie, that’s when people start to lose respect. But the most common criminal, the worst thing you can think of, people still can forgive; that’s why South Africa was able to heal. You know, I just love playing these complicated characters that are so easily hated and it’s my job to get people to like them.
For you, was it fun to leap into a character that was such a departure from anything you’ve ever really played?
Yeah, it was a lot of fun, I mean this is what I’ve dreamt of doing. I don’t know what actor who doesn’t want to play a badass or doesn’t want to play a hero. Who didn’t love playing cops and robbers? That’s like the little kid in me. Um, yeah it was fun. It was a lot of work. I have a lot of respect for action stars. You know, not everyone can do it. I shocked myself that I did it and I’m still alive.
So, tell us a little bit about your relationship with Clint Culpepper. We see that we are in a time where a lot of men take advantage of women but Culpepper was really a champion for you, so what was that like?
I will tell you that I met Clint Culpepper years ago. I think the only thing I had on my resume was ‘Baby Boy’. And I was on a lifetime show called ‘The Division’. So no one really knew me. And, so I remember we were at the club or something going on in Hollywood, you know lots of parties. So I go there and there was Gabrielle Union sitting at the table with this white guy. He was really jazzy with his glasses. I was like “who’s that?” so I go over and I say hi to Gaby and she goes “oh Taraji I wanna introduce you to Clint Culpepper. You have to work with him, he will keep you working forever, honey” and she ain’t lie. This is like movie number five. And, between him, Tyler Perry, John Singleton, and Will Packer, they single handily built my career. And, when I talk about people who write the check and give me the money, Clint Culpepper and Tyler Perry literally have tagged team and I wanna say this because we’re in a time right now where it’s really ugly. It’s looking bad for men and you know I have a son, so it’s really good that we lift up our good men and these two have literally tagged team and built me a quilt. They take care of me and it’s unheard of. It’s really unheard of in an industry where people are trying to get the money in their pockets. And, you know, they really are very fair.
How do you deal with not receiving the career boost you think you are going to receive for roles that are critically acclaimed like ‘Baby Boy’, or did you have those expectations, to begin with?
I did, I mean initially. I was not a kid. I was 26. I was already a mom. I had already graduated college. And, I knew not to expect a lot. For whatever reasons, I just understood that everyone needs someone to look up to. Like you have those that it’s instant and everything is happening like this and then you have those that look instant but when you peel back the layers it’s not so instant–and I knew that was gonna be my story. I remember after ‘Baby Boy’ I did a talk show or something and this white guy comes up to me and said “oh my god, do you understand what John Singleton does to careers?” and he’s naming all the people and I’m hearing him and part of me was like: yes, this is gonna happen to me, but then the God in me was like “oh sit back and watch, it may not be that way,” so once I understood what it was, I sat out back and I had me a good ol’ talk with god. And I said I see what’s going on. Tyrese is gonna glow but you have something else for me. I said but it’s okay because I know when I get there it’s going to be great, so I said what you’re teaching me is patience because I asked you for longevity. See, you have understand when you talk you have to be very clear. Be clear on what you’re asking. And, I was. And, so then I was able to sit back and just enjoy the ride. Because where I was headed and what I was trying to do, I needed to amass an audience. I needed to amass faces that didn’t just look like me because the message that God is sending through me is not just for people that look like me. It’s for humans. It’s gonna come from a face that look like me and you know I’m gonna change a lot of lives that look like me because of where I come from. But, that’s not only why I’m here. There were ups and downs. There were times when I felt like they were trying to sit on me, and I had to get out of this situation. You know, there’s always a fight but I know I’m a winner. Like I know that. I’ve proven it to myself over and over and over and over again. So I’m not doubting myself anymore, so now I’m just like okay if that’s not it the next one is. It’s all in how you perceive things. It’s all perception.
You can check out the trailer for the film below: