Ta’Rhonda Jones plays Porsha on Fox’s hit show “Empire.”
Jones participated in a Q&A at the show’s season two world premiere at Carnegie Hall presented by Pepsi and Lincoln Motor Company. She shared how she came to play Cookie’s assistant on the show and what the casting process was like.
Season Two picks up three months after the shocking arrest and incarceration of Empire Entertainment head Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard). Still in federal lockup, Lucious is trying to run Empire from inside, while a headline-grabbing state prosecutor hangs her political ambitions on bringing him down – no matter what it takes. Meanwhile, Cookie stages a star-studded #FreeLucious concert in his support, while scheming with Andre, Hakeem, Anika and the business savvy Mimi Whiteman (guest star Marisa Tomei) to finalize the hostile takeover of Empire in the all-new “The Devils Are Here” season premiere episode of Empire airing Wednesday, Sept. 23 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
Ta’Rhonda spoke about her character and casting:
I knew absolutely nothing, I’m sorry I knew nothing. I walked in the door completely blinded. I originally thought I was gonna be a rapper for Terrence Howard because that’s what my brother called me and told me. Terrence Howard was looking for female rappers in their twenties and I thought he was trying to come out with a Hustle & Flow label. I did, I really did. Don’t laugh, don’t judge me, I thought that was what he was doing and when I went in the casting director Claire Simon, she’s here today. I love you Claire. Claire is the one who casted me. I originally tried out for the role of Tiana. She saw me, she stared at me after I recited the lines. She said you know what? I think I might have something else in mind for you, leave your name, number and email, I’ll get back to you. I thought that was her way of shoving me out the door. I didn’t know what was going on.
I never know I was auditioning for a show. I thought I was gonna be a rapper. So I got the email for the Porsha role and it said ghetto bunny in her twenties. Gabby I said yes to life that’s me. I get the rundown and saw Cookie and Porsha interacting with one another I’m like yea this is me, this is me all day and I took it and I met Lee and I didn’t know who Lee was. I thought he was just some crazy man. (I love you father Lee.) He was in his pajamas — at four o’ clock in the evening, yes — and when I walked in the room the day of my auditions everybody was so dry like “yea, recite the lines, bye,” that’s it. But something ignited in me because when I walked in the room he jumped out of his chair and started screaming ‘yesssss! yessss!’ I’m like ‘ohhhh ok.’ He said ‘you knew what you were doing when you came in here looking like that’ and I looked down and said ‘Oh, this old thing.’ Then he said what’s your name, what’s your name … I was like ‘ok, I like this man’ and when I recited the lines, he stared at me and said ‘you’re doing good, but you’re putting too much thought in it, I need you to be yourself just be you.’
After I recited the lines he said ‘you’re brilliant you can leave now.’ I was like where is Terrence Howard I’m trying to get on this label, what is going on I’m trying to get on this label. That next day I got the call and they said we got you on hold, I didn’t know what hold meant, but we have you in mind. They said between me and you … Lee loves you, so I was like who the hell is Lee, so finally I looked it up to see what I was getting myself into … So when I looked it up and saw all these names Terrence, Taraji, Danny, Brian and Lee, and when I saw Lee Daniels’ name I said Lee loves me, wait no this can’t be the same man. Thank God for Google. I’m very familiar with Lee Daniels’ work … when I saw his face pop up on the screen I passed out. Then I woke up, I went to work the next day I told my boss (I was an assistant director of nutritional services at a nursing home) … I told my boss … ‘I’m gonna be on this show, so you better get all the work out of me while you can because I ain’t gonna be here no mo.’ Look what god did and I’m standing on the stage today with all these phenomenal people. They are so awesome.
What people don’t know is … I literally was going through a rough time in my life … I’m gonna testify honey. I was going through a rough time at work where I was off work for a while. I ended up going job hunting and at the same time I was going job hunting was the same time I auditioned for the role. What people don’t know is when I was gonna quit my job and I didn’t know which one to take. I got a job offer at a hospital and I got the role for Empire. I said Lord Jesus I have never acted before, but if this role is for me I need a sign and I need it now and what people don’t know is my brother was killed in April, he was shot down, and I keep a watch of his and when I said I need a sign, I need it now, his watch went off. I’m here today because I went with that sign. I kept saying what is that noise … not dawning on me that it was my sign … then it dawned on me that was my sign … I took the role and the rest is history. But, the character is me all day.
Taraji P. Henson added, “Ta’Rhonda that role was yours baby, you were born to play that role, absolutely. He sent me a video of somebody that he wanted and I was stuck on that person and then when you walked in and I was like that’s her, that’s Porsha. You are amazing. I’m so glad that this was your journey.”
Earlier in the day Saks Fifth Avenue and the cast of Empire celebrated the unveiling of their new EMPIRE-curated fashion collaboration with a star studded soiree at 10022-SHOE on the 8th floor of the revered retailer’s Fifth Avenue flagship.