Michael Lavine/FOX(NEW YORK) — First impressions can be deceiving. Empire star Taraji P. Henson was reminded of that recently.
The Academy Award-nominated actress tells W magazine in their August 2015 issue initially she hated Empire’s script, and didn’t want to portray hip-hop matriarch Cookie Lyon in the show.
“I was like, this is stupid,” Henson recalls of Lee Daniel’s hit Fox series. “Hip-hop — dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. But then I started to think, Cookie is going to piss so many people off! She hits her son with a broom, she talks back. Clearly, this was a challenge.”
Henson eventually learned to love her character. “Cookie is bold and crazy, and she loves the struggle,” the actress says. “She started from nothing, and now she’s at the top. In that way, we’re alike: Cookie is the American Dream.”
The actress, who stars opposite Terrence Howard on the series, also says she understands why viewers love Cookie, too.
“They see her heart. They see her intentions. And they love her style — her style is 17 years behind the fashion curve, which makes the clothes a character on the show. As Cookie grows, you’ll see her fashion grow. And people love that — she’s a work in progress,” Henson explains. “The only thing that never changes is her spirit: To me, Cookie is living, breathing, walking truth.”
Henson tells W she chooses to side-step any criticism she may receive on her portrayal of Cookie. “When I hear that Cookie is a bad representation of black women, I don’t get involved. Maybe Cookie makes you uncomfortable because she reminds you of yourself,” Henson says. “People miss the bigger picture when they start judging.”
Empire returns September 23 at 9 p.m Eastern on Fox.
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