Hollywood Taraji P Henson, famed for her role as sassy Cookie in Empire, has been named Entertainer of the Year.
The 45-year-old was given the title by USA Today. In an accompanying interview, the star explained to USA Today how much her life has changed since joining the cast of Empire.
Last Christmas, life “was kind of normal still,” said Henson, who has held a long, respected career spanning TV shows including Person of Interest and Boston Legaland films such as Hustle & Flow and her Oscar-nominated role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
But that was before the hip-hop drama Empire premiered on Fox in January to killer ratings, and Henson’s take-no-prisoners matriarch, Cookie Lyon, ran off with the show.
“Like, I could still go to Target and the grocery store without being harassed. It’s different now,” she said with a laugh. “I can’t really go anywhere.”
Now halfway through Season 2, Henson has crafted one of the most memorable, quotable characters to grace television in years. Empire has earned Henson Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. Time magazine also declared Cookie Lyon the most influential character of 2015.
“Life has changed for me dramatically,” said Henson, who hosted Saturday Night Live in April. “Who thought Cookie would bring me this kind of notoriety? This is the type of character that people judge — she went to jail she sold drugs. But what happens? (People) run to her? Blows me away every time. That goes to show people like real.”
Henson is itching for Empire to explore Cookie’s back story, particularly her jail time. “Seventeen years and to still come out with your sanity, you didn’t lose yourself, that’s a strong — what planet is she from? I want to know more about that. I want to get in the cell with her and those moments she was lonely and no one came to visit. Like, I want to see that. We talk about it, but it would be good to see it in the flashback.”
Henson is beginning to flex her muscle as a producer, having just helmed a Christmas variety show for Fox. “I’m trying to capitalise on the success and get more business,” she explained.
“I’m looking to create more opportunities for other young artists coming up behind me, because I can’t do this forever.” She added: “I want to at least enjoy all this money I’m making at some point !”