Posted in: Stars, Yes!

Taraji P. Henson Says Cookie Stole Her Identity + Viola Davis Talks Being Identified As Sexual In Her Career

Taraji P. Henson & Viola Davis on Hollywood Reporter

Six Emmy contenders Ruth Wilson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Lange, Lizzy Caplan, Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson scooted up their chair to have a discussion about “dynamic and powerful dramatic roles currently being offered to women on television” hosted by The Hollywood Reporter. Each and every actress added value to the candid roundtable conversation in which topics from consideration of quitting acting to the toughest part about transitioning from film to TV were discussed. But, we couldn’t help but zone in what Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis had to say about being African American in Hollywood and their characters as Cookie Lyon (Empire) and Annalise Keating (How to Get Away with Murder).

Checkout what Henson and Davis had to say about their roles: 

Hollywood Reporter: Taraji and Viola, you both took on meaty roles in dramas in a year when “diversity” was the buzzword of the broadcast season. Fox’s Empire and ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder both showed that audiences were craving diverse talent onscreen. Taraji, your Empire character, Cookie, specifically…

Taraji P. Henson: 

“I hate that bitch. She’s stolen my identity! (Laughter.) My friends don’t want to talk to me unless it’s about Cookie.”

Hollywood Reporter: Did anything worry you about taking the role?

“Cookie scared the hell out of me. Just before I got the role, I’d said, “F— it all, I’m going back to theater.” I felt lazy and like I needed to sharpen the tools. So I did theater at The Pasadena Playhouse. Then my manager said,”You have to read this script.” I’m like, “Hip-hop? Oh my God, what are they trying to do? Fox is going to pick this up? This isn’t HBO?” And then I got nervous and started pacing the floor. “Oh my God, Cookie is bigger than life. You will love her or hate her.” Empire has forced people to have conversations that they were afraid to have. And that is what art is supposed to do. I just didn’t know it was going to shake things up this much!”

Hollywood Reporter: Viola, you’ve been vocal in the past about feeling marginalized as a nonwhite actor in film, saying many of the roles you’d been offered were “downtrodden, mammy-ish” women. What most appealed to you and scared you about playing the lead in a Shonda Rhimes drama?

Viola Davis:

“There was absolutely no precedent for it. I had never seen a 49-year-old, dark-skinned woman who is not a size 2 be a sexualized role in TV or film. I’m a sexual woman, but nothing in my career has ever identified me as a sexualized woman. I was the prototype of the “mommified” role. Then all of a sudden, this part came, and fear would be an understatement. When I saw myself for the first time in the pilot episode, I was mortified. I saw the fake eyelashes and, “Are you kidding me? Who is going to believe this?” And then I thought: “OK, this is your moment to not typecast yourself, to play a woman who is sexualized and do your investigative work to find out who this woman is and put a real woman on TV who’s smack-dab in the midst of this pop fiction.”

For full discussion and more details, checkout The Hollywood Reporter

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