Taraji P. Henson loved performing, but had a very difficult time getting started in the business. She spent her first year in college studying electrical engineering at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University. After failing pre-calculus, she transferred to Howard University, where she studied theater. At the same time, Henson was working two jobs—one as a secretary at the Pentagon and another as a cruise-ship entertainer. She also found out she was going to be a 20 year old mother and begged the theatre department not to treat her any differently because she was pregnant. They kept their end of the bargain and watched her blossom and learn on stage.
She and her son, Henson, moved to Los Angeles in 1996 with $700 in her checking account. Her day job let her audition and she finally booked a recurring role on the show Smart Guy. Future roles began to spring up for her including Homicide, ER and Sister, Sister.
Henson’s breakthrough role was in the 2001 comedy drama film Baby Boy which she portrayed Yvette, alongside singer Tyrese Gibson. In 2005, Henson was cast as Shug, the love interest of Terrance Howard, in the independent film, Hustle & Flow. The film would go on to be nominated for two Academy Awards, winning one of them. Her work with Howard would be the precursor to her current television career.
In 2015, Henson began working on the television show Empire. She stars as Cookie Lyon, the ex-wife of music industry titan Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), on the popular dramatic series. Cookie seeks to claim her share of her ex-husband’s business after serving 17 years in prison. Henson’s character quickly emerged as a fan favorite for her cutting remarks and flashy fashions. And the show became one of the year’s big breakout hits. In 2015, Henson was nominated for an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama for her work on the show.
Henson is coming off critical acclaim for her work in the film Hidden Figures. Hidden Figures unfolds during a crucial time in American history: JFK is president, the Cold War is in full freeze, the space race is on and racial segregation is a fact of life. Against this backdrop, “Hidden Figures” tells the story of three women who broke down barriers of sex and race and helped put a team of men in space. Watch the trailer below.
A supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Henson in January 2011 appeared nude in an ad for the I’d Rather Be Naked Than Wear Fur campaign.
In February 2015, Henson posed in an ad for the NOH8 Campaign, which advocates same-sex marriage.
She supports A Place Called Home, caring staff, supporters and volunteers come together to provide South Central children and teens 8 years old to 21 years old with love, safety, enrichment, training, and opportunities through educationalprograms, counseling, and mentorship.