Taraki P. Henson and Terrence Howard in EMPIRE - Season 1 | ©2015 Fox/Chuck Hodes

Taraki P. Henson and Terrence Howard in EMPIRE - Season 1 | ©2015 Fox/Chuck Hodes

In Fox’s new drama EMPIRE, created by Danny Strong and Lee Daniels, we are in the world of hip-hop music. The new series introduces us to music mogul Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard. Lucious is suffering from a serious illness and struggles to retain power while also trying to plan his legacy. Son Jamal, played by Jussie Smollett, is perhaps the most talented and qualified choice, but Jamal is gay, and Lucious cannot bear that.

Challenging Lucious on virtually everything is his ex-wife Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henson. Henson and Howard previously worked together in 2005’s HUSTLE & FLOW, a feature drama about hip-hop music (it won an Oscar for the original song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”). Henson has been nominated for an Oscar for her work in THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON and for an Emmy for 2011’s TAKEN FROM ME: THE TIFFANY RUBIN STORY. The actress, originally from Washington, D.C., spent three seasons as dedicated NYPD detective Joss Carter on PERSON OF INTEREST. This year, she’s starred in the feature thriller NO GOOD DEED and costarred in the romantic comedy THINK LIKE A MAN TOO.

At the EMPIRE premiere party thrown by Fox on the roof of the W Hollywood Hotel, Henson sits down for a brief chat about her new show, which she says is a game-changer.

ASSIGNMENT X: What drew you to this project? Was it your character, the project as a whole …?

TARAJI P. HENSON: Oh, the project scared me and so did Cookie. And I found that I like to be challenged. So I took it on. If the work doesn’t scare me, then I don’t do it.

AX: What is scary about EMPIRE for you?

HENSON: Well, the subject matter and the way we handle it. We don’t cover it up, we don’t make it pretty, it’s very honest and gritty and it will probably ruffle feathers and piss people off. But isn’t that what art’s supposed to do?

AX: Is this scarier for you than PERSON OF INTEREST?

HENSON: Yeah, because it’s so risky. PERSON OF INTEREST was a different way of doing a procedural, but we’ve seen it. This we haven’t seen – we just haven’t seen this kind of television on primetime on network. The reason why I keep saying that is the subject matter and the way that we’re dealing with it.

AX: Do you mean music or marriage or …?

HENSON: With music, without music, things are happening. What’s happening in the world today we put on the table for everybody. Let’s expose it, talk about it.

AX: Do you get to sing?

HENSON: Maybe next season. I hear Timbaland and Lee [Daniels] are talking about it. “We need to do music with Taraji!” [laughs] So I’m sure it’s coming.

AX: What would you most like people to know about EMPIRE right now?

HENSON: EMPIRE. It’s going to change the game, that’s what it’s going to do. It’s going to change the game of primetime television.

Related: Exclusive Interview with EMPIRE star Terrence Howard

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Article: Exclusive Interview with EMPIRE star Taraji P. Henson

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