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Taraji P. Henson: "Who Wants To Come To Hollywood And Be On The B-list? I Want The A-list!"

by Cynthia Reid
October 9, 2011 4:31 AM
32 Comments
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"Wherever it is I'm going in this business, I'm not there yet." Henson says, laughing. "Who wants to come to Hollywood and be on the B-list? I want the A-list!

Those are words from Taraji P. Henson who gave an interview recently to The Washington Post. Henson, who's a co-star on the new CBS show Person Of Interest, commented on her upbringing in the Southeast section of Washington DC along with her 15 year career in the industry as a single mother.

She also remarks on her long stretches of unemployment saying..."It never really occurred to me that I wouldn't make it out here; it was just surviving in the interim. Now, did the interim seem rreeeeaaalllly long?" She laughs. "Yeah. Yes. Sure."

Worth noting, when asked How did she go from working on prestige films such as "Button" to starring in movies by Perry, who's regarded as a likable but limited producer of broad comedies? She responded... "He was the only one who called."

Given the difficulty it takes to become an "A-List" actress does she have a real shot?

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32 Comments

  • CareyCarey | October 10, 2011 7:44 AMReply

    First Tamara, you are an excellent writer!

    Now, your comment said it all for me. In fact, while watching the movie I told my lady that the movie was so "real", that I felt like I was right there. Well, I've been in most of those situation, juke joints, affairs, gun play, raising children and keeping secrets, etc (and the time period). Hey, I've even taken pictures in the actual cemetery in which the little girl visited the above ground graves of her uncles, and the last funeral scene.

    re: Black Life. Again you killed it. Your words were similar to what I was trying to say about the ambiance of the images and storyline of the old Amos & Andy Series. Kingfish was a huckster and con man, yet aside from his shenanigans, there was many other "rich" black characters who showed a plethora of black life.

    And stop it, don't get me started on your favorite black authors. Have you been looking in my humble library? I have, and read them all except Maryse Conde.

    So I agree, Eve's Bayou is an experience. It's not just a movie, it's something to be experienced, remembered, loved and praised.

  • Jug | October 10, 2011 7:30 AMReply

    Oh and before folks start pulling their hair out, I think faster than I type & messed up below saying I think Taraji is beautiful, which I do :-D And the debate for natural beauty, "classical" beauty & "Chris Rock/got rid of the jheri curl/teeth fixed cuz I'm a millionaire" debate is for another day LOL

    Go HU!!!

  • Jug | October 10, 2011 7:22 AMReply

    And Carey & Tamara, y'all ain't said nothin' but a word. EVE'S BAYOU is a beast! LOL

  • Jug | October 10, 2011 7:21 AMReply

    People always equate being a good actor with versatility. Not always true. A good actor is good, they may just have their type. In the golden age of Hollywood, actors like Peter Lorre were excellent in every film they were in, playing the exact same sniveling, duplicitous rat (Carey Grant was the same too, when he wasn't people hated him). Could he do more? Sure, but thanks to the studio system & his looks, he played the same roles. Now, actors are "free" to pick & choose their roles & so "versatility" has become synonymous with "good" acting.

    So what happens when you are "free" to choose varied work & you are lackluster at things outside of your comfort zone? Are you still a good actor? Are you still "A-List"? Admittedly, I didn't watch BOSTON LEGAL, but I've seen most everything Taraji has done & she's good, but she is the "sassy Black chick". That is her type, her Brand-she excels at that. And I say that because when she's stepped outside of that, as she should be on PERSON OF INTEREST, she falls horribly flat. Would you cast Kerry Washington or Gina Torres in Taraji's parts? SMOKIN' ACES or TALK TO ME? How about HUSTLE & FLOW? BENJAMIN BUTTON? Ernest Borgnine is a great actor, but is he going to play Paul Newman parts?

    Quick metaphor-It's a stretch for a third baseman to play first. It's stupid for a pitcher to play catcher. Sometimes you have to know your skill set, your limitations & work off of that. Growing is good, yes. But wanting the glory that the next man has without the APPROPRIATE skill set to back it up, which in our business much of that is how you LOOK, is just not smart.

    After three episodes of POI, I'm not seeing anything Poppy Montgomery (UNFORGETTABLE), Cote de Pablo (NCIS) or Gina Rivera (THE CLOSER) couldn't do. And to add insult to injury, I didn't buy for one bit that she was a bad ass detective straight from Afghanistan & Iraq, while she fussed & primped her hair & clothes through this weeks ep. She was...drum roll...sassy Black chick. Now, true she didn't have much to work with, but true "A-List" actors make the worst shit great, even when they're phoning it in. And by A-List, I don't mean the "IT boy" of the moment because they were in a franchise that killed (Lautner, Worthington, LeBouf). I mean A-List because they deliver film in & film out, regardless of being a mega-hit; like Washington, Pitt, Hanks, McAdams, Damon, Streep.

    Don't mistake what i'm saying for "Taraji bashing"-I love Taraji. Have always liked her work, but from that interview & her complaint about TV Guide, I now even more believe that she had the good fortune to be in a film that got love & she didn't capitalize on it. "Tyler was the only one that called" Well so the fuck what?! Of course he's gonna call, because Black people want to see you, but everyone else is like "Umm, so?" Where is Vincent Cirrincione finding you work, projects that will blast you into the stratosphere, projects where the work will get EVERYONE looking at you as more than the "sassy Black chick" (wasn't a far cry from HUSTLE & FLOW to BENJAMIN BUTTONS y'all). If you sit back & say "Oh, I made it because I got Oscar nominated", you know what you get? Third banana on a show where you walk around with your face twisted up like someone farted.

    If Taraji had Halle's looks, she'd have an Oscar & a star on Hollywood's walk of fame. But she doesn't-and please y'all this is not a debate on white features, light-skined, etc etc. It's just that Taraji's beauty, which I think is, is more so about steady work, coming up because of the money from those successes. And now it's the thing that she's putting first instead of her acting. She should have better projects to choose from because everyone wants a "pretty face" in their movie-acting talent be damned...Logic sounds smart, right? Well.....

    (cont'd)

  • Jug | October 10, 2011 7:20 AMReply

    (cont'd)

    Others went the reverse... Halle, Charlize, Brad, Clooney-they ALL had to "ugly" themselves up for people to get past their good looks and give them A) acting respect & B) an Oscar. Hillary Swank got TWO Oscars being ugly, soon as she "glammed" up-Mediocre or Craptastic flicks (BLACK DAHLIA, THE CORE, PS I LOVE YOU). Taraji is waiting for Hollywood to fall at her beckon door because she looks better now & got some noms and that is not happening. Okay, it sucks. Is there racism involved? Probably, lotta cronyism but so what?! If you wait for the ref to call foul, you done missed the next play. Get the hell on & FIND those projects out there that tap into your rawness, both physically & in spirit, by these indie directors that will give you that A-List love you want. Jennifer Lawrence in WINTER'S BONE...that chick walked around confused for 90 minutes and got a best actress nomination.

    This thing is not just about talent, it's about strategy, and I feel like her team is falling down on the strategy front.

  • Tamara | October 10, 2011 7:00 AMReply

    @ CareyCarey, I'll keep it brief. I thought Eve's Bayou was (and is) one of the most beautifully depicted black films ever. Beautifully acted, beautifully 'set', beautifully scripted, beautifully told, just all kinds of beautiful. Aside from the beauty, it gave a view of a 'black world' inside the world; black preachers, black widows, black doctors, black lawyers, black musicians, black children, black fisherman, black 'voodooeines', black nurses, black 'help', black rich, black poor, black educated, black non-educated, black artists, black lovers, black fighters, black servicemen, black romantics, black tragic folk, black mysterious folk, black straight-up in yo' face kinds of folk, a black world in which all the depictions were treated with an integrity and respect that one might find in say a tale by Mrs. Hurston, Zora Neale or Mrs. Morrison, Toni, or Maryse Conde or Ai or Paul Beatty, Minister Faust, Walter Mosley, etc. (my fav. writers) whose 'black worlds' read with a hint of the supernatural, of something magical, of something real/not real, an ambiguity that extends beyond a simple ending or closure. A black story with beautiful black people that isn't a simple a + b = c and the end, but is a(squared) + the square root of (b) = c(times infinity prime and beyond). You don't know what happens for sure in this film (at least I don't) but you are left to wonder and while you ponder on what could have been, should have been, and what "is", you're still satisfied because it's level enough to still stand on its own and be enjoyed.

    Also, these folks look like the folks in my mom's old pictures and photo albums and in her yearbooks and annuals from times past. These folks were my grandparents generation and great-grandparents and before. So this particular era (40s, 50s, 60s...I love (loved also Ruby's Bucket of Blood and Lackawanna Blues, etc.). And I also love the Louisiana setting and the bayou and the legend and lore that comes along in the history of those places. And to end, Eve's Bayou is like an oral tale given over to the screen, framed by the narration of "Eve", of course, but still it views like an oral tale. I love that. Great visuals. Great performances. Heartfelt, emotional, touching, etc. etc. etc.

    I was so in love with the film I tried hipping some YT film-friends... They seemed interested, gave promise to view but never did. I realized then, screw 'em, 'coz it's not 'for them'...it's for 'me' (ha I claimed it). They wanted me to praise frickin' Cold Mountain but were reluctant to touch Eve's Bayou and other acclaimed features with majority black casts I recommended... Their loss. SO MUCH their loss, but whatever. LOL. This has been a long rambling explanation. So sorry for the interruption. As you were, good people.

  • CareyCarey | October 10, 2011 6:24 AMReply

    No you didn't TamaLamb! I know you didn't just do the old "don't ask me, but ask me" trick? *LoL*

    I know you miss your post jackin' ways, but don't blame it on me. So come on, tell us what you have to say about one of the most shocking and endearing and well acted indie black films of the last 25 years. I mean, I had seen it before when it first came out, but I had totally forgot anything about it. The ending was like WHAT!!!?... NO SHE DIDN'T! And I want to tell Samuel Jackson, "don't you say one more word to that woman", but... men will be men *wink*

    So come on TamaTam, you know you wanna ride this hijackedtrain with Big C. *LOL* What you got to say.

  • Vanessa Martinez | October 10, 2011 6:16 AMReply

    Honestly, this whole A and B list debate is really silly. Your goal shouldn't be to be on a so called "A-list." What is that anyways? Hollywood box-office hits? It couldn't just be critical acclaim.

    I don't know. I think the focus should be about finding steady, quality work, not to be on a "list". You are an actor and should be doing what you love.

    Wanting to be in an A list to me suggests being more about popularity than quality. I'm sure Taraji is after quality as well as steady work; but just my two cents on the perception of "A-list." I think the concept is lame; It's a pet peeve of mine to hear people throwing out letters at actors, especially trained and talented ones, such as Taraji.

    Soo Taraji, don't label yourself and cut yourself short in the process, although I totally agree with her frustration of finding work. She's not a letter; she has many fans and/or people that truly appreciate her work.

  • Tamara | October 10, 2011 5:58 AMReply

    If everyone were A-list then no one would be A-list.

    Likewise for B-list, C-list, etc. I can't believe that Tyler was the onliest director to give her a call. Really? Oscar-nominated, now visible, now crossed-over (Benjamin Button) and Tyler was the only one who called? Hmm. Also @CareyCarey, don't you start talking (jackin posts) about "Eve's Bayou". Don't even go there. I love that film so much! :-)

  • Just Sayin | October 10, 2011 4:22 AMReply

    Funny that people see so much potential in Taraji but she, by her own words, can't make it to auditions with zeal. Someone who reluctantly goes to an audition, IMO, isn't an actress ready for the big leagues. It takes a hunger she doesn't quite have yet to be A-List or even a CEO for that matter.

  • CareyCarey | October 10, 2011 3:23 AMReply

    @ remember when,

    I didn’t mean to imply or associated negativities to homosexuals, that was not my intent, however, you said it yourself... “Still a lot of negative associations with the homosexual community” and that’s a fact that cannot be denied. To each his own but the stigmas are still alive. Their “lifestyle” is not ingratiated by every movie goer. Hence, they are not always viewed as positive influences. Consequently, I simply used them - with the other examples -- as areas in our life that Amos & Andy did not include in their storyline. I am sorry if I offended you.

    re: Tarajii Henson,

    To do this right, I have to draw attention to one of the best indie black films of all time, produced by Samuel Jackson, and directed by Kasi Lemmon, 1997’s Eve’s Bayou. In that movie there were at least 8 very good black actors; Samuel Jackson, Roger Guenveur Smith (he’s under the radar but a very good actor), Vondie Curtis Hall, Diahann Carroll, Lynn Whitfield, Lisa Nicole Carson, Jurnee Smollett, Meagan Good and Debbi Morgan. I just finished watching that movie “again” (with my lady 1 hour ago) and let me tell y’all something. I don’t know if any of the above women ever made it to what some are calling an “A-List” but Tarajii does not have the beauty nor the acting talent of ANY of the above women.

    But let me say something else. Tambay and I had a discussion on the significance of having a black director do a “black” story and direct black actors. I believe it’s paramount that a black person, direct black actors in a movie that centers primarily with a black culture/theme. Well, rather or not that’s true, Kasi Lemmon brought out the best in these actors. Yet again, Taraji , who I believe has been directed by a black directors?, does not have the skill level, versatility or range, nor the beauty that commands attention, to believe she will ever be considered on the “A-List”. And, her age clock is ticking down.

  • sandra | October 10, 2011 2:09 AMReply

    OVERALL, I don't see black actresses encountering the same age problem as their white counterparts.

    I still believe Nia Long, Gabrielle Union and Sanaa Lathan for example, have yet to reach their full potential. Gabrielle can play mid-20s very comfortably. Taraji, Nia and Sanaa can play late 20's and early 30's with great believabilty.

    They are not crossover successes which plays to their advantage. We have a ton of actresses in their 30s who can play early 20s (e.g. Monique Coleman) or even teens (Bianca Lawson). Even the veterans (e.g. Robin Givens can play mid-30s with ease).

    I don't think the audience cares about the year indicated on a person's birth certificate. It's what they look like that matters. I've found that when it comes to black actresses, often, age is nothing but a number. With a few exceptions (Lil Kim, Vivica Fox,..) black women have a fresh look and are staying away from the knife and that botox/restylene poison.

    The age of 40 cannot be a cutoff for our black actresses, because most of our actresses are like fine wine. We don't have the same best before/expiry date as others.

  • remember when | October 9, 2011 12:48 PMReply

    @CareyCarey

    "But there was never any gun play, violence, drug use, homosexual themes, calling each other niggers, nor wife swapping or calling each other bitches and hoes. "

    um... did you just equate homosexual themes with violence, calling each other niggers, and gun play? SMH

    Still a lot of negative associations with the homosexual community. :-(

    We can do better.

    Other than that, enjoyed your comment.

  • MiddleMyatt | October 9, 2011 12:36 PMReply

    "Some of those fat heads in the NAACP were instrumental in getting the series banned from television, and now we have Mr. Brown and Medea… go figure. And who wins all the image awards?" -- You said a mouthful, CareyCarey. The irony of what you so astutely pointed out speaks volumes regarding how far we've come, and the state in which we currently find ourselves.

  • Yolanda Lewis | October 9, 2011 12:26 PMReply

    All she needs is a tight script with a stellar cast. Movies like Tiffany Rubin won't cut it. She needs a big screen epic piece like Button. Someone find a bio for her to star in!

  • CareyCarey | October 9, 2011 11:58 AMReply

    I’ve read all the comments so lets get something perfectly clear. Taraji chances of being one of the ambiguous A-listers... can’t happen. Therefore I agree with MiddleMyatt and other song.

    Now, to those who commented on Amos & Andy in a way to strengthen their argument, let me repeat what one of S & A’s own, Sergio, said. He said, he tells everyone that Amos & Andy was actually one of the truest representations of black life that he has ever seen on the screen. And I agree, and here’s why...


    The program originated on radio (1928-1943) over WMAQ (Chicago), where it had a loyal following. Two white men (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) created and performed the title characters, pretending to be black, and the series kept generations laughing with delight.

    The jump to television was made when the show premiered on CBS on June 28, 1951.

    Story-lines centered around the friendships between the Brothers of the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge Hall and the home life of George "Kingfish" Stevens and his wife Sapphire. Kingfish and Andy's antics were usually off-centered by the fairness, judgment and charm of cabdriver Amos Jones.

    Well, through a chain of events, a writer from Ebony magazine, Sergio, an acquaintance of mine, asked me if I was related to Tim Moore, aka, Kingfish. I posted a reply...

    Yep Sergio, uncle Tim. He’s my grandfather’s brother. I have some stories and lots of pictures. He didn’t get that part until late in his career (67 yrs old). Some of those fat heads in the NAACP were instrumental in getting the series banned from television, and now we have Mr. Brown and Medea… go figure. And who wins all the image awards? Yeah, go figure. I wonder if Tyler's money has any influence on black folk's state of affairs?

    Well anyway, back then, at a time of emerging Civil Rights, the characters were seen as gullible, conniving and lazy. Looking at the show today, none of the plots were ever based on race; and in fact, Blacks were seen for the first time as doctors, lawyers and leaders in the community. The problem was in the balance. There were simply no other shows during that time period to compare against the characters on Amos ‘n Andy. Civil Rights leaders saw Amos ‘n Andy as “inappropriate”, saying that it had to be taken off the air. But there was never any gun play, violence, drug use, homosexual themes, calling each other niggers, nor wife swapping or calling each other bitches and hoes. And the standard of black beautiful women did not rest behind light skin and cheap looking weaves.

    Now the NAACP is championing movies like The Help. Yawl better ask somebody about Amos & Andy.

  • LeonRaymond Mitchell | October 9, 2011 11:14 AMReply

    I would say she has a very good chance, and would Black folk know a good movie if it peed on them , I think not , all she has to do is get in on the right film with the right cast Benjamin Button is the right direction, The fact that only Mr. Perry called is the sad case in it self, their are many awesome indie directors and producers with talent that all she got to do is take a leap of faith and be in their projects, She needs to be in even in another small role in a well respected film project and she would be A-list in no time, No not a 50 cent movie or some film that looks like BET made it for a few dollars but a well thought out project, Black folk don't ever reach high so they don't ever think you should too. She should also go International in projects that are big over there then here, be in a David Cronenberg film, be in David Fincher film again, be in Nicolas Winding Refn film, be in Spike Lee's Euro Asian Film, and she will be A-list, Black folk will not get her there cause we don't stand for anything if we did we would come together and produce with all this wonderful talent out there and make huge award winning films but all we want to do is get off. We are so satisfied with Tyler and so satisfied with Ghetto-low intellect comedies, Heck she should even be in that brother who wrote all the underworld films in his films cause he's going a different direction and i'm sure the Black community shows him no love even though he supremely talented. She can even be a Michael Mann film and get there!

  • Ghost | October 9, 2011 9:50 AMReply

    To be an A-lister, you have to be the leading role in a movie that makes an impact. and repeat that x number of times.
    -----------------------------

    I disagree. There are plenty of white folks that are A List that didn't lead in the films that made the most money. Some of them were the costars on acclaimed films or tv shows.

    You build up a resume with quality films, you will move up.

    And she can see better scripts by going to any and all readings and cast callings.

    There have been tons of characters whose race got changed after some one of color tried out-Levar Burton, Arjay Smith, Lee Thomson Young, Wesley Jonathan, Tim Russ and Cirroc Lofton-famous roles were originally white boys.
    -------------------------------
    Instead of some black people worrying about “Meet The Brown’ they should have been worrying about Tracy Morgan “Amos and Andy’ acts on ‘30 From The Rock’ a show highly view by white american with all their Emmy Awards.
    ---------------------------------------

    There is nothing the black community can do about that. We can boycott that show and it will still get ratings and Emmys.

  • dacelyn | October 9, 2011 9:22 AMReply

    I didn't read much past the first comment, I have to say I couldn't disagree more. Ms. Henson is a fine actress, I'm not going to comment big time on anyone's chops.....but I will say that she has the ability to make Ms. Tyson proud , and all of us who know true talent , when we see it ,as well......

  • orville | October 9, 2011 9:10 AMReply

    Taraji is a good actress she's got Emmy, Oscar, nominations she did not win but she was recognized by her peers. Taraji has done better than a lot of black women in Hollywood.

  • MiddleMyatt | October 9, 2011 8:38 AMReply

    Ironic how no one is noting that, despite her A-list aspirations, Ms. Henson is simply a very mediocre actress. In any role, interchanging her with a Regina King, a Jennifer Hudson or a Gabrielle Union would pose no problem at all. Hers is generic talent and an adequate command of the craft (though she shined best in the close-to-home-for-her "Baby Boy"). Simply put, there is nothing truly special, extraordinary, about her. She ain’t no Cicely Tyson (hell, Cicely Tyson isn’t even Cicely Tyson anymore!) -- and she probably never will be. And that ain't hate, it's truth, from someone who thinks she's attractive, likes to see her on screen, and will continue to support her work. However, we have a sad tendency to exalt mediocre representations and representatives in our race, choosing to applaud them simply because they managed to get there (Tyler Perry being the most prominent example of this in Hollywood). Nevertheless, I am glad for her career, and sincerely hope she continues to do well in the business.

  • Darla & Mark | October 9, 2011 8:28 AMReply

    I meant image.

    @Monique

    I doubt you are any other people on this website can do anything thing for Taraji career immediately like Tyler.

  • Darla & Mark | October 9, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    @ adele

    Maybe the majority of black people love foolish movies cause they love to laugh.

    Instead of some black people worrying about "Meet The Brown' they should have been worrying about Tracy Morgan "Amos and Andy' acts on '30 From The Rock' a show highly view by white american with all their Emmy Awards.

    Tracy Morgan does a superb job of feeding negative imagines of black american than 'Meet The Brown' will ever do.

    And that is a fact.

  • Monique | October 9, 2011 7:56 AMReply

    “He was the only one who called.”

    I rest my case. Miss Henson come over here please and talk to us!

  • adele marshall | October 9, 2011 7:46 AMReply

    There are several items of interest at continue in the journey for African American actresses. What we hope from Tyler is to stop the Amos and Andy of the African American image. He has the opportunity to do that. Meet the Browns and his movies have certainly been hits at the box office but want our image. The other question is why many African Americans do not, will not support other non foolishness movies?

    The image is being crafted. ... Black rappers as actors.... Really! Seriously! That alone reduces the number of gigs for trained African American actors. We have to broaden our horizon and participate. White we would like to blame the white Hollywood producers we should look at what and how African American executives are ruining our image.

  • Micah | October 9, 2011 7:33 AMReply

    I wonder if finding more challenging roles in small films would keep her on track. If she did that she wouldn't be that first to use that route. Johnny Depp could have be cast off as another fly-by-night teen idol if he hadn't tried that approach.

  • Micah | October 9, 2011 7:30 AMReply

    @Neziah and Cynthia: That's more impetus for us to create projects and find creative ways to get them funded.

  • Cynthia | October 9, 2011 7:05 AMReply

    EXACTLY Neziah!

  • Neziah | October 9, 2011 6:53 AMReply

    “He was the only one who called”

    That's disturbing.

  • Darla & Mark | October 9, 2011 6:30 AMReply

    "He was the only one who called" enough said.

  • Vanessa Martinez | October 9, 2011 4:54 AMReply

    I don't see why not..she's a great actress. :)

  • other song | October 9, 2011 4:54 AMReply

    To be an A-lister, you have to be the leading role in a movie that makes an impact. and repeat that x number of times.

    and honestly, I don't see Taraji doing that. Taraji will never see the best scripts. and especially since they'll automatically go towards white stars.

    That's why we gotta improve the quality and scope of Black 'mainstream' movies (a la Tyler Perry). As sad as it is, he's the only person right now with the power to do something monumental.

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