Taraji Penda Henson (born September 11, 1970) is an American actress known for works in both film and television, with most of her work coming the latter in recent years. Henson is known for her roles in movies such as Baby Boy, Hustle & Flow, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which landed her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 2008 Academy Awards), and the Think Like a Man series. This decade has seen Henson take on major television roles in both CBS’ Person of Interest and Fox’s Empire.

Taraji P. Henson Bio

Henson was born in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 1970. She was the daughter of Bernice Gordon, a corporate manager, and Boris Lawrence Henson, a janitor and metal fabricator. She was given her name in Swahili origin, where “Taraji” means hope and “Penda” means love in that language. She spent her formative years around the Washington metropolitan area and attended Oxon Hill High School in Maryland, located just southeast of the district. Upon graduating, she first went to North Carolina A&T State University to pursue a major in electrical engineering. Later on in her college career she transferred closer to home to Howard University, where she graduated with a degree in theater arts and won the university’s Triple Threat Award.

In an exclusive interview with uInterview, Henson told us that her training at Howard was “hardcore.” “I think that’s why I developed such a tough skin for the industry,” she said, “they didn’t tip-toe the bushes. If you sucked, they told you. If you hit a wrong note, they replace you in an instant.” The education Henson received at Howard would set her on a path to a career in the entertainment industry while also giving her the key understanding of how it worked.

Taraji P. Henson Career

In 1997, Henson kicked off her acting career by taking on minor television roles, including an episode of ER. A few years later she made her film debut in Baby Boy. Henson plays the lead female role of Yvette in the film alongside Tyrese Gibson, Omar Gooding and Snoop Dogg. Her performance in the film began to give her attention among critics and led to a nomination for the 2001 Black Reel Award for Best Actress.

From 2002-2004, Henson played the role of Inspector Raina Washington on seasons 2-4 of Lifetime’s police drama The Division. The show looked inside the lives of five policewomen of the San Francisco Police Department’s felony division and their attempts to balance their professional and personal lives.

Henson received acclaim for her role in the 2005 film Hustle & Flow. In the film she plays Shug, a prostitute who plays the main character’s love interest but is pregnant with an unknown client’s child. The role landed Henson a BET Award for Best Actress and nominations for multiple awards including the NAACP Image Award for Oustanding Supporting Actress and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Outstanding Performance By a Cast. She also provided vocals to Three 6 Mafia’s song “It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp” for the film, which won an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 2006 Academy Awards, the first won by an African-American rap group.

After guest appearances on House and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, as well as the role of Whitney Rome in a season of Boston Legal, Henson landed the role of Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Queenie becomes the mother of Benjamin, who’s played by Brad Pitt, after he’s abandoned by his father at the porch of a nursing home she works in. She ends up becoming a nurturing figure for Benjamin, who ages in reverse, through his first years. Henson’s performance was a hit, winning a BET Award for Best Actress, NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Henson continued having roles in movies through the stretch of 2009-2011, including an award-winning performance as the title role in the Lifetime original movie Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story. One of these movies was Tyler Perry‘s I Can Do Bad All By Myself, where she played the lead role of April Jones. Upon the release of the film, Henson spoke to uInterview in an exclusive interview, where she shared some of her experiences working on the film.

Henson told uInterview that Perry’s extremely in depth with his actors and actresses on what he wants to get out of them. “You either sell him on it or you don’t,” she said. “He’ll let you know and say, ‘I don’t believe you.’ To me that translates to ‘dig deeper’ and I love him for that.” She also shared her memories of working with R&B legend Mary J. Blige on the film. After Blige was nervous at first about acting, Perry told Henson to give Blige all she got. “I started screaming these profanities at her and all of a sudden, ‘Woo!’ she came to life and that moment was so real he captured it and it’s in the movie.”

In 2011, Henson returned to television in a leading role in the CBS drama Person of Interest. There, she played the role of Detective Jocelyn “Joss” Carter, an NYPD homicide detective, alongside Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson. Although the show has done fairly successful, including winning a People’s Choice Award for Favorite New Drama, Henson’s character only lasted three seasons, as Det. Carter was killed off as part of a new storyline direction the series had taken.

Shortly after her departure from Person of Interest, Henson was approached by Fox to star in the new musical drama Empire. Henson plays the co-lead role of Cookie Lyon alongside Terrence Howard in the show set in the dramatic world of the hip-hop industry. After just two months on the air, Empire has already been proven a hit for Fox, with Henson’s performance being one of the major reasons for the show’s success.

Taraji P. Henson Personal Life

Taraji P. Henson has one child, her son Marcel, who was born in May 1994. The father of her son is a high school boyfriend, who unexpectedly passed away in 1997. Henson is currently single.

Henson is also known for her work in activism. In 2011 and 2013, she posed in ads for PETA campaigns against the use of animal products in clothing and unethical treatment of animals. In February 2015 she also posed in an ad for the NOH8 Campaign to advocate same-sex marriage.

Henson currently resides in Glendale, Calif., with Marcel.


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