The first half of 2014 is turning out to be a busy one for Taraji P. Henson.
Though she’s no longer starring in CBS’s “Person of Interest,” the Oscar-nominated actress just wrapped taping a pilot for Fox’s Lee Daniels drama, “Empire,” and she’ll soon be promoting “Think Like a Man Too,” which premieres June 20.
But her role as Catana Starks in the new film “From the Rough” is the project that’s been keeping her active over the past week or two. It opens in theaters today.
“Catana Starks is an amazing woman who went against all odds” when she became the first black American woman to coach an all-men’s collegiate team in the 1980s, Henson explains. Starks led the Tennessee State University male golfers to have an all-time record championship season. She even coached Sean Foley who is No. 1 golfer Tiger Woods’ swing coach.
Henson talks to XFINITY about why she had to take this role, shooting “Empire” and asks the question on everyone’s mind: Why did the “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” cast don ball gowns for their reunion special taping?
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You were recently in Chicago shooting the pilot for Fox's Daniels hip-hop family drama "Empire." How did it go?
It was amazing. It was incredible, the talent is through the roof and I just really hope Fox picks it up. We shot in Chicago for about three weeks and I think we'll learn the show's fate in mid-May. Thank God I'm busy doing other things like promoting "From the Rough" that way I don't have to sit and worry about what's going on with "Empire." We can't even really talk about it because it's not picked up. You talk about how great the pilot is but if no one ever sees it … God forbid that happens.
I won’t ask any more questions about “Empire” but will say this much, a lot of talented black actresses are making their way back to TV.
There's a lot of black women on TV now. I'm very excited and I want to see more. Hopefully this is opening up for nontraditional casting. Hopefully you'll start seeing more multicultural casts on television like you see when you walk down the street. I know my group of friends are certainly multicultural so why isn't this being presented on TV? I think we are starting to see that and I hope we see more of it.
Tell me about your role as Dr. Catana Starks.
Catana Starks is an amazing woman who went against all odds. The first year that Tennessee State decide to start a men's golf team she becomes the coach and that year they go to the NCAA championship and win. That's amazing! Not five years after becoming coach but the year that she became the coach, that's what she was able to do. And I think deep down, because she was a woman, she had a lot to prove.
Is that what drew you to the script?
Oh, yeah! I guess for me, I’ve never seen a female coach ever on the big screen outside of Goldie Hawn in that comedy “Wildcats” when I was a little girl. I was sitting there reading the script and I was like, “wow, what an amazing story to tell. And she’s a girl.” I would love to bring this story to life. This is something that has not been done.
“From the Rough” has great cast that also includes Michael Clarke Duncan and Henry Simmons.
We just all believe in it. We just believed in the power of this woman’s story. Look at how many people she’s touching through her story: Me, Michael Clarke Duncan, Henry Simmons, Tom Felton—people who are passionate about what she did with her life and wanting to be a part of putting it together so that people can see it. What a beautiful process to be a part of in a project.
What do you miss about Michael Clarke Duncan?
That big ol' laugh and hug. He hugged you and you just felt safe.
What do you want people, especially young ladies, who watch this film to take away from it?
I want them to know that you can do anything that you put your mind to. It is your dream and no one can take it away from you and if you really work hard at it and believe in yourself when people are laughing at you that you can do anything.
Are there any TV shows you have to tune in to see? Do you watch "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" or any other reality shows?
I don't really watch TV. It's sad. But I'll tell you why I watched "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" Sunday. My entire glam squad was in town staying with me so they were not going to miss it which means I had to watch it. And you know, I'm kind of glad I did. But I can't keep up on all of that. That's too much. I got my own life.
Why were you glad you watched it?
Because it was drama and it made me forget about the drama in my life for a minute. Over-the-top drama, honey. I was like, "Why are they dressed like they're going to The Golden Globes? Is there a red carpet?" Am I the only one who thought they were all overdressed? I'm sorry, I'm just saying what everybody else is thinking. They had on ball gowns. They thought they were going to the Oscars.
Nope, I assure you that you weren’t the only one thinking that.
I didn't understand it. I'm not saying they didn't look good. They all looked beautiful. I was just saying, you're on a television show in that gown. You're not even doing a carpet. I didn't get to see how they looked until the fight broke out and everybody had to stand up. You know what I'm saying? Save it, save it. You all looked beautiful but save it.
Will you watch it this Sunday?
I'm going to be in the country celebrating my grandmother's birthday so I'll probably miss it, to be quite honest. She turned 90 and she's not going to want to hear anything about any "Real Housewives of Atlanta." I don't even think she knows what that is.