Taraji P. Henson on 'Empire' role: "Cookie scared the hell out of me"

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"I hate that b***h Cookie. She has stolen my identity," says Empire actress Taraji P. Henson on her iconic role. "I'm getting called Cookie everywhere. My friends don't want to talk to me unless it's about Cookie."

After reading the Empire pilot script she says, "Cookie scared the hell out of me." She was mad that her agent even sent her television role, as she was currently doing a play. "I said, 'f**k it all, I'm going back to theater.' I just wasn't fulfilled in what I was doing, and I felt lazy, and I felt like I needed to sharpen the tools again."

Until, Empire arrived. "I was petrified. But for me, that fear means it's a challenge that I had to take on. Because if it doesn't shake me up then why am I doing it?"

"Art is so powerful," the Oscar nominated actress says. "I felt like this subject matter [of Empire] is dealing with is something that we'd never seen on primetime network television. And if we do it well, if we handle it well, then it's going to force people to have conversations that they are afraid to have, and that's what art is supposed to do."

Henson gets many questions about how much of her own personality she brought to the role of Cookie, or inquiries about what woman from her life she is channeling on screen. "Actually, Cookie is my dad," she says. "He was a very straight, no chaser. He said it like it was and nine times out of ten he was right. You either loved him or you hated him because he was speaking truth, straight truth right at you."

Henson has been working for nearly two decades, but there are many roles she wants to explore beyond Cookie. "I want to play a super hero, I want to play a Bond girl, I want to play a man, I want to play a white woman. I want to play everything I've never played before."

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Taraji P. Henson on 'Empire' role: "Cookie scared the hell out of me"
EMPIRE: Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) shows up at Empire in the 'Outspoken King' episode of EMPIRE airing Monday, Jan. 14, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Jamal (Jussie Smollett, L) records at a 'ghetto' studio in the 'Dangerous Bonds' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Lucious (Terrence Howard, R) protects Anika in the 'False Imposition' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 06: Jussie Smollett arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of 'Empire' held at ArcLight Cinemas Cinerama Dome on January 6, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)
EMPIRE: Michael (guest star Rafael de la Fuente, L), Jamal (Jussie Smollett, C) and Porsha (guest star Ta'Rhonda Jones, R) wait for Cookie to arrive in the 'Out Damned Spot' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) holds a secret in the 'Out Damned Spot' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) gives Hakeem some advice in the 'False Imposition' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Gladys Knight performs as herself at Bunkie's funeral in the 'Devil Quotes Scripture' episode airing Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Anika (Grace Gealey, L) runs into Porsha (guest star Ta'Rhonda Jones, R) in the 'Out Damned Spot' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Anika (Grace Gealey, L), Lucious (Terrence Howard, C) listen to Hakeem's (Bryshere Gray, R) new song in the 'Out Damned Spot' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Lucious (Terrence Howard) delivers a eulogy for Bunkie in the 'Devil Quotes Scripture' episode airing Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Cookie (Taraji P. Henson, L) and Jamal (Jussie Smollett, R) pay their respects to Bunkie in the 'Devil Quotes Scripture' episode airing Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Hakeem (Bryshere Gray, L) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson, R) chat in the 'Out Damned Spot' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) is upset in the 'Dangerous Bonds' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: In a Flashback episode, Lucious (Terrence Howard) rehearses at home in the 'False Imposition' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Hakeem (Bryshere Gray, R) introduces his new girlfriend Tiana (guest star Serayah McNeill, L) in the 'Devil Quotes Scripture' episode airing Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) visits an old friend in the 'Devil Quotes Scripture' episode airing Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Andre (Trai Byers, L) and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray, R) have a conversation in the 'Devil Quotes Scripture' episode airing Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Lucious (Terrence Howard) toasts his family in the 'Devil Quotes Scripture' episode airing Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Pictured L-R: Jussie Smollett, Serayah McNeill, Taraji P. Henson, Bryshere Gray, Grace Gealey, Terrence Howard, Trai Byers and Kaitlin Doubleday. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Lucious (Terrence Howard, C) surprises Anika (Grace Gealey, R) with a performance from Anthony Hamilton (guest star) in the 'Dangerous Bonds' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Anika (Grace Gealey) watches a performance in the 'Devil Quotes Scripture' episode airing Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Andre (Trai Byers, L) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson, R) chat in the 'Dangerous Bonds' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Anika (Grace Gealey, L) and Lucious (Terrence Howard, R) have a chat in the 'False Imposition' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Lucious (Terrence Howard, R) talks to Hakeem (Bryshere Gray, L) in the 'False Imposition' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Michael (guest star Rafael de la Fuente, L), Jamal (Jussie Smollett, C) and Porsha (guest star Ta'Rhonda Jones, R) wait for Cookie to arrive in the 'Out Damned Spot' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Hakeem (Bryshere Gray, R) and Jamal (Jussie Smollett, L) perform in the 'Outspoken King' episode of EMPIRE airing Monday, Jan. 14, 2015 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
Marisa Tomei arrives at the 30th Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015, in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
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Henson joined fellow actresses Ruth Wilson (The Affair), Maggie Gyllenhaal (TheHonourable Woman), Jessica Lange (American Horror Story: Freak Show), Lizzy Caplan (Mastersof Sex), and Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder) for the Roundtable, where they discussed the dynamic and powerful dramatic roles currently being offered for women on television.

The full Drama Actress Roundtable can be seen on Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter when it premieres Sunday, Aug. 2, at 11 a.m. ET/PT on Sundance TV and HollywoodReporter.com.

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