Taraji P. Henson Roles That Are Worth Revisiting Before She Makes Us Giggle On 'SNL'
The logical next step after conquering the world in one's career is to host Saturday Night Live, so it's no wonder Taraji P. Henson answered the call. The 44-year-old actress rocketed from respected-if-relatively-unknown supporting actress to household name and TV star this year thanks to her role as Cookie Lyon on Fox's hip hop drama Empire. That record-breaking show seemed to be all anyone could talk about this winter, as it raced through 12 soapy episodes — and Henson was at the center of that firestorm of attention. Her fierce matriarch was the most fashionable, quotable, gif-worthy, presence on an already eccentric show. No pretty much everyone knows Taraji P. Henson from her past roles... and it's about damn time we all caught up.
Empire may have been many viewers' introduction to the talented actress, but it was far from her first role. She has dozens of credits to her name from movies to TV to made-for-TV movies. She has an Oscar nomination, a Primetime Emmy nomination, and a slew of honors from the likes of the Screen Actors Guild, the BET Awards, and the Image Awards. And now, if the Taraji P. Henson SNL promos are any indication, she'll soon have a successful hosting gig on the classic sketch show under her belt, too.
In honor of Henson's first stint on live television, let's count down 10 of her most famous roles, from worst to best.
10. No Good Deed (2014)
Not even Henson as a mother besieged in her own home and the magnetic Idris Elba as the criminal terrorizing her could save this abomination of a horror film from an embarrassing 10 percent score on RottenTomatoes. That being said, it was the number one movie in America during its opening weekend and was the producer's third number one film of the year after Ride Along and Think Like A Man Too (also starring Henson), so what do I know?
9. Think Like A Man/Think Like A Man Too (2012/2014)
These two films based on Steve Harvey's relationship advice book Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man may not be the pinnacle of cinematic achievement (especially the Vegas-set sequel), but the strong cast gave the clichéd romcoms their all — especially Henson as Lauren, aka "The Woman Who Is Her Own Man."
8. The Karate Kid (2010)
Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith may have gotten most of the attention for this surprisingly not-terrible remake of the beloved 1984 classic, but Henson's role as protective mother Sherry anchored the film with an abundance of heart.
7. Baby Boy (2001)
Four years before her breakout role in Hustle & Flow, Henson won her first sizable role in director John Singleton's coming-of-age drama. She played Yvette, the long-suffering girlfriend of Tyrese Gibson's Jody (and the mother of his child); and although Baby Boy wasn't considered Singleton's best work, it did succeed in putting Henson on the map.
6. I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009)
This musical dramedy is the most critically-acclaimed film directed by Tyler Perry to date, and he has Henson's captivating performance as alcoholic nightclub singer April to thank for that. (Fun fact: this was an adaptation of a 1999 play written by Perry himself, which contained the first ever appearance of his now-infamous character Madea.)
5. Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story (2011)
Speaking of protective mothers... Not many people may have caught this Lifetime Channel original movie, but those who did were likely wowed by Henson's turn in this based-on-a-true-story tale of a mother whose son is kidnapped by his biological father and taken to South Korea. In his review of the TV movie, Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker admitted it was "mawkish, melodramatic, but completely compelling," and called Henson's performance "excellent." She was recognized at that year's Emmy Awards in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie (although she lost to Kate Winslet for HBO's Mildred Pierce).
4. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008)
Three years after her Hustle & Flow co-star Terrence Howard was nominated for an Academy Award, Henson got her own date with Oscar when she was nominated for her performance in this David Fincher film. As Queenie, the adoptive mother of Brad Pitt's reverse-aging Benjamin, Henson was honored alongside such awards heavyweights as Amy Adams and Viola Davis (for Doubt), Marisa Tomei (for The Wrestler), and winner Penélope Cruz (for Vicky Cristina Barcelona).
3. Person Of Interest (2011-2013)
Empire isn't Henson's first gig on television, although I can't think of a project more dissimilar from Fox's musical drama than this CBS procedural techno-thriller. She starred in the show's first three seasons as Detective Joss Carter, whose development from antagonist to ally made her a fan-favorite character... which only made it harder for those fans when she was unexpectedly killed off not even halfway through Season 3. (Thankfully, POI's loss was Empire's gain.)
2. Hustle & Flow (2005)
This was the performance that made Henson a star... and also the first of several collaborations with her future Empire co-lead Terrence Howard. As prostitute and singer Shug, Henson won accolades left and right, especially for her contribution to the film's Oscar-winning original song, "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp." Her performance was lauded as "top-notch," "transcendent," and "so wounded, so vulnerable, so loyal, that we're astonished at the complex emotions developed by the story."
1. Empire (2015-?)
As terrific as Henson was in Hustle & Flow, there's no denying that Cookie is the crown jewel in the actress' filmography. When the history books are written, Empire will likely earn the biggest chapter. The way she transformed what could have been a one-note, one-liner-dispensing machine into a three-dimensional character who's at once confident, vulnerable, hilarious, and sympathetic is a truly impressive piece of craftsmanship. There's a reason Cookie is the queen of Empire , and there's a reason Empire is at the top of this list. Long live Queen Cookie!
Images: Screen Gems (2); Columbia Pictures (2); Lifetime Television; Lionsgate; Paramount Pictures; Warner Bros. Television; Paramount Classics; Chuck Hodes/FOX