Spotlight: Taraji P. Henson

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    It is easy to understand why casting directors so frequently choose Taraji P. Henson for key roles, and why film and television producers are satisfied with the choice.

    It has everything to do with quality performances, consistency and wide-ranging appeal. And let’s face it, being attractive is another plus factor.

    Taraji P. Henson — her middle name is “Penda” which is of African origin as his her first name — has worked consistently in film and on television since 1997, which is impressive, especially considering being in a crowed field where roles are far from plentiful, all the more so for African American and other actresses of color.

    Henson is not a household name — at least not yet — but seems to be on her way. Most people have seen her before, probably numerous times.

    The Washington, DC-born actress won an Academy Award nomination for her work in the very strange and atmospheric 2008 film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” starring Brad Pitt.

    FOR THE same movie she won an NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture category as well as a BET Award for Best Actress. There was also a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.

    Each character is different which necessitates a different approach in order to be most effective. Henson does a lot of character analysis, people observing and she throws herself fully into each role.

    “A lot of times characters are combinations of people I come across in life,” she said, “I like to disappear into my roles, and I don’t ever want to get boxed in, playing the same characters over and over.

    “I’m always interested in challenging myself, pushing, seeing how far I can go, and I like working with people that are professional and good.”

    She added, “Acting for me is very therapeutic. It’s my shrink.”

    ALTHOUGH acting would be her career, Henson’s initial higher education was, as unexpected as it sounds, majoring in electrical engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T). She later switched to Howard University in her native Washington, DC.

    Not born into wealth, Henson had to work her way through Howard — two jobs, one of which was working at night as a singing and dancing waitress on a dinner cruise ship. The other job was a far departure from that: she was a morning secretary at the Pentagon.

    It all paid off because Henson graduated from Howard with a theater arts degree. Then it was off to Hollywood where the competition was intense and the failure rate extremely high. But Henson never entertained the thought of not achieving success where her heart beckoned, backed by her talents.

    HER LONG string of movies includes “The Karate Kid” (2010), “The Family That Preys” (2008), “Hustle & Flow” (2005), “Baby Boy” (2001), “Four Brothers” (2005), “Think Like a Man” (2012), “Something New” (2006) and “Hair Show” (2004).

    In post production and scheduled for 2014 release are “No Good Deed” and “Think Like a Man Too.”

    Henson gave one of her strongest performances in “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” a 2009 film directed by Tyler Perry. In it she is April, a nightclub singer who drinks heavily and lives a life that is not admirable. There is a lot of intensity and many plot twists, and April ultimately meets someone (Sandino, portrayed by Adam Rodriquez) who helps her see the light.

    Henson’s television work includes “Person of Interest,” the CBS drama she has been a co-starring in since 2011 as detective Jocelyn (“Joss”) Carter, “Sister, Sister,” “Boston Legal,” “All of Us,” “House” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

    Cliché notwithstanding, it is likely that the best is yet to come from Taraji P. Henson.

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