Taraji P. Henson revealed during a recent SAG-AFTRA conversation moderated by Variety’s Angelique Jackson that she fired members of her team after her career hit a wall despite the global success of “Empire,” the Fox musical drama series that she starred on for six seasons from 2015 to 2020. Henson played the outspoken and ferocious Cookie Lyon, which won her a Golden Globe and earned her two Emmy nominations. Although a Cookie-centric spinoff was in development, the project was ultimately axed after Fox passed on it and it failed to get shopped around.
“Firing everybody after Cookie,” Henson said when asked about her best business decision. “Everybody had to fucking go. Where is my deal? Where’s my commercial? Cookie was at the top of the fashion game. Where is my endorsement? What did you have set up for after this? That’s why you all haven’t seen me in so long. They had nothing set up. All they wanted was another Cookie show.”
Henson said that her team’s main priority was the Cookie spinoff, which the actor was willing to do as long as the direction of the “Empire” follow-up was done “right.”
“All they wanted was another Cookie show, and I said, ‘I’ll do it, but it has to be right. The people deserve…she’s too beloved for y’all to fuck it up.’ And so, when they didn’t get it right, I was like, ‘Well, that’s it,’ and they had nothing else. ‘You’re all fuckin’ fired.’ It took me years to get there…you are the prize. Don’t you ever forget that. You are the talent. You are there check. Don’t every forget that. They work for you. If they are not…somebody else will do it. I stayed with the same team for years.”
Henson is currently earning acclaim for her supporting role in “The Color Purple,” which grossed $18 million on Christmas Day. But it’s a role she nearly turned down over pay reasons in order to set an example for her female co-stars. During a viral SiriusXM interview earlier this month, Henson broke down in tears while discussing the pay disparity issues she still faces in Hollywood despite her success on “Empire” and having an Oscar nomination under her belt.
“I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do [and] getting paid a fraction of the cost,” Henson said. “I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over. You get tired. I hear people go, ‘You work a lot.’ Well, I have to. The math ain’t math-ing. When you start working a lot, you have a team. Big bills come with what we do. We don’t do this alone. It’s a whole team behind us. They have to get paid.”
“When you hear someone go, ‘Such and such made $10 million,’ that didn’t make it to their account,” Henson continued. “Off the top, Uncle Sam is getting 50%. Now have $5 million. Your team is getting 30% of what you gross, not after what Uncle Sam took. Now do the math. I’m only human. Every time I do something and break another glass ceiling, when it’s time to renegotiate I’m at the bottom again like I never did what I just did, and I’m tired. I’m tired. It wears on you. What does that mean? What is that telling me? If I can’t fight for them coming up behind me then what the fuck am I doing?”
Henson went on to explain that despite her various successes, she still gets told there’s not a lot of money on the table because Black actors and stories “don’t translate overseas,” among other excuses.
“I’m tired hearing of that my entire career,” Henson said. “Twenty-plus years in the game and I hear the same thing and I see what you do for another production but when it’s time to go to bat for us they don’t have enough money. And I’m just supposed to smile and grin and bear it. Enough is enough! That’s why I have other [brands] because this industry, if you let it, it will steal your soul. I refuse to let that happen.”
“The Color Purple” is now playing in theaters nationwide from Warner Bros. Watch Henson’s full SAG-AFTRA interview in the video below.