24 Hours With Taraji P. Henson in South Africa

EMPIRE: Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) demands attention in the "False Imposition" episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Jan. 28 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Chuck Hodes/FOX

When I make my way to meet Taraji on day 5 of her press tour in South Africa, I am a bit nervous, it’s not everyday I get to chat with a Hollywood A-lister, particularly one that I admire.

She hints that she’s had a busy week, from doing interviews, to visiting Keep A Child Alive in Soweto, the Apartheid Museum, and Constitution Hill.

Visibly moved she says: “This is a land full of history and you can’t come here and not get that lesson. I am so grateful and thankful for Fox for bringing me out here.”

A quick scroll through Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag #TarajinJozi, you’ll see that South Africans have a lot of love for the actress. When she met super fans earlier in the week, one was even in tears.

The 48-year-old actress has been playing Cookie Lyon in the Fox drama, Empire for five seasons now, and she has, thus far, had some outspoken matriarch rub off on her.

She points out that the greatest thing about playing Cookie is learning to stand up for herself.

“I feel like if there is any injustice, I need to speak out about it especially when it comes to me and being a woman. You see, Cookie is always fighting to get back what is hers – that is a story of a woman’s life, I think.”

Taraji has loved playing the evolution of Cookie and witnessing her growth from season one to who she has become in season five has been fulfilling.

“When she came out of jail, she was kind of wild, untamed, and then she had to acclimate herself into the corporate world. She couldn’t continue slapping people.

She had to learn how to be diplomatic and I think it is great to see someone grow. The message is that everybody can change, everybody can grow up and do better.”

This is why she believes people, particularly the South African audience, like Cookie so much – because she is a relatable character, which makes it easy to connect to her.

“She is the moral compass, she says and does things that people are fearful of doing. I think that is why people love her.”

The current season ended on a cliff hanger and with the show only returning in March, I tried to get some teasers but Taraji didn’t budge.

“All I want to know is who is in that casket,” says Taraji, adding: “All I can say is that you just have to watch it.”


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