New York — Taraji P Henson is on a mission: To take her brand global following the success of Fox's hit show Empire — and her breakout character Cookie Lyon.
"I am tired of Hollywood telling me what black people can't do overseas and what can't sell overseas, and black women can't do this overseas," Henson says. "Well, I am over there and they know who I am; and they knew me before Cookie."
Empire debuted in January with 9.9 million viewers and ended its first season run with 17.6 million viewers for the finale, the most watched show that week, according to the Nielsen ratings.
With Emmy nominations set for July 16, the 44-year-old actress, the 2015 ambassador for the American Black Film Festival that just completed its four-day run in New York, says she isn't focused on awards.
"That's not my driving force. I respect the awards and I am always honoured when I am recognized, but that's not really why I got into the business," Henson says. "Art is very powerful. It can touch and change lives, and that's what I am about with my talent."
Henson recently talked with The Associated Press about Empire.
What's the formula for the success of "Empire" and how the show's viewership continued to grow throughout the season?
Networks started underestimating the audience. They started believing that appointment television was dead. But we proved that if you give the audience good content they will watch, and I think that is what you are seeing. There's no special formula. There is no magic trick that we did. We just got an incredible cast, incredible writers; we deal with very diverse subject matter, subject matter that makes you think, that makes you ruffle feathers.
How important is it to address delicate subjects, such as homosexuality in the African-American community?
Well it's very important to talk about any subject matter that deals with people not being afraid of being who they are. When we are born we do not get the luxury of saying, 'God I want white skin,' or 'I want to be straight,' or 'I want to be a woman,' you just get what you get, and your journey in life and how you decide to walk through that journey is what life is about and how you're going to move and affect people through your story.
What can we expect for next season?
They are going to deal with a lot of the past, and this is something that I requested. What happened with Cookie in the 17 years she was locked away from her family? How did Lucious become — some people want to call him this monster — but people are the way they are because of their circumstances and so we just want to delve a little bit more into how these people became who they are.