At 5-foot-5 Taraji P. Henson is a short fuse to an explosive personality. The Golden Globes award winner is almost swallowed up by her chair as she waits to speak with press about her new movie, Proud Mary. There is a noticeable chill in the studio but when she starts to speak about her new film, Taraji's smile is a warm and welcoming icebreaker.
“I think you should go see Proud Mary because you haven’t seen an African-American woman in a role like this in a long time, and it’s due. It’s due,” she says of the action thriller where she plays the titular assassin who finds herself on the bad side of a crime family. “This is definitely a film about redemption. It’s never about where you start in this journey called life, it’s about where you end. I don’t care what mistakes you’ve made, what dark secrets you hold, it’s not until you face the man in the mirror. And when you’re ready to do that the world will be ready to receive you and forgive you. Humans are very forgiving. We can be.”
Named for Tina Turner’s 1970 cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 song, Proud Mary is a full-circle moment for Taraji, who also serves as the films Executive Producer.
“I’ve never met Tina Turner but I have her pictures framed in my house. She’s everything to me. She is such a hero, such a heroine. I used to sing ‘Proud Mary’ when I was a singing/dancing waitress on The Sprit Of Washington. It was my solo. It’s funny how life comes full circle. It’s crazy.”
There are two things Mary knows well, her guns and her liquor. And while Taraji has played some tough characters before, we’ve seen nothing like Mary.
“Mary is more dangerous because she can shoot you at point blank range and you wouldn’t see it coming. Sharice, eh, not threatening. She’s from afar,” she says of her sniper character from 2006’s human heist film, Smokin’ Aces. She also confirms that she knows her way around a gun range, but doesn’t make a habit of drinking Hennessy straight from the bottle.
“She’d just been shot, so she needed it fast,” Taraji says of the scene from the trailer. “There wasn’t time to pour in the glass and drink it with the pinky up.”
But later that evening there is plenty of time to drink from glasses at a special dinner thrown by Hennessy in her honor. Between bites of lobster, Taraji told the attendees how she approaches each role and keeps them unique.
“I can’t judge the characters I portray. My job is to find the why and humanize them,” she says. “I look for those roles to scare me. That means I’m working.”
Keep working, Taraji.
Proud Mary is in theaters January 12.
(Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images)