Screen Queens: Taraji P. Henson

When considering how to launch this new feature on TV's reigning queens, there were a few immediate candidates (whom we'll spotlight in the coming months). But one stood out above the rest: Taraji P. Henson.

As Cookie Lyon, she is the empress of Empire, often tearing scenes apart with the intensity of a hurricane, but also showing off her remarkable range by pulling way back in quieter — yet equally impactful — moments.

With a two-decade career in entertainment (including an Oscar nomination for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Henson's role on Empire wasn't her introduction to TV viewers. She's had several regular roles on both broadcast and cable series, and plenty of guest spots. Let's take a look back at the highlights.

 

The Beginning

As she launched her career, Henson appeared in some of the best and worst the late '90s had to offer:

In a 1997 episode of The Parent 'Hood (that also featured DA BRAT), Henson had no time for this boy's foolishness.

 

In a 1998 episode of Saved by the Bell: The New Class, Henson had no time for her friends' foolishness.

 

As an R.A. in a 1998 episode of Felicity, Henson had no time for Noel's foolishness.

 

Rite of Passage

With 264 episodes over 12 seasons, plus a handful of TV movies, dozens of high-profile actors and future stars visited Cabot Cove. Henson just made it into the mix in the third of the post-series TV movies, 2001's The Last Free Man. In it, Angela Lansbury and Phylicia Rashad investigate the case of a slave accused of murdering a plantation owner in the 1860s. Lansbury plays both Jessica and her own distant relative. Henson shows up as the accused man's secret wife. It's… a lot.

 

Law and Order

Henson's first major TV role came in The Division, a very Lifetime series that was heralded at the time as a comeback vehicle for Facts of Life's Nancy McKeon. But the crime drama also starred Parenthood matriarch Bonnie Bedelia, Felicity alum Amy Jo Johnson, and, as the token dude, a charismatic young actor named Jon Hamm. Henson was a main cast member during the second, third, and fourth seasons, through 2004.

 

Continuing his Boston-based legal franchise, super producer David E. Kelley launched Boston Legal in 2004. A spinoff of The Practice, the ABC series starred James Spader, Candice Bergen, William Shatner, and for its fourth season, Henson as Whitney Rome. Her first case at the firm was a custody battle over a nine-year-old bullfighter... because David E. Kelly.

 

In 2008, Henson joined the cast of Greg Berlanti's underrated legal dramedy Eli Stone as Angela, Patti's daughter. In the scene above, Henson goes head to head with the incredible Loretta Devine.

 

From 2011 to 2013, Henson co-starred as Detective Jocelyn Carter in the CBS drama Person of Interest. She left after the third season in one of those big TV shockers, but returned as a very special — and surprising — guest star during the fourth season.

 

Taking the Throne

And now we come to Empire. Cookie Lyon is the role of a lifetime, the biggest draw on 2015's most popular new series. And with that popularity came critical acclaim. Henson has earned two consecutive Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe, and a Critics' Choice Award, among others. This year, TIME named her to its 100 Most Influential People list, a few months after declaring Cookie the most influential fictional character of 2015.

As fierce and fabulous as Cookie is, Henson manages to ground her character in truth. It's an exceptional, multilayered performance, at times funny, terrifying, and touching. All hail the queen.

 

Who's your screen queen? Let us know in the comments below!

Comments

4 comments

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Sep 21, 2016 3:17PM EDT

I don't think I'll ever associate Amy Jo Johnson with anything but the Power Rangers.

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Sep 21, 2016 3:44PM EDT

At least give her Felicity!

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scotwotContributor
Sep 21, 2016 4:07PM EDT

Love this feature, I love Taraji P. Henson! This is such an interesting piece as I only know her from POI (I cried when she *left*) and Empire.

My Screen Queen, although I adore many, is Viola Davis - commanding yet vulnerable, I love, love, love her.

Great idea, guys! :)

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TelevisionFanboyContributor
Sep 22, 2016 10:35PM EDT

Awesome idea, I loves me some Taraji Henson. Although like scotwot, my experience with her acting is primarily from Person of Interest. My favorite television queen would have to be Glenn Close. Although she's also a prolific movie star, her television work has been excellent. Lauded in Sarah Plain and Tall, voicing Homer's mother Mona on the Simpsons, guest spots on Will & Grace/The West Wing, then her epic work on The Shield and Damages. Rounded off stylishly with a recent appearance as herself on Family Guy. Holding a lavish dinner party whilst intimidating Stewie Griffin.

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