With an Oscar nomination and a hit TV show on her resume, Taraji P. Henson is doing pretty well professionally.
“People thought I was crazy,” Henson said about leaving a lucrative job in Washington, D.C., to pursue a career in Hollywood.
At the time, Henson had graduated from Howard University and was working as a supervisor on a five-star dining cruise prior to moving to California at age 26 with her son Marcel, who is now 20.
“My dad knew that acting was my calling,” says Henson. “One day, he looked at me and said, ‘How do you expect to catch fish on dry land?’ So I moved out here with my son with $700 in our pocket.”
The gamble proved to be a winning one as Henson nabbed a role alongside her fellow “Empire” castmate Terrence Howard in the critically acclaimed “Hustle & Flow” as well as scoring an Academy Award nomination for playing Brad Pitt‘s mother in 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
Despite the payoff, success did not come easy for Henson.
“You just have to stay the course and not getting distracted or compare yourself to others. You have to really stay focused and stay grounded,” she said while admitting to producing theater productions with friends when opportunities were few and far between.
“I wasn’t in California to party and go to clubs. “I just kept myself immersed in the craft of acting so that when opportunity struck, I would be ready.”
As for “Empire,” the show was a project that Henson knew had quality behind it.
“I just knew we had something special,” she said in reaction to her first time reading the script for the hit Fox drama. “This is what happens when you have great material and a studio that’s behind it and ready to take a risk – it was the perfect storm.”