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Speaking objectively, Empire is the kind of hit that FOX  hasn’t seen in quite a while. Ratings are climbing every single week as the story of a hip-hop dynasty unfolds before our eyes. Some reports say it may even end its first season run as the most watched drama on television.

Beyond the general setting, hip-hop focus,  approaches to homosexuality and the family dynamic’s relationship with the music business, the main hooking quality of Empire is undoubtedly its actors. Never mind that the Lyon family are a nuanced and intriguing African-American family, the likes of which aren’t seen on cable TV often, but the undeniable breakout star of Empire thus far has to be Cookie, played by hard-working actress Taraji P. Henson. 

Henson’s career has bounced back and forth between television and film since the late 90s, and she’s remained a supporting player for much of that time. Her characters in films like Baby Boy, Hustle and Flow, and others tend to have a mixture of skill, determination, and a fiery attitude that has become her trademark. She’s brought all of that and more to the role of Cookie. Here are eight roles that prepped Taraji to step into the shoes of the musically inclined fire-starter that is Cookie on Empire. 


Yvette in Baby Boy 

Shug in Hustle & Flow 

Sharice in Smokin’ Aces 

Vernell in Talk To Me

Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 

April in I Can Do Bad All By Myself

Lauren in Think Like A Man/Think Like A Man Too

Wife in Common’s “Testify” video 

Dylan “CineMasai” Green is a movie geek, hip-hop aficionado, and pita chip enthusiast. Find him on Twitter.


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8 Times Taraji P. Henson Played Cookie Before ‘Empire’ Even Existed  was originally published on