Taraji P. Henson says it’s ‘mind-blowing’ to work with Vivica A. Fox on Empire

14 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Empire’ boss Lee Daniels fumes about race relations at Carnegie Hall season two screening.

If you’re unfamiliar with the musical stylings of Becky G, you’ll know her name after she appears on Empire season 2. The cast of the hit series “Empire” were tight-lipped about the drama that unfolds on the upcoming second season, but when it came to discussing secrets about the show before it had its launch earlier this year — they were revealing.”Where we are in America with race relations is an ugly place and it is time for us to blow the roof off this mother—-r,” he told a raucous standing room only crowd Saturday night at a Carnagie Hall screening of the “Empire” second season premier. “We are all one,” he shrieked to the nearly 3,000 people who had squeezed into the historic theater to get a sneak peek at the breakout Fox nighttime soap, which returns on Sept. 23.

Henson, Terrence Howard, creator Lee Daniels and other cast members from the top-rated Fox show “Empire” premiered the season two opener at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Saturday in front of a feverish audience. Howard entered the prestigious venue, where few from the hip-hop world have performed, with his fist up in the air and yelled “Empire!” as the audience applauded. The Lyons and their embattled music industry dynasty returns with Lucious (Terrence Howard) in prison, his three sons at one another’s throats and his scheming estranged-wife Cookie (Taraji P. But whatever lingering somberness there might have been regarding the date was quickly dispelled when all five floors of Carnegie Hall sang “Happy Birthday” to her, just a week before she competes for the Best Actress Emmy on Sept. 20. But after the juicy episode aired, the show’s producers and cast, including Jussie Smollett and Gabourey Sidibe, sat down for a Q&A that was hilarious and intense, but overall, in the show’s fashion, dramatic — curse words and all.

Fox screened the first episode of the season for a standing-room only crowd at New York’s Carnagie Hall – which was appropriate because the show already feels more saturated with a New York vibe than last season. Henson, Daniels and the cast spoke at length about how they were surprised that a series such as Empire had found success on prime-time television, or as Henson put it, “free TV.” The first season of the show, starring Howard as drug dealer-turned-rapper-turned-record label owner Lucious Lyon, has seen ratings grow each episode and its finale drew 17 million viewers. “I honestly thought, ‘This would be great. The “We Belong Together” singer will guest star on an upcoming episode of “Empire.” At a jam-packed after party following the screening, Rafael De LaFuente who plays Michael Sanchez, Jamal’s boyfriend on “Empire” admitted he’s into kissing his onscreen beau – another culturally-charged moment on the show. This could be the year, however, as Henson and Viola Davis (for How To Get Away With Murder) are up for the honor. “I just pray to God … and it’s not even about me. We will put this incredible work in the can and Fox would choke and put it on cable,” said Henson, who earned an Emmy nomination for playing Cookie Lyon. “And I get the call that the show is picked up.

Nearby, Ta’Rhonda Jones, who plays Cookie’s tough assistant, Porsha, revealed that she had been working in a nursing home kitchen in Chicago when she landed her role on “Empire.” “This is super crazy,” she said, noting the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. The episode picks up three months after last season’s finale, opening with a “Free Lucious” rally in Central Park with Cookie playing to the crowd, screaming: “How much longer are they going to treat us like animals?” With patriarch Lucious Lyons behind bars, last season’s power struggle between his sons has been dominated by the one who wanted to take over the hip-hop music moguls empire the least: middle son, Jamal (Jussie Smollett).

And that was so fun for me to play, because I love acting and I have yet to really pursue that until this opportunity came along and I felt in my gut that it was right and I just wanted to go for it. I hope I win,” Henson continued. “Just so we can get past this and we don’t have to say in 2020 or 2030 or 3000, ‘The first’ – I mean, come on, really,” she said, laughing. Are they crazy?’” “You want to do the work that’s going to challenge people to think and ruffle feathers and get people upset and spark intelligent conversations so that change can happen,” she continued. One of the best moments happens when Lucious is beamed into a conference room – if anyone could Skype from prison it would be Lucious – and he lets loose with an evil laugh. Empire creator and executive producer Lee Daniels was also on hand for Saturday night’s event, and he too is looking beyond this nomination. “I’ve been doing this for over three decades now, and never in my life would I ever … My kids are [in their late teens], and they take it for granted.

Henson also said Empire is more than just a TV series and called her and Howard’s characters, former drug dealers, “heroes in a very American way.” “’Cause you can judge [Cookie], you can say whatever you want about her, about Lucious, about what they did to get where they are, but at the end of the day, their sons are not statistics. In these next few episodes — and even stuff that I’m not going to be in but I was reading in the script — I was like, “I can’t believe this is going to go down. This is unprecedented, it’s unheard of.” He continued, “People talk about the numbers, but what they don’t talk about is that the [writers’] room is 99 percent black.

Smollett, who plays an openly gay singer and succeeded his father to run Empire Entertainment, said he auditioned for the role of Jamal by singing Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” a cappella. Following the Q&A, he and his TV brother, Bryshere “Yazz” Gray, went on to perform popular songs from the series, including “Drip Drop” and “You’re So Beautiful.” During the latter, Sidibe — whose screen credits include “Precious” and “American Horror Story” — joined the duo onstage. She whipped her hair back and forth, twirled and twerked. “You guys don’t understand, Lee is the first person in the entire world that has looked at me, looked my skin color, looked at my body, looked at my talent and said, ‘Perfect.'” “I walked in the door pretty blinded. You just have to audition.” And I’m like, “That’s fine!” So, I went through the entire audition phase; had to go to producers and directors and I earned the spot.

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