Taraji P. Henson Was "Gutted" When She Only Took Home $40K for Her Role in Benjamin Button — And Now She Knows Her Worth
"I've proven myself, this is the biggest show you've ever had in a long time or whatever. You gotta get me my money."
Taraji P. Henson is getting real. The Empire actress is known for her boisterous, fun-loving personality: bubbly and downright hilarious during every award show, red carpet, and talk show appearance. But she's just like everyone else — and sometimes she just wants to wallow.
On this week's episode of Ladies First with Laura Brown, the Hidden Figures actress is opening up about therapy, mental health, and what she does to cope.
"I have a therapist, so she gives me exercises and things that I can do, and then there's some days when I just be like, I want to be dark, I don't give a shit," Henson tells InStyle's editor in chief Laura Brown. "I'mma stay on a sofa. I'mma drink my wine, and I'mma eat my Cheetos."
Everyone has those days — especially almost a full year into worldwide lockdown. But she's also reminding us that it's OK to have bad days, because you can pick yourself up tomorrow. "I know that it's energy that I'm just letting run through me, because I know that's not going to be me tomorrow," she tells Brown. "I just have to be honest with myself. Very honest. 'How do you feel today? Don't force yourself to do something if you don't feel like it.'"
Taraji P. Henson on Mental Health: Episode 13: February 23, 2021
Duration: 33:44 minutes
This podcast may contain cursing that would not be appropriate for listeners under 14. Discretion is advised.
And some days, she also doesn't have it in her to be Cookie, her well-known Empire character.
"Cookie's retired," she says. "I have to get back to me. I've got my own issues. I don't want the character's issues and mine all the time."
But the actress has earned the right to not want to be synonymous with a single character; she has range, after all, from Empire to romcom What Men Want to the 2008 film that launched her to stardom, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for which she received an Academy Award nomination. But her flawless and critically acclaimed performance didn't earn her a paycheck she truly deserved. Stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett earned millions for their roles, and when it was all said it done and taxes and her team were paid, Henson says she only made around $40,000. The single mom says that covered her young son's school tuition at the time — and not much more.
"I felt like what I was asking, at that time of my career, was fair to the ticket sales that I would contribute to this big film. [The studio] wouldn't do it... and then I was gutted." But the actress says that helped her realize her worth and start standing up for herself in her career — which has also had its challenges, because she then bumps up against the 'strong Black woman' stereotype, which she says can be unfair even if it's well intentioned.
"I understand why we took that on, Black women being the bottom of the totem pole, never being seen," she said. "I understand, but it's when others go, 'Yes, strong Black woman!' and then it dismisses us ... Then if my child or somebody I know is gunned down in the streets, I'm supposed to be strong through that? I'm not allowed to be angry? I'm not allowed to be pissed off?" It's dehumanizing, she says; "I can't say [anything back] because you've taken everything from me. I'm not allowed to feel that? I'm just supposed to be strong?"
She raises similar points about "Black girl magic," too. "I'm not a fairy," she says. " I get it. It's sweet, but baby, I'm not a fairy. I don't have magic dust."
Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. And tune in weekly to Ladies First with Laura Brown hosted by InStyle's editor in chief Laura Brown, who speaks to guests like Michelle Pfeiffer, Emily Ratajkowski, Cynthia Erivo, Naomi Watts, La La Anthony, Ellen Pompeo, Rep. Katie Porter, and more to discuss current events, politics, some fashion, and, most importantly, the major firsts in their lives.