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One of the main reasons why we can’t get enough of “Empire” is because of Taraji P. Henson’s portrayal of Cookie Lyon: The tell-it-like-it-is matriarch of the family, who after 17 years behind bars, has returned to get what’s owed to her. It might be one of Henson’s best performances, and every time she comes back on-screen, we’re sucked in by the sassiness, the bright furs and the bold prints.

Henson recently chatted with Vogue about the story behind one of TV’s strongest leading ladies, and how similar the starlet is to her popular character.

Why People Connect With Cookie So Much

I think it’s because she’s the truth; she speaks the truth. You know exactly what you’re going to get from her. She is what she is—I wish everybody was like that. She’s free, she’s in the now, she says exactly what she feels, and I know most people wish they could all be so bold. She’s the moral compass.

Which People From Hip-Hop Culture Influenced Cookie?

She’s more than hip-hop: She’s everywoman, she’s a mother, she’s a family woman, a wife, a ride-or-die. She made a sacrifice to break the cycle of poverty, and that makes her an everywoman. Is she influenced by Foxy Brown? Certainly. That’s where a lot of her style comes from—Salt-N-Pepa, all of that. That era of hip-hop was her heyday, those are the woman[sic] she identifies with.

The Influence Of Lil Kim On Taraji’s Portrayal Of Cookie

Kim is everything. Today it’s Nicki Minaj, but Nicki Minaj got everything from Kim. Kim came on the scene and made everything change for women—she made it feminine and sexy and hardcore. She was a champion, and she’s certainly Cookie’s champion.

Cookie And Jamal’s Relationship

Once a mother; always a mother. I’m a mother in real life, so I don’t have to act. When it’s time to protect our child, as parents, we feel our kid’s pain harder than they do. I tried to explain that to my son. The closest he came to understanding was through his relationship with our dog. He said, I feel that way about Willy. We carry them for nine months. I could only imagine having a child that a father rejects.

I feel like Lucious rejects him out of fear. When he puts Jamal in the trash can, he wanted to throw him away before the world threw him away. He wanted to hide his son from everyone—the ugliness of being a black gay male to the world. Fear will do anything, and Cookie understands the pain on both sides. Cookie is never going to hate her child for being who he is, but she fears for his life, too, because he’s gay and black. It’s deep.

 

Whether Or Not Cookie Still Loves Lucious

Cookie loves him no matter what, because she knows he’s trying to do the right thing. He’s been an orphan since nine, so a lot of his actions are coming from that, having to survive in a really inhumane way, as a nine-year-old out on the street. I marvel at how he was able to do it. It’s how you look at it, and Cookie really knows him.

If There Are Similarities Between Taraji And Her Character

Some of it is me. I think with all of the characters I portray, there is a little bit of me. I have to pull from life experiences to make the words pop. With Cookie, I am a personality in real life, so we have that in common. But I don’t go flying off the handle in elevators. Like when she calls Jamal’s boyfriend La Cucaracha, or calls the cab driver a Pakistani. I don’t do that. I have the emotions in check.

Cookie has a lot of my dad’s character—the truth and the no-buffer. My dad was like that. I had to do a disclaimer before you met him. He don’t mean no harm, he’s just real, and that’s that. She did seventeen years in jail. What’s she gonna bite her tongue for? And that’s why people love her.

Her Hopes For Cookie

I hope that her seventeen years in jail weren’t in vain. I hope she really does become a major player in the company, because she knows what she’s doing. She’s smart enough to know how to go and get what she wants any way she can—you can’t handle no business dealing with thugs. She has the gift of gab, she’s smart, she’s passionate, and she cares. Who cares about music as much as she does?

 

And Cookie and “Empire” as a whole continue to win in the ratings. For yet another week, the ratings for the show have gone up (there has been no decrease in viewers since the pilot), and were the highest for Wednesday night. According to Entertainment Weekly, the show brought in 11.5 million viewers and had a 4.6 rating among the coveted 18-49 category. The show had a 56 percent increase in ratings compared to its lead-in show, the very played out, “American Idol.” The “Empire” can’t be stopped…

 

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