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A few years ago, it seemed that every time we turned around, Kerry Washington was looking flawless on a different magazine cover. It appears that Miss Washington has passed the baton to Empire’s Taraji P. Henson, who is clearly pop culture’s new favorite cover girl. Henson is featured in the August issue of W, which bears her sexiest magazine spread to date. Check out some highlights from her interview and outtakes from the photo shoot below.

On wanting to audition for the leading role in Precious:

“Lee wanted me for the thin, pretty teacher in Precious. And I was like, ‘Well, I want to play Precious—because that’s the role in this piece.’ Lee thought I was nuts. I was like, ‘Look, they turned Charlize Theron into a monster! I could be this girl! When I think about that now, it was such a Cookie move.

On wanting to return to film and being reluctant about accepting a role on “Empire”:

I was like, This is stupid. Hip-hop—dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. But then I started to think, Cookie is going to piss so many people off! She hits her son with a broom; she talks back. Clearly, this was a challenge.

On Cookie being a fan favorite:

They want Cookie. They see her heart. They see her intentions. And they love her style—her style is 17 years behind the fashion curve, which makes the clothes a character on the show. As Cookie grows, you’ll see her fashion grow. And people love that—she’s a work in progress. The only thing that never changes is her spirit: To me, Cookie is living, breathing, walking truth.

On critics who say Cookie poorly represents Black women:

When I hear that Cookie is a bad representation of Black women, I don’t get involved. Maybe Cookie makes you uncomfortable because she reminds you of yourself. People miss the bigger picture when they start judging.

On being a working actress and a single mom:

It was a struggle, but my son grew as my career grew. I never had a nanny—I did TV so I could be home with him. I wasn’t making my millions, but I was able to fulfill my dreams and be a mother.

Check out more photos from Taraji’s spread below and on the next page.

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