Before taking Hollywood by storm or becoming “Cookie” on Empire, Taraji P. Henson worked many jobs to fund her dreams. The actress’s “Hustle & Flow,” coupled with tenacity and ambition, was indeed tested along her journey. During a recent appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show, Henson recalled a few of the jobs she’s had and some of the trying experiences endured.
Born in Washington D.C., Taraji P. Henson’s quest into acting almost did not happen, had she given up after being rejected. The performing arts high school of her choice did not accept her, leaving her to feel she did not have the abilities. But as the Hidden Figures actress beautifully stated, “a no doesn’t mean it’s the end. It’s just a no from that place.”
Acting took on more significance in Taraji P. Henson’s life when she enrolled at Howard University. According to an interview with Vanity Fair, the Screen Actors Guild Award-winner had quite a busy schedule. To pay her way through college, Henson details waking early in the morning to work a job at the Pentagon. When asked why she chose a job there, the actress explained that she had a $1000 debt to the previous university she attended. To acquire her transcript to transfer to the HBCU, “I needed a job,” Henson said to the American Idol winner.
Seeing as though she had family ties in the government, Henson could get into the “stay in school” summer program at the Pentagon. From there, she would attend classes as a full-time student during the middle of the day. The nighttime would find Taraji P. Henson working as the entertainment on a “small dinner cruise called the Spirit of Washington,” specifically as a “singing-dancing waitress.” But that wasn’t the extent of Taraji P. Henson’s gifts. Another side hustle of hers to help pay for college was charging $20 to do acrylic nails, which she taught herself to do.
When Taraji P. Henson took her talents to Los Angeles in 1996 to pursue her dreams, the jobs didn’t stop there. She spent around two years auditioning while working office jobs in the process. Seeing that she had a degree, Henson also picked up substitute teaching. But during that gig, Taraji P. Henson described to Clarkson that a fourth-grader “threw a chair” at her and called her “the B-word.” According to the actress, she did not take the action nicely. “I was like, ‘throw another chair, you gon’ meet me outside at three o’clock,” claimed Henson. “I’m that kind of teacher!”
Years of pushing through led her to minor television roles on Smart Guy, Sister Sister, and Felicity before starring in her breakout role in Baby Boy. Henson was later nominated for an Academy Award in 2009 for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In 2015, she became the first Black actress to win Best Actress in a Drama Series at the Critics Choice Television Awards.