To The Empire: When Kundai Met Her Hero
It’s not every day that you get to be in the presence of your Queen. I learned a few days ago that you can never be too prepared to meet your spirit animal and even though I had stayed up all night from anxiety mostly, I still wasn’t ready. It’s safe to say that the entire room was awe-struck and we only spoke when spoken to, to avoid bumbling like fools. Being in their presence was an experience I have difficulty describing, and I am great with words! Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard are undoubtedly some of the most recognisable faces in the world, playing Cookie and Luscious Lyon, the hood hustler lovers turned power couple turned rivals on the hit show Empire on Fox.
The success of the show can be hugely attributed to the selection of the cast in these two characters. It came to be that Taraji was chosen first for the part of Cookie and it was at her insistence that Terrence play the part of her despicable yet strangely lovable husband in the series. Their chemistry is so real you can see why the dynamic of the characters flows perfectly between the two of them. “Terrence Howard owes everything to me” she joked. Taraji was clear in her reasoning as to why she thought Terrence would be ideal for the role stating how she thought this musical role was a perfect fit for Terrence because of his love of music. She remembered how he taught himself how to play guitar just over 10 years ago in Hustle and Flow to now playing multiple instruments, we also learned that he writes his own songs for the show. “Kiss my feet right now” is what she said in response his gratitude, priceless.
The show has been lauded by viewers believing that it shows a rare phenomenon in Black America where a family can rise to such esteemed success. Terrence, who clearly has a strong opinion on this particular criticism responded by saying that the impact of Empire as a show on the depiction of successful black people should not be looked at as a rare story but rather a real story. The show is about family, it is a drama, it has depth and layers, which he called “colours”, and that it is with these colours that a story could be fully told and understood. Taraji addressed this criticism saying that this show is a gateway to engage in real conversations that affect Black people that they do not speak about. She made a specific reference to the ‘Andre’ character and his bi-polar disorder and how she hopes that this will encourage people to seek the right help. Asides from all that deep stuff they were in agreement that the show is an accurate depiction of just how challenging the music industry can be and how they have to truncate months and months of work into 48 minute visuals which are engaging week by week.
The Lyon symbol, Terrence said, is a constant theme in the show. It is a revered creature that is a symbol of power, leadership and family. He broke it down like this, a male is the leader of his pride, he may have a great deal plenty of “others” but he is loyal to his Queen and despite the tenuous relationship Cookie and Luscious have, their dedication to their family goes without question.
Their approaches to perfecting their performance are different. Terrence BECOMES Luscious, taking on his character and fully immersing himself in a baptism like fashion to spit-shine his performance. Taraji calls him “Grumpalumpagus” when he’s in full Luscious on set she says. Her approach is different, she needs time away from Cookie because “I would go mad if I had to be Cookie all the time!”
When my time came to speak I could feel the breath leave my lips, I was shaking like an actual leaf. I had to pause to breathe. The first thing I said was “Taraji, I love you” and she said guess what? That she loves me too and YES, I DO BELIEVE HER. I have loved the Cookie character from the start of the show mainly because people that know me liken me to her in so many ways. A compliment I say but it’s only a thing a Cookie Monster would understand. Seriously, she’s my Beyonce. I asked her if she ever expected her character to supersede that of Luscious when she started? Her answer was no, she didn’t foresee it but she knows where it came from, adding on that she was very wary about accepting the role to begin with. Cookie’s success is a result of Taraji’s personal life experience which bleeds into the character and her training as an actress which is a craft she is fiercely dedicated to. “I love to play people!…give me the right make-up and I could be Becky.” It is really important to her that she be identified as much more than Cookie, she is a trained actress and she believes that while her role in Empire elevated her to more success, her craft is life to her, bottom line.
The Golden Globe winner will be releasing her autobiography that tells the story of how she left Washington DC with her son in hand to move to Hollywood, to becoming one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Influential People in the world. Her book will be released on October 11th 2016 along with her new Project ‘Hidden Figures’ where she plays a Rocket Scientist.
The pair is as funny off-screen as they are in front of the camera. I just scratched meeting my hero off my bucket list. The press conference ended with a room full of raised fists as Terrence cheered “To the Empire”, a fitting ending.