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Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis and Other A-List Actresses Talk Race, Sexism, Nudity, Aging in Hollywood

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032915_THR_DramaActress0496Six award-winning actresses, Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis, Lizzy Caplan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Lange and Ruth Wilson – are seated at The Hollywood Reporter’s Roundtable and they talk about everything they have had to face as women, as aging actresses, as women of colour, as not-so-skinny women and more through their journey in Hollywood.

Read excerpts below.

Taraji P. Henson

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On Cookie Lyon becoming Iconic: I hate that b*. She’s stolen my identity! (Laughter.) My friends don’t want to talk to me unless it’s about Cookie. Cookie scared the hell out of me. Just before I got the role, I’d said, “F— it all, I’m going back to theater.” I felt lazy and like I needed to sharpen the tools. So I did theater at The Pasadena Playhouse. Then my manager said,“You have to read this script.” I’m like, “Hip-hop? Oh my God, what are they trying to do? Fox is going to pick this up? This isn’t HBO?” And then I got nervous and started pacing the floor. “Oh my God, Cookie is bigger than life. You will love her or hate her.” Empire has forced people to have conversa – tions that they were afraid to have. And that is what art is supposed to do. I just didn’t know it was going to shake things up this much! (Laughs.)

On improvising with Cookie lines: A lot of people think those came from a woman I know, but actually Cookie is based on my dad. You either loved him or you hated him because he was always speaking truth. The one line I said in the show about someone’s hair smell – ing like “goat ass” was his. Once I didn’t wash my hair for two weeks because it kept the curl better when it was dirty. We were on a public bus, and he grabbed my head and asked, “Why does your head smell like goat ass?” in front of everybody. I learned the lesson. I washed my hair. Thanks, Dad. See, everything happens in life for a reason.

On considering quitting acting: High school was the only time I ever can remember [thinking about] quitting. I auditioned for Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., and didn’t get accepted. At that age, their word was law. It meant I couldn’t act! So I went to college to be an electrical engineer. I don’t know why I did that — I still count on my fingers, and I failed calculus with flying colors. But then I rerouted my life — enrolled at Howard University, took up theater and studied the craft. I felt like I was armored enough to come out to Hollywood. And I knew that I would get told “no” a million times.

Viola Davis

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On playing the sexy Annalise Keating: There was absolutely no precedent for it. I had never seen a 49-year-old, dark-skinned woman who is not a size 2 be a sexualized role in TV or film. I’m a sexual woman, but nothing in my career has ever identified me as a sexualized woman. I was the prototype of the “mommified” role. Then all of a sudden, this part came, and fear would be an understatement. When I saw myself for the first time in the pilot episode, I was mortified. I saw the fake eyelashes and, “Are you kidding me? Who is going to believe this?” And then I thought: “OK, this is your moment to not typecast yourself, to play a woman who is sexualized and do your investigative work to find out who this woman is and put a real woman on TV who’s smack-dab in the midst of this pop fiction.

On nudity in Hollywood: It’s courageous because even when you see sex scenes in the theater, it’s like, “OK, she’s been to the gym four times today.” I refuse to drink a smoothie for breakfast to get down to a size 2. It’s just not going to happen with me. I’ve done a couple of sex scenes in How to Get Away With Murder, even one where was I thrown up against the wall, and I’m like, “I really don’t want to get thrown up against the wall anymore.” I threw my back out! (Laughter.) I had to just allow myself to be uncomfortable. I’m not going to stand in front of a mirror, or else Viola will kick in and go, “OK, my titties are saggy and I have stretch marks.

On considering quitting acting: I felt that way before I even started. I didn’t know how to get into the business. The only thing I had was a desire, and people thought I had talent. But then what? How do you get a job? How do you audi – tion? I didn’t come from people who could pay my bills. So I dove in. When your passion and drive are bigger than your fears, you just dive. I’ve been on my last.

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Read up more from their interviews here.

Watch part of the roundtable below:


Adesola is the BellaNaija Head of Content and Digital Ventures. She is a BN stan.. Yes, things are that serious for her when it comes to BellaNaija.com. She's a lover of gist, novels, music, and food. She's constantly trying not to take life for granted. She spends most of her time either keeping up with the world on the Internet or sharing some acquired knowledge about digital media. She is passionate about using her voice to speak against injustice, especially towards women. To communicate with her directly, you can hit her up on: Instagram - @adesola.au Twitter - @Adesola_AU

19 Comments

  1. bruno FIERCE

    June 11, 2015 at 9:36 am

    so bellanaija its only the black women and their interviews that matter, what of the remaining actresses and their interviews. is it because they are white. pls all women whether white black asian tall short have the same problems and issues. I really wanted to know what jessica lange (the supreme) had to say about aging and sexism and all that stuff.

    lizzy caplin is my kind of woman. she is beautiful to death. my lord!!!! I think I’m the only person in nigeria that watches the show, masters of sex. the show is too matured and complex for the average nigerian to understand. lol

    • Tuu

      June 11, 2015 at 10:10 am

      Thank you, I was gonna say the same thing. Why pick only the black women?

    • Anonymous

      June 11, 2015 at 10:17 am

      “the show is too matured and complex for the average nigerian to understand”. Really Bruno…Really? What an eejit.

    • Ann

      June 11, 2015 at 11:03 am

      Because this is a nigerian blog and of course, they’ll pick black actresses because they look like bella naija’s audience which is predominantly black women. The video is right there if you want to watch the rest. Also, no, white and black women do not face the same problems. There are quite a variety of white women playing a host of different characters but it’s much harder for black actresses to break in. White actresses don’t have to face racism, black actresses do. This is not a utopia.

    • Akpeno

      June 11, 2015 at 6:16 pm

      Because Bruno it is easier to find the white actresses interviews plastered all over the internet.. For our black ladies we need to search a little harder to find our black actresses being interviewed and shown in a positive way.

    • natu

      June 11, 2015 at 8:28 pm

      I love masters of sex. It is so informative. I can’t wait for HTGAWM to return in the fall.

    • polypoly

      June 11, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      if you wanna know more about Jessica Lange, go on over to the HollywoodReporter.com. They chose to feature two actresses of the group, its their discretion to highlight the actresses that will pick the interest of their blog audience.

      Masters of Sex – yes oh, u are the only one in nigeria that watches the show illegally….LOL!! aren’t you just a band wagoner? you are one of those that watch these shows illegally online but wanna form like you are a showtime subscriber. tah, na ur type??
      oya continue, mr matured and complex fish brain….hiss

      Black women always keep you pressed, geez!! don’t be upset we get all the D that u thirst over. hahahaha…oya, time to leave the cyber café and go rest ur fingers,

  2. Jumoke

    June 11, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Gosh, I am waiting for the day Nigerian actresses will sit round a table like this and sound intelligent, best of all look normal and professional. No weaves on fleek or face beaten up to clownish levels and too tight dresses. This interview was a breath of fresh air, I didn’t want the video to stop. See them looking relaxed, with presence and substance to them. Worthy of emulation. No rumours of runs girl, who is sleeping with that governor or married to that dinosaur grandpa, or snatching what I don’t know or red carpet whores, who we don’t know what they do exactly. We don’t know of their craft, popular for the sake of and possessions you can’t trace to source of income. Even the so called “classy” ones, when have they worked last. These women are in their late thirties and forties, I mean, Viola is almost 50 and they are still killing it. Maggie is a phenomenal actress that truly hasn’t gotten the buzz that she deserves, when awon over exposed Lupita have done only one movie worth mentioning. Actresses truly worth their salt. Our journey is still far in Nollywood. Women have used it as a stepping stone to runs. Sigh, sigh, sighing

  3. prince

    June 11, 2015 at 10:47 am

    That’s my Cookie Lyon. amazing woman. I started loving her from Not Easily Broken.

  4. Debee

    June 11, 2015 at 10:47 am

    For once I agree with Bruno, Bella the other interviews should have been put up.

    • Below average

      June 11, 2015 at 11:39 am

      But yet you people complain when BN post certain things as they “have nothing to do with Nigerians”.. Make up your minds.
      This is a Nigerian blog and whilst I embrace diversity, I don’t see any reason why the other interviews should be posted. Go to E! Online, People… Infact any other website and get your fix there.

      Thank you BN for celebrating women who have faced real struggles and came out on top. (I’m not saying white actresses don’t experience difficulties too but you know what I mean)

      Taraji has really come a long way from Baby Boy. So happy for her

  5. cindy

    June 11, 2015 at 11:50 am

    “I failed calculus with flying colours” – that’s me right there?

  6. Naked

    June 11, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Lol @ i failed calculus with flying colours. Taraji has one of the best body structure a woman could have. For Viola, that woman is super talented, i mean she can act and fit into any role.

  7. ednutey

    June 11, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Give me some Viola n Taraji anyday!!! Truly representing that being an actress is a an Art and a Craft that should be horned…who wlda taught Taraji went that far with education…and yet being an actress is what she’s really good at…our Nollywood actresses have whatever thay have and they think its by releasing photoshoot everyother day that makes them actresses….issorait

  8. benito

    June 11, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    Looking to see if Catlyn Jenner was on there. Since It’s all over the place.

  9. http://xplorenollywood.blogspot.com

    June 11, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    The Hollywood reporter does it for me every time i watch it, i wonder, #whatif the nigerian movie industry looked pass all the glit and glam and focus on the other things that plague them. @Jumoke, you are right, we still have a pretty long way to go, but who knows, watch my link and you just might be surprised.

  10. I watch MOS tooo

    June 11, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    @bruno. I watch masters of sex tooo. Most Nigerians watch it, but I don’t know the type of friends u hang out wih sha. Keep ur mind opened bro and stop concluding on maters. Tsk

  11. Adain

    June 12, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    The shade of her face VS her body. Ugh. Why she no wear {long/short] sleeved outfit?

  12. cryingneversolvedanything

    June 13, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    Nigerians always steady caping for white people who wouldn’t even give a damn if you lived. Representation matters, Nigeria is a black country and when we see black women achieving we as well feel we can. Do you think people in Sweden would have Taraji and Viola’s interviews together with the other white women? Every demographic maintains its lane so why should bellanaija be reprimanded to doing the same? A white woman’s struggle is nothing compared to a black woman’s. Hell, some even get paid more than black men in the same job doing the same work. Their struggle has never been and would never and can never be the same as black women. So thank you bellanaija for this. These women deserve the shine you gave to them. The overwhelming white has the white actresses covered.

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