- Taraji P. Henson, who’s promoting her partnership with American Express and its #ExpressThanks campaign, spoke to Insider about how she spent her first big paycheck, and how she’s tried to lessen the gender pay gap in Hollywood.
- The “Empire” star said that she paid off “all my student loans” with just two paychecks.
- She’s also been outspoken about pay disparities and told us that she’s “going to keep fighting.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Taraji P. Henson opened up about what drives her to be generous to her colleagues, how she spent her first big paycheck, and how she’s tried to lessen the gender pay gap in Hollywood.
“I look forward to treating employees and I look forward to treating people that work for me because I want them to know how much they mean to me and how appreciated they are and how much I need them,” the 49-year-old actress and entrepreneur, who’s promoting her partnership with American Express, told Insider on March 6.
Henson was in attendance for the company’s pop-up at New York City’s Grand Central Station, which was installed in honour of National Employee Appreciation Day and its #ExpressThanks campaign. The “Empire” star said that partnering with American Express was “a no-brainer” because she does good deeds regularly.
Henson said that whether she’s as an employee or an employer, she always tries to make people feel appreciated
“On the set of ‘Empire,’ we have over 230 cast and crew members,” Henson explained. “I get food trucks for them. I also look out for the extras because I was an extra once. I know sometimes the extras are treated differently. I know the struggle. Like, ‘Extras only eat this food while everybody eats this food.’ That makes you feel less than.”
The actress continued: “Whenever I’m on a project and we have a lot of extras, I always get them a food truck and I say, ‘Get as much as you want.'”
Henson also told us that she gives gifts to her colleagues when she completes projects.
“Whether it’s a movie or television show, I buy the entire cast and crew wrap gifts, just to let them know that I enjoyed working with them and appreciated all of their hard work,” she said. “It’s not easy, what we do. We spend more time with our colleagues than our family, so we should appreciate each other.”
Henson added: “It’s just how I live my life in general. I love to let people know that they’re special and they’re important because you never know what a person is going through. Just that simple gesture could turn their mood around.”
The actress also said that she doesn’t look for things in return – though she appreciates when fans and peers give her positive feedback about her performances – and oftentimes will treat herself to “a lot of stuff.”
“I like playing Santa Claus, I really do.”
Henson’s come a long way since her earliest roles in Hollywood, and she found a useful way to spend her first major paycheck
Henson, who first attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University before transferring and graduating from Howard University, told Insider that she was able to pay off “all my student loans” with just two paychecks.
In the late ’90s, Henson landed roles on shows like “Sister, Sister,” “ER,” and “Smart Guy.” The following decade, she earned praise for her parts as Yvette in “Baby Boy” (a role that Henson said she’s frequently recognised for), Shug in “Hustle and Flow,” and Queenie in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Henson’s part in “Benjamin Button” (as the adoptive mother of the titular character, played by Brad Pitt) earned her an Oscar nomination for best performance by an actress in a supporting role.
She has since starred in movies like “What Men Want” (a gender-flipped variant of the 2000 film “What Women Want”) and “Hidden Figures,” in which she played real-life late mathematician and NASA employee Katherine Johnson.
Nowadays, Henson is known for her award-winning role as Cookie Lyons on Fox’s “Empire,” which is currently in its sixth and final season.
“The best career advice I’ve ever been given was to never give up,” Henson said. “Never quit.”
Henson has been outspoken about pay disparities in the entertainment industry
“I know we’re talking about it more,” the actress said when asked if she’s noticed a difference in the pay gap in Hollywood. “But I haven’t experienced people of power on the opposite side of the table reaching across saying, ‘No, you deserve…’ I haven’t experienced that. I know some women have, but I haven’t. So I’m waiting for that.”
In her 2016 memoir titled “Around the Way Girl” and other interviews, Henson has spoken about the discrepancy between her pay on “Benjamin Button” and that of costars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Henson also said that she was able to negotiate for a salary higher than what she was originally offered.
Henson told us that she’s going to be persistent about demanding the pay she thinks she deserves.
“I’m going to keep fighting,” she told us. “I can fight until I’m blue in the face. Until I have the people on the other side saying, ‘OK,’ I’m just a loudmouth fighting. And I’m not just a loudmouth. I’m really fighting for something that’s gonna benefit us all.”
The actress also shared some advice for people trying to negotiate higher wages in their fields.
“Know the power in the word ‘No,'” she said. “Know your worth, and if they’re not paying your worth, go where somebody will, because they are out there. They will pay you for your worth.”
Outside of acting, Henson launched her own hair care line called TPH by Taraji
The brand was created when the actress noticed that there weren’t enough products that focus on scalp care, which is literally where hair health begins. All of the products, from serums to defining gels, cost less than $US20.
“It’s very affordable,” Henson told us. “My hair care line starts with scalp care first and I think that’s what people are taking to, because you can have a shampoo and another great conditioner and another great pudding or sauce for your hair, but it starts with scalp care and I think that’s what’s taking. I don’t think anyone has ever paid attention to scalp care.”
Henson has a few projects in the works, including some that touch on mental health
The actress will star alongside “The Office” alum Ed Helms in “Coffee & Kareen,” a Netflix movie that’s set for release on April 3. She’ll also voice a villain named Belle Bottom in “Minions:The RiseofGru” this summer.
“And I have a couple of projects that I’m producing that I can’t really talk about right now, but they’re all geared towards mental health,” she said.
Henson has spoken candidly about her own struggles with mental health, specifically in regards to depression and anxiety.
She also launched The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in 2018 (inspired and named after her late father) in an effort to end the stigma surrounding mental wellness.
“Why shouldn’t we talk about it?” she said. “We have to. People are losing their lives in those dark secrets. So, we gotta expose it so people can live freely and be OK with not being OK. This world is a doozy.”