Taraji P. Henson has had numerous parts in which she shoots a gun, but her lead role in “Proud Mary,” which opens Friday, is a first: She plays a hit woman.
The “Empire” actress who made mathematics seem cool in “Hidden Figures” is now donning black leather and disguises, carrying an arsenal that would make John Wick proud and driving a Maserati on jobs working for an organized crime family in Boston.
You know, she was “workin’ for the man ev’ry night and day. … never lost one minute of sleepin’ … Worryin’ ’bout the way things might have been.”
Until her life turns around when she crosses paths with a young boy after a hit goes bad. The film’s teasers highlight action that we haven’t seen from Henson until now, and the posters hark back to a time when blaxploitation was the new kid on the block.
Henson, an executive producer on the film, chatted about her latest endeavor of female empowerment. The conversation has been edited for space and clarity.
Q: The film is one of empowerment at a time when it’s needed. Did you plan this?
A: No, that’s just the way of the universe. It orders up the things that it needs when it’s the time. So I couldn’t have planned this better myself.
This movie is dealing with taking your power back and not becoming a victim. This woman wants out of a lifestyle that she is sick of. She has a bunch of men telling her she can’t leave; well guess what? She takes the power back.
As far as me, the actress in the game? This movie speaks to an African-American woman of a certain age carrying a film like this, even being offered a role like this — this hasn’t happened since the ’70s.
Q: Why haven’t we seen a movie like this since then?
A: They don’t see the money. No one is smart enough to see the dollars in it. But they’re going to see it, though.
Q: Did you envision being an action star when you started in the industry?
A: Who doesn’t envision that? That’s where the fun is, that’s where the checks are. Who doesn’t want to play a badass? Come on … that’s the coolest character.
Q: Did you base Mary on any particular person?
A: Of course, I had to channel who came before me and that’s Pam Grier. I just made her real, I made her honest.
They don’t have a lot of female hit women out there, so I had to research men and I came across this guy called Iceman (Richard Kuklinski) who was very interesting to me. I liked him, he did horrible things, but there’s something about him that I liked.
And I guess that’s what made him a perfect hired killer because you know, he had to make close up, point-blank kills — he didn’t use a knife or gun all of the time, sometimes it was a needle on the dashboard. It was very interesting.
Q: Who is your favorite action star?
A: I like Keanu Reeves and Liam Neeson. I like all the Bonds. My favorite is Daniel Craig because he turned it up — he gave me grit and edge and he made it sexy. Idris (Elba) will be great as Bond, or me.