Ethan Hill—Redux
April 20, 2016

What I love most about Taraji P. Henson is that she’s fiercely loyal. During her audition for Empire, she told me she wouldn’t take the role unless Lucious was Terrence Howard. She didn’t have the job yet, but she was standing there fighting for Terrence. That was the moment I knew she was Cookie.

Taraji is the modern-day Bette Davis, touching audiences with her honesty and intensity. When you are on set with Taraji, she listens, but she also questions. She challenges everyone to go the extra step to get it right. She has a deep understanding of the human condition, and she displays it with her eyes—the pain, the happiness, the love, the laughter. She probably would have been a great silent actor, but then the world wouldn’t have had Cookie.

Before Empire, she was underappreciated by white America and Hollywood, while African Americans heralded her as our Meryl Streep. I’m so proud that Cookie has moved her into the zeitgeist. What Taraji has done with the role made the world finally appreciate who she is—quite simply, a tour de force on and off the screen.

Daniels is a director, writer and producer and co-creator of Empire

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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