TIME Television

Here’s the Real Reason Why Taraji P. Henson Almost Turned Down Empire

Taraji P. Henson plays Cookie on Empire. Chuck Hodes

...And it wasn't the homophobia storyline

Lee Daniels’ breakout hip-hop drama Empire (Wednesdays on Fox) draws more than 10 million people a week — thanks in large part to Taraji P. Henson. The actress plays Cookie, the scene-stealing ex-wife of a gangster-turned-record-exec (Terrence Howard) who’s coming for her share of the company after finishing a 17-year prison stint — that is, when she’s not hurling shoes and giving other characters a vicious tongue-lashing.

TIME caught up with the actress to talk about Cookie’s already-iconic style, her shadiest insults and the show’s take on political correctness.

TIME: Empire‘s huge ratings have risen steadily since its premiere, which is incredibly rare. Why do you think that is?
It’s making people think, making people upset, making people talk, and I don’t think you’ve had a show like this on primetime network television in a long time. This feels like a cable network show, but you get to watch it for free!

What are people most upset about?
Barack Obama.

You mean the scene in which one of Cookie’s sons calls Obama a sellout during a drunken rant?
It was to prove a point about how reckless young kids are nowadays. Some of them are out of control! They don’t understand hard work — what it took for that man to get in office. But people get so offended! It’s art, baby! People out there think like that. I’m sure our president doesn’t believe everyone in the world likes him. I’m not stupid enough to believe that about myself.

What’s it like playing a character who’s so not politically correct?
I like it! “Politically correct” is really BS. It’s not the truth. You’re forming it in the way so that you don’t offend anybody. Well, I’d rather deal with the truth. Tell me what it is. I’d rather know if you like me or not, for whatever reasons. Then I know what I’m dealing with!

Putting a character like Cookie on TV isn’t necessarily an endorsement of everything she says or does, either.
I think people get Cookie. She’s not a malicious person. She’s just real. She shoots straight from the hip, and I think the majority of people really respect that and like that and look up to it. Nine times out of 10 she’s right! It’s not like she’s flailing off at the mouth and saying dumb stuff.

People are saying Cookie is the Halloween costume of 2015 already.
Let me tell you something, they have been tweeting me pictures of the babies in Cookie swag. The women have already started getting ready. It’s like a Cookie craze. Terrence said, “You became an icon in two weeks.”

Which outfits do you wish you could take home?
All her stuff I want to take home because all of it is very expensive.

Even the animal prints?
As long as it fits and looks good and makes me feel like a woman, I’m all about it.

Cookie must be fun to play, but is it a challenge to make sure you don’t go too over-the-top?
I always have to rein her in. The writers are so excited because I’m so uninhibited — they write really big. I make a conscious effort to sit on it. What happens if you play her big all the time? Then she becomes a stereotype and no one cares.

Cookie drops some of the shadiest insults on TV. What’s your favorite?
Oh honey, there’s so much shade to come. So far, it’s booboo kitty. That’s like saying bitch without saying it. That’s the best shade you could throw right there.

What makes it good shade?
Somebody not sharp enough or not savvy enough might think, “Aww, she called me booboo kitty!” No, sweetie, that’s actually not what I called you.

Do you come up with your own insults?
Booboo kitty was mine. “Shut up, Dora!” was mine. I didn’t even think they would let me use it. I just ad-libbed it for the scene. Lee was like, “No, no, keep it! Say it every take!” They’re saying “Shut up, Dora!” is the new “Bye, Felicia.”

How much do you improvise?
I mean, I have Cookie. You can’t out-Cookie me. I know who this woman is. Terrence said it best: “Taraji will take what the writers write, and then she will take and dip it in some extra-special gravy sauce.”

When you play such an intimidating character, do people get scared of you on set?
Sometimes, but I am such a bubbly person between takes making everybody feel welcome. If there’s a scene where I really have to slice someone with the tongue and go off — because sometimes I black out and just go — then I’ll come and hug the person. “You know it’s just Cookie, it’s not me! Let me buy you a drink.”

So she’s your alter ego in a way.
She totally is my alter ego. She’s my Sasha Fierce to Beyoncé. You’re absolutely right.

My editor says I bring up Beyoncé too much in interviews, so thank you for sneaking her in.
Why not bring up Beyoncé? Shit, all hail the queen.

Terrence’s character says music saved his life. When did music help you through a hard time?
All of Mary J. Blige’s songs got me through every heartbreak. All of them. If it wasn’t for Mary J., I would probably be in a padded room. She speaks right to your soul, right to your heart.

This show has a lot to say about the state of the music industry. Do you even buy CDs anymore?
I download on iTunes because it’s so convenient. I Shazam everywhere. I could be anywhere. I’ll be in an Italian restaurant like, “What’s that?” I’ll Shazam it and download it right away. I do still collect wax.

What are you listening to these days?
I’m always concerned about what the young hip-hop kids have to say. What is their message, what are they talking about. Right who has my ear is J. Cole and a kid out of Brooklyn, Joey Bada$$. He’s so young, but he has such an old school hip-hop flavor about him.

Did you see the photo of Malia Obama wearing his group’s shirt?
I did! I was like, “Well I know she’s not on the ‘Gram, so how did that happen?”

He thinks his phone has been tapped.
It probably has now!

Why did you almost turn down Empire?
When I read the script, Terrence Howard wasn’t cast. I initially thought me and Terrence Howard. If it couldn’t be Terrence Howard, I didn’t want to do it. That’s why I almost turned it down. I just felt like I would have served the project better with my choice of leading man. Thank God they listened to me!

Sounds like a Cookie move.
That’s what Lee Daniels said. “She just Cookie’d me!”

Some articles suggested you were concerned about the homophobia storyline.
That didn’t play into my hesitation at all. In fact, that’s what made me want to do it. I hadn’t seen the subject matter addressed in our in-your-face let’s-talk-about-this manner. I welcome that part. That didn’t scare me. It was the president [comment]! That scared me. I also didn’t know how people would respond to Cookie. She’s so real and raw, and people like that you either hate or love. There’s really no middle ground because she acts 100 all the time, and some people can’t deal with that. At the end of the day, my job as the artist is to make them understand her. That’s why it’s important I dont play her big all the time. Like I said, if she’s a stereotype, no one cares. If you show why people are the way they are, people will have more compassion for that person.

Were you nervous about using a gay slur in one episode?
No! I have a lot a gay friends, okay? I was the art kid! I’m a drag queen, basically. So I understood that word, and I understood Cookie’s use of it. It wasn’t a term for gay at all. If anything, she was calling Lucious that, and that’s how I played it. I never played it like I’m using the F-bomb to degrade gay people. That was shade. That was total shade to Lucious. I also ad-libbed “Pretty hair, bitch, I see your son gets it from you,” but they cut it.

Before this show, you were content with not going back to TV. Why?
Just being stuck playing one character. When I did Person of Interest, I went in there not wanting to do a whole seven — you know, you sign for season sevens if it gets picked up and goes that long. I was really hesitant of doing that because I love to do film. When you get on a show that shoots for nine months out of the year, when am I going to have a chance to do a movie? That was always my concern. With this show I am not only getting a breakthrough character, I’m also getting an amazing schedule because we only shoot five months out of the year.

What about Empire lured you back?
The character, the script, the cast, the company. I mean, the producers! The fact that Fox was willing to take a chance and push the envelope. Being a part of great change, and being a part of history, really. We’re breaking records. This is something I felt all along when I read the script: “This is something special.” It was the same feeling when I read Hustle and Flow, and the exact same feeling when I read Benjamin Button. I think I’m dead on with my instincts. What do you think?

I’d say so. But you’re not worried about getting bored of Cookie in a couple of years?
I don’t think you can get tired of Cookie. The wardrobe is always fresh, the hair is constantly changing, she’s always evolving. She’s been away for 17 years. There’s a lot she needs to catch up on. She’s going to change a lot.


Boston Police Aid Search for Mystery Marathon Shovelers

Two men appear to have kept the finish line clear during blizzard

Boston police were trying to solve a mystery Wednesday: who shoveled of the finish line of the Boston Marathon route?

The quest has inspired its own hashtag — #WhoShoveledTheFinishLine — as locals try and figure out the mystery shoveler’s identity. Philip Hillman may be the responsible for the hunt. He photographed a man shoveling snow off the end of the Boston Marathon route.

Two Instagram photos of what appear to be two different men shoveling snow suggest that the deed was not a one-man job, however.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” Hillman told TODAY. “He maintained it for a little while, but it was in the middle of the blizzard. I had no idea it would affect people the way it has, and I’m happy it has touched as many people as it did.”

The city decided to maintain the paint that marks the finish line in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood following the 2013 attack on the city. This week’s blizzard covered Boston with more than two feet of snow.

Giving respect to the #BostonMarathon finish line. #blizzardof2015 #boylston #boston #cnnsnow

A photo posted by monkmpls (@monkmpls) on


TIME celebrities

Cabaret’s Joel Grey Comes Out: ‘If You Have to Put a Label On It, I’m a Gay Man’

Actor Joel Grey attends the 73rd Annual George Foster Peabody Awards at the Waldorf Astoria on May 19, 2014 in New York.
Actor Joel Grey attends the 73rd Annual George Foster Peabody Awards at the Waldorf Astoria on May 19, 2014 in New York. Debby Wong—Corbis

"All the people close to me have known for years who I am," Grey tells People

Broadway icon and award-winning actor star Joel Grey is speaking publicly about his sexuality for the very first time.

“I don’t like labels,” Grey tells People magazine, “but if you have to put a label on it, I’m a gay man.”

The 82-year-old won an Oscar and a Tony for his role as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret (Grey has also appeared on Private Practice and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) He was married for 24 years to actress Jo Wilderand and raised two children, a time period he calls the “happiest of my life.”

“All the people close to me have known for years who I am,” Grey says. “[Yet] it took time to embrace that other part of who I always was.”

The announcement kicks off a busy year for the actor: his memoir and a new photography book are due later in 2015.

Read more excerpts from the interview at People.


Former Stanford Swimmer to Be Charged with Rape

Two students saw the alleged assault of an unconscious woman and intervened

A former Stanford University student will be charged with rape after he allegedly assaulted an unconscious woman on campus grounds, Santa Clara County, Cali. prosecutors announced Tuesday.

According to the district attorney’s office, two students on bicycles stopped to intervene in the early hours of Jan. 18 after noticing 19-year-old freshman Brock Allen Turner on top of a woman, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. “She was lying on the ground unconscious, not moving,” Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci said, noting that the victim was not a student.

The two students called police and restrained Turner as he tried to get away. The woman is “recovering” after she was taken to the hospital, Kianerci said.

Turner, once a member of Stanford’s swim team who participated in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, withdrew from the university on Tuesday and is not allowed on campus, according to school officials. “Matters like this the university takes seriously,” university spokesperson Lisa Lapin told the Chronicle.

He faces five felony charges and is scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 2. If convicted, Turner faces up to 10 years in prison.


TIME Diet/Nutrition

Researchers Claim Breakthrough in Treating Peanut Allergies

David Arky—Getty Images

A daily combination of peanut protein and a probiotic helped 80 percent of children in a study

Researchers say they are one step closer to finding a cure for people with severe peanut allergies.

Around 80 percent of a group of 30 children had no allergic reaction to peanuts after scientists gave them a daily combination of peanut protein and a probiotic in increasing amounts over an 18-month period, according to a new study announced Wednesday.

The probiotic, bacteria useful in fighting disease, deployed by the Melbourne, Australia-based Murdoch Childrens Research Institute was Lactobacillus rhamnosus. Its dosage in the study was the equivalent of eating 20 kilograms of yogurt a day.

“Many of the children and families believe it has changed their lives, they’re very happy, they feel relieved,” lead researcher Mimi Tang told The Guardian. “These findings provide the first vital step towards developing a cure for peanut allergy and possibly other food allergies.”

Tang cautioned against attempting the study at home, as some children in the study did still have serious allergic reactions. A follow-up study will test whether the peanut tolerance continues in the future.

[The Guardian]

TIME Books

Sequel to Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo Trilogy Coming in August

Ronney Mara stars as Lisbeth Salander, in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Columbia Pictures

Get ready to reunite with Lisbeth Salander

A new novel in late Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy will hit shelves in 35 countries this August, the book’s publisher announced Tuesday.

The unfinished manuscript left after Larsson’s death in 2004, That Which Does Not Kill, was completed by Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz, the Guardian reports. (While the English titles all took the The Girl Who _____ format, the original Swedish titles did not.)

The book will reunite readers with troubled computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, the titular character of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, though the plot has so far been kept under wraps.

The entire series has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide and seen multiple film adaptations including one starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. Larrson reportedly had several more novels planned when he died.

“What I wanted to make use of in the book was the vast mythology that Stieg Larsson left behind, the world he created,” said Lagercrantz, who told newspaper Dagens Nyheter that he worked closely to recreate Larsson’s writing style.

[The Guardian]

TIME viral

Watch Bill Nye the Science Guy Tackle DeflateGate Again

But the wacky TV personality ends up getting a little sidetracked

When New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick claimed the team’s under-inflated footballs were the result of “atmospheric conditions,” Bill Nye the Science Guy was quick to debunk Belichick’s not-so-scientific method. “What he said didn’t make any sense,” Nye told ABC News this weekend.

But that wasn’t enough for Nye, who teamed up with Funny Or Die to further call out the coach’s claims with an experiment showing exactly what cold weather does to footballs. But while Nye is waiting for the footballs to cool down to prove his point, he takes captive viewers on a surprising tangent about climate change. “While we’re all obsessed with DeflateGate,” Nye says, let’s keep in mind that there’s something about which you should give a f-ck.”


TIME movies

Widow of the Real American Sniper Calls Movie’s Success a ‘Blessing’

Chris and Taya Kyle on the cover of PEOPLE

"I miss how Chris changed the feeling in the room when he was in it"

Taya Kyle, the wife of the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, says the man who inspired the box-office hit American Sniper was “the biggest kid” at heart.

In an interview with People, Kyle opens up about the loss of her husband, who was shot dead in 2013, allegedly by a fellow veteran who goes on trial next month.

“I miss those family dinners where we would joke with the kids,” Taya, 40, says. “I miss the way he laughed at the littlest things with me and the way the kids and I couldn’t wait for him to come home from work. I miss how Chris changed the feeling in the room when he was in it.”

American Sniper, which is based on Chris Kyle’s memoir, has grossed more than $200 million since its nationwide opening on Jan. 16, and it’s also earned six Oscar nominations.

Kyle says she’s comforted by the way her husband’s story is resonating with veterans and general audiences. “I can’t think of a better blessing,” she says.

Read more at People.com.

TIME Transportation

Fake Twitter Bomb Threats to Airlines On the Rise

An American Airlines plane is seen at the Miami International Airport in Miami in 2013.
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Tweeted threats have disrupted at least sixteen flights in the past five days

Airline bomb threats on Twitter have disrupted at least sixteen flights in the past five days, prompting new concerns about aviation security — and the way pranksters can cause serious trouble with social media.

Most recently, an American Airlines flight landed in Chicago safely Tuesday after a tweet claiming to be from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) claimed there was a bomb on board, USA Today reports.

That same day, another (now suspended) Twitter account called @RansomTheThug also claimed there was a bomb aboard a United Airlines flight that had already been canceled days earlier due to blizzard concerns. “In terms of the quantity of threats we’re seeing now, you just haven’t seen it,” Glen Winn, former head of security at United Airlines and Northwest Airlines, said.

But as was the case with the 14-year-old Dutch girl who threatened American Airlines as a joke last year, not every tweet is serious. “In the history of aviation sabotage, I don’t believe there’s ever been a threat called in where there’s actually been a bomb,” Douglas Laird, a former security director at Northwest Airlines, said.

Still, all threats are taken seriously and evaluated by airline security according to confidential criteria. Airlines are also required to report threats to Transportation Security Administration.

[USA Today]

TIME viral

Watch a Principal Announce a Snow Day With a ‘Let It Go’ Parody

Watch out, Idina Menzel

Schoolteachers must be sick of hearing “Let It Go” from Frozen by now, but there’s probably no better way to get kids’ attention than with the Disney tune. Just ask Matt Glendinning, the head of school at Moses Brown School in Providence, R.I., who announced his school’s snow day with his own “Let It Go” parody, “School Is Closed.”

Don’t be surprised if Glendinning has been waiting to break this out for some time — the production value here is suspiciously high for a blizzard that only just took the East Coast by storm. That, or Glendinning should become the faculty sponsor for the film club ASAP.

Read next: Blizzard Gives New York City a Miss, Hits New England

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