The comedy Think Like A Man, out in theaters on April 20th, is about a group of friends who have their love lives shaken up, after the women they are pursuing buy Steve Harvey’s best-selling book (that the film is inspired by) and start taking his advice to heart. When they realize that they have been betrayed by one of their own, they conspire to use the book’s teachings to turn the tables. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara, Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, Romany Malco and Gabrielle Union.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Taraji P. Henson talked about how she came to be a part of Think Like A Man, what drew her to the character of Lauren, how it was a character that she could easily identify with and relate to, getting to work with co-star Michael Ealy, how she didn’t really do any ad-libbing in the film, and why she loves working with director Tim Story. She also talked about what she thinks of the direction that her CBS drama series Person of Interest is taking and how she can’t wait to learn more about her character’s backstory, and going straight into shooting the feature film No Good Deed (the day after POI wraps for the season on April 23rd) with Idris Elba, in which she plays an ex-district attorney who gives up her life to be a stay-at-home mom, only to have a dangerous man show up at her door. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of Think Like A Man and what attracted you to the project?
TARAJI P. HENSON: Well, first they had me pegged for either Mya or Candace, but I thought, “I’ve played a baby momma before, and I’m always known to play the heart and soul of the film, which is Meagan Good’s part. I want to play Lauren, the professional woman who gets to look pretty.” As you know, I’ve played some pretty down-trodden women. So, I was more interested in that role. At first, they were going to go with a white actress for Lauren, but I said, “No, I want to play that character. I don’t think I have anything like that in my repertoire.” And so, they totally went for it. And of course, I loved the script! I read the script and I laughed out loud. Those are conversations that I’ve had with my girlfriend. It’s stuff that real people say. It’s rare to get a script where you don’t feel like, “I need to change the dialogue a little bit. Real people don’t talk like this.” But, it was all there, in the script.
Had you been familiar with Steve Harvey’s best-selling book, Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, prior to doing this?
HENSON: You know, I didn’t read the book. I never read the book. Sometimes what you need to know is right in the title, like that book He’s Just Not That Into You. That pretty much tells the story, right there. But, the writers did such a great job with this.
Did you also like the fact that this a story that isn’t specific to any one race, gender or class?
HENSON: Absolutely! I feel like that about all movies, though. I really wish Hollywood would stop labeling movies, especially movies with predominantly black casts. Then, it makes others feel like, “Oh, well, that’s not for me.” At the end of the day, everybody understands love, loss, pain and heartbreak. That’s not a color. Just because it’s a predominantly black cast, it doesn’t mean you won’t understand the story. I just hate when things get labeled as “black movies.” I don’t say, “Oh, this weekend, I want to see an all-white movie,” or “I want to see a black movie.” I just go to a movie because I saw the previews and I relate to it. I want to see it because the previews look interesting.
Do you know any women who are like Lauren, that you based this character on?
HENSON: I know millions of women like that, with that list of, “He has to have this, this, this and this.” I used to have that list. I got rid of it, a long time ago. But, I could identify with her. She’s very career-oriented and she makes a lot of money. It’s tough, when you’re in a relationship with a man and he doesn’t make the same amount of money. It does become an issue. I’ve been there before. I could totally relate to that aspect. But, I’m a little more open to love than she is. I’m a dreamer, so I believe in unconditional love. If I were to meet the most incredible man, and he just so happened to not make as much money as I do, I wouldn’t hold it against him.
What did you enjoy most about playing out the relationship between Lauren and Dominic, and working with Michael Ealy?
HENSON: I love that she didn’t give in, like all the other characters. She was the one to go against the book. She was like, “You know, I don’t believe this mess!” Her arc was a little different. She took a hard fall. She was the only one that didn’t get it. She finally did, but she was the last one to get it. I just really enjoyed her arc. Michael and I wanted to work with each other for some time now, so this was the perfect vehicle for us to do.
Do you enjoy getting to work in ensembles like this, and getting to feed off of that energy from everybody?
HENSON: Absolutely! I’m not a selfish actor. I believe that it’s a team effort. You’re not in a scene by yourself. You need your partner. I just like working. I love the art of acting, so I don’t care if I’m in a movie with 10 people, two people, or by myself. I just really enjoy it.
How much of this movie was on the page and how much came off of you guys ad-libbing with each other during shooting?
HENSON: I can only speak for me. I don’t know about everybody else. But, for me, all of it was on the page. I don’t even really recall ad-libbing anything because it was all there. The only time I do that is when I feel like something is missing.
What was Tim Story like, as a director? Was he very collaborative with the actors, on set?
HENSON: Yes, very much so. I love him. I did another movie with him, called Hurricane Season, which was more serious and sad, about Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Unfortunately, it went straight to DVD. So, I worked with him before, but it was different because it was a comedy. With Hurricane Season, we hung out a lot, so I knew he was funny. All we did was laugh. But, working with him as a comedic director was just so much fun. I hope we get to work together again.
How do you feel about the direction of where things are going with Person of Interest and your character, Detective Carter?
HENSON: I always knew this was going to happen [with the character]. That’s why I took the role. I wouldn’t go on TV to disappear. I was very clear on what direction my character was headed. Even though [Jonathan Nolan] is very tight-lipped about giving out too much information, I always knew that I would eventually team up with the fellas, but it’s just amazing. Every time I get a script, I think, “Okay, they’ve reached their peak. The writers are not going to be able to top themselves this week.” And then, I’m like, “Oh, my god, they did it again!”
I’m always talking to the writers because I find it so fascinating, how they’re able to go to these different levels with the different stories, and have all these layers to peel back. We haven’t even really gotten into what’s really going on with these three people. There’s still so much to be revealed about my character. There’s still so much to be revealed about Finch (Michael Emerson) and this machine, and Reese (Jim Caviezel). Is he really a good guy, or is he really a bad guy? You still really don’t know, and you still really won’t know, by the end of the season.
Carter is by-the-book. She is that cop that you can trust. She’s the cop that’s going to give you the truth. She’s going to do everything right. That’s why she’s the moral center of the show. She’s the audience’s view, whether it’s right or wrong, or moral or unjust. So, if it’s hard, she’s always torn. Yeah, they’re doing good stuff, but it’s still against the law. Deep down, she believes that they’re serving a better purpose being free than if she would lock them up. I just love that they are three totally different kinds of people. They’re three oddballs, working together. It’s quite interesting.
Have you given any thought about what you’d like to see happen in Season 2?
HENSON: I just want to know more about her background, like who her son’s father is and what really happened when she served her two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I want to know more about her background. I don’t know who her parents are. I don’t know anything. They hinted at some of her background in the “Get Carter” episode, when they did flashbacks of me in Iraq. Finch put a camera in the car to spy on me, and when the case was solved at the end of the show, he was collecting the cameras out of the car, and he moved the sun viser and a picture of a soldier fell. I want to know who that is. Is that my son’s father? Were we married? When she was talking to the guy in Iraq, who she was interrogating, and she talked about how she understands loss because she lost someone very close to her, was that him? There’s still so much I want to know about her and her backstory.
When do you start shooting No Good Deed with Idris Elba?
HENSON: I’m doing that on my hiatus. Literally, we wrap on April 23rd, and I’m starting that on April 24th.
What was it about that film that appealed to you, and who are you playing in it?
HENSON: Oh, my god, I’ve never done a thriller before, and I’ve always wanted to do one. I like the character because she is an ex-district attorney who decided to give up her life to be a stay-at-home mom and she’s stuck in a rut. All of a sudden, her husband is out of town, a storm is coming, and this fine specimen of a man shows up at her door. He’s dangerous and she doesn’t know, but wow, hello, hubba hubba! And then, the drama ensues. It’s really, really good.
Are you looking forward to getting to go head-to-head with Idris Elba?
HENSON: We have that kind of tension, anyway. We met in Miami, not too long ago, with the director, and we had that banter. We have that great banter that you have with someone that you really admire, and that’s only going to work for the film. I think he’s amazing. And, I think it’s funny that we both play cops on TV. Very different cops, however. I hope he does [Luther] again. I don’t know. He didn’t say whether he will or not. His schedule is crazy! That’s why we have to go right away on No Good Deed. Then, he has to go to Africa to start filming Mandela.
Does being a mom help keep you grounded?
HENSON: Absolutely! I have another life to consider. It’s not about me, me, me. Being in this industry can be very narcissistic. It’s about, “I want everybody to love me and love my work and tell me how great I was!” When I come home, it’s about my kid, who needs to eat, needs to do homework, and needs to get to basketball. I don’t have a lot of time to think about me. He doesn’t care about what job I didn’t get. He’s just like, “I’ve got basketball practice in five minutes. Can you take me?” So, definitely, that keeps me grounded. My family, too. When I go home to visit, they never treat me like a celebrity. They still treat me like TJ. If I leave dishes in the sink, they’ll let me know.
Do you feel like you’re at a point in your career where all the hard work that you’ve put into it has paid off, or do you feel like you still have to prove yourself?
HENSON: I’m constantly proving myself. I have to always prove myself. There are roles where I feel like, “That should have been a straight offer. Why am I having to call my people and fight for it?” But, that’s on any level. Any actor you talk to feels that way. If I feel like I’ve reached this greatness in my career than there’s no more room for growth. I don’t think I’m ever going to get there. If I ever get complacent, it’s time for me to bow out.
Is there a dream role that you’d love to do, if given the opportunity?
HENSON: There are so many. I would love to play a great icon, like Diana Ross. I would love to play Whitney Houston, but I just think it’s too soon. I would love to play a superhero. I wish I could be in The Avengers, kicking butt. I would like to star in my own romantic comedy. I would like to do more comedy. I’m so tired of being so serious. I’m really silly. That’s the thing that people don’t get. I think I’m a stronger comedic actress than I am a dramatic actress. I’m not really pigeonholed, but I’m known for drama. I do comedy so easily, and people relate to my humor. I’ll be glad because I don’t have to stay sexy and young forever. I don’t care if I’m big, as long as I’m funny.