Actress Tasha Smith on the Magic of 'Empire': It's Today's 'Dynasty'
By Stacy Lambe
Actress and comedian Tasha Smith, who plays Cookie’s (Tajari P. Henson) sister Carol, on FOX’s hit new series Empire, really loves the show she’s on. So much so that she doesn’t even read the scripts for episodes she’s not in.
“I want to be surprised,” she tells ETonline about watching Empire, which now involves weekly viewing parties at her home. “I even have a chef cooking, do you hear me? It’s a party up in here every Wednesday night.”
That enthusiasm extends beyond Smith -- who is probably, up until this point, most famous for portraying Angela Williams in Tyler Perry’s two Why Did I Get Married films and the For Better or Worse TV series -- to the viewers, which have grown in record numbers since Empire first premiered in January.
And Smith has few thoughts on why the show is such a huge hit. The 43-year-old actress talks to ETonline about the magic of filming Empire, the relationship between Cookie and Carol, and working with both director Lee Daniels and Perry.
ETonline: Cookie has quickly become a fan favorite. What can we expect from Cookie’s sister, Carol?
Tasha Smith: I describe Carol as the one who knows where all the bodies are buried and if Cookie needs someone to have her back, she knows who to call. I feel like Carol is the one that gets down and dirty and she’s the one who will help Cookie do whatever dirty work needs to be done. This season, she’s almost like a quiet storm and it’s going to be interesting with some of the things that happen.
How did Tajari get such a great name and you ended up with Carol?
You have to ask the writers, you know what I mean? But I got to tell you, I like the sound of it: “Cookie & Carol.” It’s kind of cool with the Cookie and the Carol going on. Cookie is just amazing and her energy is fantastic. And both of them can’t have that. There has to be a balance within the two’s relationship. When you think about family, you always have a loud sister and you always have one that’s a little calmer. Carol is quiet and a little more strategic and Cookie is in your face.
Let’s talk about filming Empire. Did it feel like something special was happening before it aired?
Absolutely! When I first read the script, I knew it was going to connect with fans. It was just magic. I knew it was going to be infectious and people were going to be addicted to it. I couldn’t wait to read the second episode after shooting the pilot before the show had even gotten picked up.
What do you like about the show and what do you think is connecting most with viewers?
I love the music element to the show. I love the relationship between Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie. I love the battle over the empire. I love that everyone is trying to get it so you don’t know who to trust, you don’t know what’s going to happen with the characters. It really is like today’s Dynasty.
I think that people are probably going to want to bring that kind of energy back to television. There hadn’t really been a whole lot of urban shows on TV. And there’s a huge audience out there. I must say the urban community is a huge part of the market and they want to see themselves on TV. They want to see the sex, the drama, the wardrobe, and the music. I feel like it’s going to inspire more people to do those shows that has that kind of drama.
One of the conversations this show is having is about gay men in the hip-hop community. What is your take on it?
I think that Lee Daniels did a phenomenal job introducing that character [Jamal Lyons]. When think about the Frank Oceans of the world it’s not like we don’t have gay men within the hip-hop community. When I first read the script, Frank Ocean was a reference to me. To see that story and hear that story is amazing and I love Jussie Smollett. Jussie is brilliant in that role. He brings so much honesty and so much truth with the music element, the relationships, and the love. It’s everything. It’s real and it’s grounded. That boy is so talented and sexy and fine and fabulous. I am in love with Jussie Smollett.
Do you think it will help element one of the biggest taboos in the hip-hop community?
Absolutely, absolutely! And when you think about last week’s episode when Jamal was in there doing his music with all the hip-hop guys and they had to give him credit. It wasn’t about him being gay, it was about him being talented.
One of the great things about this show is that it’s turning into a who’s who of music and Hollywood with people like Courtney Love, Jennifer Hudson, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and director John Singleton getting involved. What’s that like having all these people participate in the show?
It’s like a Thanksgiving dinner. Everything is gooooood.
And how involved is creator Lee Daniels in the day-to-day of the show?
He’s very much involved. This is like his baby, this is child. He’s not going to let the nanny take over. You hear me?
You’ve starred in a couple of Tyler Perry films – and I’ve seen them all – so I’m curious, which one is your favorite?
You’ve played Angela in two films and for over 100 episodes on TV. What’s it like to play one character for so long?
Honestly, it’s almost like you’re just living with this person and you know her, you’re clear about who she is. You know how she feels and how she thinks. You live with her. It’s fun. And for me, even working with her, I depend on Tyler Perry as the writer to help create new nuances and elements and who she is and how she evolves as an individual. Even going back to do another season of For Better or Worse, I am just looking forward to seeing what Tyler Perry does with her.
Do you ever think Tyler would star on or get involved with Empire?
Wouldn’t that be cool? That’s a great idea! I think that would be awesome. Oh wow, that would be great. I might have to be the one to mention that.
Empire airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on FOX. Watch a clip of Lucious and Cookie, the pair that Smith says is the one to watch as their dynamic continues to evolve between now and the end of the first season.