Taraji P. Henson, the undisputed star of Fox's breakout hip-hop drama Empire, sat down Wednesday with ET’s Kevin Frazier to dish about her on-screen ex-husband and what she’s looking for in a man in real life.
On Empire, Henson shines as Cookie Lyon, the ex-wife of hip-hop mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), who is newly released from jail after serving time for the drug charges that helped finance the creation of the couple's record label turned media kingdom Empire Entertainment.
"The thing about Cookie is that she’s trying to fit back into a very new society," Henson explained. "Imagine you being tucked away for 17 years, no internet, no kind of means to the outside world. Then you come out and there’s cell phones...we’re almost The Jetsons!'
Frazier showed Henson a pre-recorded special message from her Howard and Empire creator and executive producer Lee Daniels. The actress was flattered when Daniels proclaimed her a "force of nature," but took offense when Howard joked that she “owed him” for her role in the pair’s first project together, 2005’s Hustle and Flow.
"I wouldn’t owe Terrence anything, seeing as I’m the reason why he got [the role of] Lucious," Henson fired back with a smirk. "If I didn’t look out for him, we’d be going 'Terrence Howard, whatever happened to him?'"
She may be "breaking out" now as Empire continues to surge in the ratings and reviews, but Henson has no qualms about declaring that lack of recognition from Hollywood has made her feel like a "D-list" star for a long time.
"I’m not new to the scene," Henson said of her newfound notoriety for Empire. "I’ve been around for a long time, you know, I was Oscar-nominated."
As for tonight's new episode of Empire, Henson warns fans to "get ready, brace yourself." Sneak peek clips show Cookie making a dramatic lingerie-clad exit after Lucious announces his new engagement to Empire Entertainment’s A&R head Anika.
"Lucious led her on!" Howard protested, defending her character. "Lucious made her think that, you know, there was maybe a chance and then he snatched the rug from up under her."
Cookie's love life is only getting more complicated, but when it comes to dating in real life, Henson keeps it simple, telling Frazier she’s "past dating," before clarifying, "I’m not past dating, I know what I want."
When asked to explain, Henson took the direct approach, looking straight into the camera .
"I want a man who is not caught up into what I do for a living," she declared. "I’m not that girl on the screen, I am none of those characters, I am me. I need safety, somewhere to go where I don’t have to be Hollywood. Where I can take my wig off and you’re gonna love me and say ‘Baby, you are beautiful.’ I need a hero!"
She may not be "that girl on the screen," but just like her hit character Cookie, Taraji P. Henson knows what she wants.