"No Good Deed" Interview With Taraji P. Henson

"No Good Deed" Interview With Taraji P. Henson
A long time coming

Taraji P. Henson tried for four years to bring "No Good Deed" to theaters.

Academy Award nominated actress, Taraji P. Henson is on a tour to promote her co-starring role in the new thriller, “No Good Deed”.  Henson not only stars as Terry, the suburban mom who is lost in a rocky marriage when she finds the handsome and charming Colin (played by Golden Globe winner Idris Elba) knocking on her door pleading for help, but also produced the film.  Henson was not only instrumental in making sure that “No Good Deed” got to the silver screen, but also in making sure that Idris Elba became her co-star.


At a recent roundtable Henson discussed fighting to get “No Good Deed” made, what it was like to film a thriller, to become a producer, and reflects on the ten year anniversary of “Hustle & Flow”.

I notice that there are not enough African American thrillers in the theaters. How do you feel about that and what do you think we should do to make it better?

Here’s a start right here.  We really had to fight to get this made, because it hasn’t been done.  And people frown, “Oh, it’s never been done, it’s uncharted territory!”  Somebody has to take a risk. I think they were smart for doing this because now studios are like, “Oh, my God! Yeah!”  Everything is about casting and script. If the script, the material is good, people are going to go. They won’t care what color the cast is.


We literally had to fight for this.  They were like, “Oh, just do a comedy!” I was like, “NO, I will not do a comedy!” Not with these two actors! You have a Golden Globe winner and an Academy award nominated actress, these are respected actors in the game. They could totally do this.  I’m so glad we fought, because this is the beginning.  And that’s why I took the project. I was thinking, “When is the last time I saw a women stand up for herself and not be the victim in a thriller?” J-Lo in “Enough”, Julia Roberts in “Sleeping with the Enemy” That was how many years ago? It’s time! It’s time.  And I think, women, no matter what color you are, mothers everywhere will identify with Terry.


What was it like shooting in Atlanta?

This is my fourth movie here, but I love. It’s like coming home for me. The air is clean, you can see the stars, southern hospitality—I love that. I’m a southern girl at heart. Grew up in the city, but I spent a lot of summers in North Carolina with my grandmother. People like to feed you [laughs]!

“Girl, you look skinny, you need to eat!” I love that aspect. It’s just a sexy city.  I’ve seen it grow over the years.  I’ve always loved Atlanta; it’s just a booming metropolitan city.  It’s really sexy here [laughs]!


Are you a fan of thrillers yourself?

Not really, I’m a scary poo.  I’m a chicken baby poo, all of that! I don’t want or like anything that makes me scared or gives me nightmares!   I decided to stay in a five bedroom house, by myself while filming a thriller. We did all night shoots, so imagine me coming home, it’s dark, my assistant is leaving me, “Ok, I’ll see you in the morning!”  I’m like, “Wait, wait, do you want to spend the night?”  [Laughs]


And there was one room in the house that was locked.  I swear to God, Jason was behind there!  There was a long hallway to get to my bedroom and it felt like The Shining. I would literally run in the house, lock the door, set the alarm, and RUN to my bedroom, close the door and put a chair under it to go to sleep with the covers over my head!  I will never do that again. That was so dumb!


I want to talk about working with Sam a little bit.  What was he like? Does he allow you to improv a little bit?

Yeah, I mean, everything in the script was really on the page. I love scripts like that because then when I’m improving it feels like I’m doing the writers’ job. The only time I feel like I need to improve is to make [the writing] better.  I don’t remember ever doing a lot of adlib in this movie.

He [Sam] was comfortable with Idris and I. He was very easy to work with; I totally trusted him and his eye.  I love Sam and I hope we get to work together again. I love his accent too.


Was it a bit of a culture shock for him doing a film in the south? Sam being British and all?

I didn’t feel that from him. It almost felt like he had been to Atlanta before and knew the culture.  I never even thought about it.  He would go to the clubs with us! “Look at Sam!” [dances]  We had a good time on the one day we had off.


Did you do any of your own stunts in the film?

Well, you know, safety is first, because if you lose one of the lead actors suddenly we don’t have a movie! Idris and I were very adamant about making it look as real as possible, so we would do the stuns all the way up until the bookcase came crashing down on our head. Then it’s like, “Ok, can I swap out?”  Or like when he threw me over the chair, that was clearly a stunt double.  However for the most part, all that jumping on his back was real.


Talk about working with Idris

He’s ugly, he’s fat and he has a dumb accent!  No, Idris is great.  He is very charming, very charismatic.  To me, charming, charismatic people make the best bad guys because even though they’re really twisted, you kind of want them to get away a little bit.  You don’t want to play a bad guy that everyone hates anyway because then you lose the audience.  I thought that was very important when considering who we cast as Colin.  We didn’t want people to actually hate him.  You want to see why he ended up like that.

I really enjoyed working with him.


What was it like producing the No Good Deed?

Actually, it was tough, man!  The best performance was talking Idris into doing it, because he had already booked Mandela.  He was on his way to South Africa and I was like, “Oh, oh, not so fast! You said you were going to do this movie and my son is about to go to college, and I had that movie set aside for his tuition.  Please, [fake cries] you have to do this! I’m a single mother!”


I pulled the “single mother card”, yes, I did! Whatever works!  I just realized that being a producer you must have the gift of gab.  You’re not just dealing with the actor.  You’re dealing with the actor, the actor’s ego, and the actor’s team and their ego; because the team always has an opinion.  So, I have to figure out how to get around the team and talk to the actor and say, “I’ve never seen you play this role before. Isn’t the whole objective to show your range?”  It’s tough.  A lot of people don’t return your calls or they don’t read the script.  I get personally offended by that [laughs], even though I know I shouldn’t.  It’s probably karma because I didn’t read every script!


You mentioned going to clubs. Did you have time to immerse yourself in the music scene at all?

Well, yeah, with other projects where I had a weekend.  This project we literally worked six days a week; Sunday was our only off day and I honestly couldn’t get out of bed most times. Night shoots, you know?


What is your next music project?  Are we going to see an album coming out any time soon?

No album!  Honestly, I think I missed that.  The patience it takes.  The music industry is very shady and I don’t have the patience for it.  I’m too old, I think I missed that.  Eventually, I’ll end up on Broadway doing a show or a musical.  I don’t wake up every day and vocalize; it’s not my first passion.  I’m not tone deaf, but I don’t think I’m trying to go toward—I don’t have the patience for that!


You’re definitely a role model for young African-American women.  Do you feel any pressure when going about your daily life to be example?  How do you handle that?

No, I don’t put that kind of pressure on myself.  I have respect for myself. I have morals and values.  I don’t have to prove anything to anybody; this is just who I am.  I have a son, first off, so there are certain things that I can’t do—my child has to respect me.  If he’s going to go out into this world and respect women, it starts with his mother.  It has nothing to do with being a role model.  I can’t raise everybody’s child and I am human.  I am flawed and just as screwed up as the next person, so if someone decides to choose me as a role model, I’m honored.  But do know that I am not perfect!


Sam Miller has also acted, besides directing.  Do you think that helped him with this?

Absolutely.  He just knows!  There are some directors that don’t know how to talk to actors and where they are and how to help them enhance exactly what they have.   You just have to know how to talk to an actor and he does.  I had no issues with him directing me at all.  I hope we get to work together again.  And he’s so damn cute!   I just kept pinching his cheeks!  I know he was wondering, “I am not five! Why does she keep pinching my cheeks?”  It was the accent!


So Terry and her husband have marital issues in the movie.  What was their back story coming into where we see them in film?

That was part of my homework.  I just figured that it was beautiful in the beginning; they’ve got the seven year itch.  She has two children, lost herself, and has postpartum depression— which really happens!  She had a toddler and an infant, so she was fresh post-partum from the first time and it just kind of lingered along.  She was a district attorney, she put a lot of bad guys in jail and now all of a sudden she’s frumpy and she doesn’t feel sexy anymore.  She’s got food and poo all over her!  This is not the Terry that once was before the marriage and the kids.  That’s what her husband fell in love with.


And y’know, sometimes as women we lose ourselves in the family and the man and [Terry] is a prime example of what happens.  And that affected her choice making and decision making, because if she was the Terry from before, she would have never opened the door for that guy.  She would’ve questioned him right away, “Why’re you in my neighborhood? People don’t just walk up to the door. We don’t even have sidewalks! Who are you?”  But because she was fresh off of her husband leaving her with her kids, she’s feeling very, very vulnerable.  No man has looked at her and said she’s sexy in how many years?  And here this fine man is at the door saying these things?  You know, she’s just lost herself a bit.  Ironically enough, this man shows up and it’s a blessing and curse, because through that she finds her strength and herself again.  She got it back though; she had no choice.


We’re approaching the 10th year anniversary of “Hustle & Flow”



Isn’t it crazy? 2005! How do you look back on that now?  It was such a groundbreaking moment in film. What do you think of it in retrospect?

God, I didn’t know it’s been ten years. I’m excited to be working with Terrence Howard again in “Empire”.  Wow, it was just a great experience.  Again, it was one of those projects that nobody believed in.  The industry was like, “A black pimp and a white ho’?!?! NOOO!! Nononononono!”  [Laughter] But we’re all artists, so we read deeper than that. Everybody that was on that project was there because they believed in the story; they believed in the people and the script was amazing!  We all got paid peanuts to do it, so literally everyone was there because they wanted to be there.  That’s very, very rare.  As a producer now, it’s like “Geeze Louise, I want to do a ‘Hustle & Flow’!”  You know that movie that the studio thumbed down and then at Sundance they’re in a bidding war!


How do you know which project is right for you?

First of all, I look at the character and if it’s something I haven’t done before, then I’m automatically interested.  I like to push and challenge myself.  I like to do things I haven’t done before.  I’m a trained actress, so you can’t pigeon hole me.  I can play anything.  I could play a man!  I can’t wait to do that.  I just love what I do. I’m creative person and I have to stay creative or I’ll just wither up like a raisin.  Its starts with that question, “Have I done it before?”  Then I read the script.  If I’m asleep by page five, then clearly it’s not a good script.  But if it’s a page turner and it makes me scared—anything that makes me scared and nervous, I have to do it.  I have this thing where I have to overcome fear.


This was such an emotional rollercoaster for your character.  Did you shoot the film in order?



That must’ve been tough!

Yeah! The first day, we didn’t have time and we had to hurry up.  We had a limited amount of time with Idris and then we had to get him out.  That’s why we filmed six days a week.  And I told Idris, “I will work seven days a week, whatever it takes.”  I just felt this movie was so important that I was really, honestly willing to work seven days.

I finished “Person of Interest” ran to the car, went to the jet, came here and began shooting the next day.  And we started with the big fight scene that first day.  I was exhausted coming off of that grueling schedule with “Person of Interest” right into another grueling schedule, but with a different character.  How do you prepare?  I had no time!  But I was living with script for about four years, so I knew who she was.  It took us three days to film that big fight scene too.


Well, I’m really excited about “Empire”!

Me, too!


Can you give us more information on the show is going to be about?

It’s a around a record label that my and Terrence Howard’s character started when they were really, really young.  They have two sons.  He’s the talent and I was the manager. But the way we acquired the money to start the label was illegal, because we were selling drugs.  We got busted and my character made the ultimate sacrifice, like mothers do. She’s not the talent so if her husband had gone away [to prison], who was going to feed the kids?  So, she took the fall.


The crazy thing about Cookie is that she has so much pain.  She goes away for seventeen years, meanwhile, the record label is about to go public.  All these years her husband has been building up his steam, building up Empire to its name and it’s about to go public.  She’s been in jail watching it all happen and no of them came to visit her, except one of her sons.  She gets out of jail and it’s like, “I’m coming to get what’s mine.  You’re not going to leave me to rot in some prison cell.  I started this.”


So now the company is going public, Terrence Howard’s character has to choose—it’s very “King Lear”—which son is going to take over in case something might happen to him. Then it becomes the battle of the brothers.  It’s very “Dynasty” meets “Sopranos” meets hip-hop version of “Glee”


I saw it was a musical as well.  Are you going to be singing?

Yes, it’s a musical.  Timbaland is going to be doing the music.  I’m faux playing the piano in the pilot, but it’s more about me managing my son and Terence is managing one of the other sons and we’re battling each other.  It’s really good.  Just get ready for the Cookie Craze.  You’ll understand when you see it.


You said you like challenges and you like pushing yourself.  Besides playing man, what else would you want to do that you haven’t done yet?

A superhero, iconic figure.  I believe Terry was a superhero but she didn’t have the cape!  I want the cape!  And I want special powers!


Thank you.

Thank you!  Are you kidding?  This was the best part of the day!





Maria Jackson
Interview by Maria Jackson
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