Taraji P. Henson Details 'Fighting' For Her Pay in Hollywood: 'The Math Ain't Mathing'

"I have bills," the actress said in an emotional interview, saying she knows "the legacy I leave will affect somebody coming up behind me."

Taraji P. Henson is opening up about her struggles as a Black actress in Hollywood.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter alongside her The Color Purple costars, the actress revealed she’s had to fight even for her base pay for projects despite having a critically acclaimed, decades-long career.

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“I’ve been getting paid and I’ve been fighting tooth and nail every project to get that same freaking [fee] quote. And it’s a slap in the face when people go, ‘Oh girl, you work all the time. You always working.’ Well, goddammit, I have to. It’s not because I wish I could do two movies a year and that’s that. I have to work because the math ain’t mathing. And I have bills,” Henson said, getting emotional.

“Listen, I’ve been doing this for two decades and sometimes I get tired of fighting because I know what I do is bigger than me. I know that the legacy I leave will affect somebody coming up behind me,” she continued. “My prayer is that I don’t want these Black girls to have the same fights that me and Viola [Davis], Octavia [Spencer], we out here thugging it out.”

“Otherwise, why am I doing this? For my own vanity? There’s no blessing in that. I’ve tried twice to walk away [from the business],” she added. “But I can’t, because if I do, how does that help the ones coming up behind me?”

Despite being an established and celebrated actress in Hollywood, and having the support of The Color Purple director, Blitz Bazawule, Henson said she was required to audition for her role of Shug Avery.

“With [Bazawule’s] coaching, I swallowed my ego and went in. I had the perfect dress on,” she recalled. “It was very of the period. It was frilly and it moved a lot and had hardware on it, so it had a shine, it was very Shug Avery. I had this stole that I wore and put flowers in my hair and put my hair up with the red lips and everything. And I walked into the room and Blitz was like, ‘Oh s–t!'”

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While the Oscar nominee wasn’t sure if she got the part, she said she “left it all in that room.”

“That’s all you can do at the end of the day,” Henson told THR. “And then I got a weird call from Tyler Perry, ‘Are you answering your phone?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He’s like, ‘Oprah’s trying to call you.’ So I’m rehearsing how I’m going to say hello. Do I say ‘Miss Oprah’? Do I go ‘Oprah’? And then she calls and she’s like, ‘It was unanimous.'”

Oprah Winfrey — who serves as a producer on 2023’s The Color Purple and received an Oscar nomination for her role in the 1985 Steven Spielberg version — clarified that Henson needed to audition because of the singing required for the role.

“I mean, I loved Taraji and watched her on Empire and all the things, but none of us knew Taraji could sing,” she said. “And yes, she can.”

Meanwhile, Oprah also opened up some hurdles the production faced when it came to the cast and director, revealing there was pressure to cast names like Beyoncé or Rihanna after the project’s budget was increased.

“To be completely honest about it, if you were doing this film for $30 or $40 million, the interest in the cast would be very different,” she recalled. “Once the film moved to $90 to $100 million, then everybody wants us to bring Beyoncé. ‘Can you get Beyoncé or can you get Rihanna?’ So we’re sitting in a room saying, ‘Listen, we love Beyoncé. We love Rihanna, but there are other actors who can do this job.'”

“I do remember conversations about, ‘Y’all, Beyoncé is going to be busy this year,'” she added. “It wasn’t even a negotiation, because you’re not getting Beyoncé.”

Read the full The Color Purple THR profile, here, to see more from Henson, and Oprah, as well as stars Danielle Brooks and Fantasia Barrino.

The Color Purple hits theaters on December 25.

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