Taraji P. Henson is known in Hollywood for playing compelling roles in movies like “Hidden Figures” and “Baby Boy,” but she’s venturing into new territory playing blues singer Shug Avery in a“The Color Purple.”
Henson, a Howard University alumna with a background in musical theater, said she was surprised at the physical toll the role demanded, where she combined singing, dancing and acting.
But Henson didn’t shy away from the difficulties of playing the role, which included many table-climbing scenes that Oprah Winfrey — who starred as Sofia in the 1985 film adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and is a producer for the new movie — kept track of.
“It was 88 times, and what you didn’t see was me icing my knees in between takes,” Henson said.
To prepare for the role, Henson, who underwent intensive vocal training with a vocal coach in Los Angeles, starting two months before filming.
“I had to get on top of it because I knew after that, then I had to … we were going to add the layer of choreography and then talking and walking, so I needed the music in me, to live in me,” she said.
Henson said she listened to a range of artists that included Bessie Smith and Ida Cox to immerse herself in the experiences of the women she was portraying.
“I would just get in the tub and a tub full of bubbles and just lay back and listen to these women and I would let it just kind of overtake my body,” she said.
Reflecting on her life, Henson said she felt she and her character of Shug Avery are alike. Henson left her hometown with almost no money to chase her dreams in Hollywood, despite having a young son at the time.
“I left my zip code and went out into a big scary world and made my dreams come true,” Henson said.
Henson said people doubting her ability to succeed was motivational for her.
“I will prove you wrong every time you doubt me,” she said.