Chatting with Taraji P. Henson is like catching up with an
old friend. She exudes an energy that elevates her presence both onscreen and
off. In some of her best work, she’s able to merge drama and humor in a
relatable way that makes her seem like someone you know.
In the noir thriller “No Good Deed,” directed by Sam Miller, she plays Terry,
a devoted, unhappy wife who left behind a career as an assistant District Attorney to be a
stay-at-home mom. Shortly after her husband goes out of town, a handsome
stranger, Colin (Idris Elba), knocks on her door in the middle of the night,
claiming car trouble. Going against her intuition, she helps him, but soon
finds herself fighting to save her family from his terror.
Many might ask the question: “Who wouldn’t open the door
for Idris Elba (or someone who looks like him)?” I caught up with Henson to discuss her character’s motivations,
the power of a woman’s intuition, and why Henson feels she’s a comedic actress
“No Good Deed” opens in theaters Friday, September 12th.
Nijla Mu’min: What attracted you to
the project, and to Terry’s character?
Taraji P. Henson: For me, it was her strength. She was never a victim and once
she realized something was off, she goes into protective mode and survival mode
and it’s like, “It’s either you or me and it ain’t gon’ be me, and you’re not
gonna get my kids so we’re going to fight this out.”
NM: The script is written by a woman, Aimee Lagos. I picked up
on a lot of those woman-centered elements. Did that influence your decision to
take on this project?
TH: Yes, absolutely. That was a determining factor for me and
again like I said, it was Terry’s strength throughout the whole film and also
the twist at the end because I totally didn’t see that coming.
NM: Me neither.
TH: I did not see that coming so when I finished reading I was
like, “Ahhh!!! Will (Packer), when do we shoot?!”
NM: I was reading your comments about a woman’s instinct in the
press notes and I was wondering if you could comment on that in relation to
Terry’s character? Have you gone against your instincts before?
TH: Oh God, I’ve done it a few times in my life and it’s that
little voice, that gut feeling and you ignore it, and every time you ignore it
you get into trouble but women, we have an intuition that men don’t have.
Instinct is one thing, but an intuition, a female intuition is something that
is so powerful and I feel like Terry she definitely had it, she’s a mom, but
what takes over is the fact that this man is wounded and that’s urgent.
She’s from New York so she’s not some naïve person, the man
is bleeding and who’s gonna leave a human outside bleeding? So, she does help
and remember at the door, she was kind of like, “Hmm…” and that’s the intuition
kicking in like “no, no, no” but then it’s like I don’t want to come in the
morning and he’s dead. Another reason why she also was inclined to open the
door was because there’s a lot going on in her life. Here’s a woman who was a
district attorney, who was a powerhouse woman and she got married and she lost
her sense of self so when you meet Terry that’s where she is, so you kind of
understand she’s stuck in the house with these kids, and here’s this man and
it’s like should I or shouldn’t I?
NM: Also, with the new genre you’re working in, what were some
of the preparations as a performer that you were making to work on this film?
TH: It was tough. I’d never been this physical. I mean, I’ve
shot big guns and I’ve had to do running scenes but I’ve never done a
choreographed fighting scene and it took us three nights to film that fight and
I thought we were going to tear that house down. I was like, if the owners came
back and caught us jacking up their room, they would say get out right now,
give us our money back, but they let us jack it up.
NM: Do you think you want to continue doing work on films of
TH: I would absolutely do another one. It would have to be
totally different- maybe I want to be the psychotic one. I think the next time
I revisit this genre, it would have to be the reverse role.
NM: And sometimes we
don’t see a lot of roles for African American actresses that put them in that
antihero or complex hero role. Do have any thoughts on that?
TH: That’s why I wanted to do this film, and after I finished
reading the script I just kept thinking to myself like wow, she’s like a hero.
It reminded me of that movie with Jennifer Lopez called “Enough” and what was the one
that Julia Roberts did where she had to get away from her husband? “Sleeping
With The Enemy.” I hadn’t really seen anything like that since, so when this came
along, I was like “Yes, yes.”
Next on my agenda is a for real comedy even though in “Think Like A Man“ I’m like sort of funny,
people don’t really understand that’s my strongest attribute. I think I’m a
better comedic actress than I am a dramatic actress, but everybody believes I’m
this dramatic actress and I’ll take it.
NM: You are.
TH: But even my most serious roles, I still try to find the
humor in it. I thought Queenie was funny as hell. Shug had funny lines. Yvette
was hilarious, but even though serious stuff is going on, that’s life. You
could be laughing one day about the same issues that you’re crying about the
next day, so that’s life.
NM: Yeah, and there definitely moments in “No Good Deed” where I
felt your humor coming out.
TH: You know that saying, you have to laugh to keep from
NM: Definitely. And how was it working with Idris Elba? So many people go crazy over him—
TH: I read somewhere on Twitter someone said “He can kill me any
NM: I read stuff like that too on Facebook pages.
TH: It was good working with him. He’s a lot of fun and we
actually have this playful banter with each other so it really works. I’m very
stubborn and I talk a lot of trash and he likes it and he knows how to push my
buttons and so one thing I did do on set was I always said, “Let me tell you
something Idris, I know these women have fallen for you. I don’t care about
you. I know you so used to women saying Idris, Idris, ooh Idris” and every day
when he would come on set I would go “Idris, Idris” and like bow down to him
and I had the entire crew doing it before the end of the shoot, and he would be
like (British accent): “Oh, Taraji…” (Laughs).
NM: It definitely felt like he met his match in your character.
It was great sexual chemistry that was played mostly through body language and
looks, which was really smart.
TH: I mean look at her husband- a big storm’s coming and he’s
going to leave his family, really? She’s going through a lot. I think Terry’s
at her lowest point in life when you meet her so she’s not only fighting for
her family, she’s fighting for herself.
Nijla Mu’min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area.