Taraji P. Henson
Henson only goal in life had been acting since she was a child growing up in Washington, DC. During her sophomore year in high school, she auditioned for the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts, but was not accepted. Convinced that she did not have what it took to become an actress, she instead studied engineering and science at the University of District Columbia and North Carolina A & T, but with her father's advice, eventually returned to what she loved most: performing. Henson enrolled in the Theater Arts program at Howard University, paying her tuition and gaining valuable performing experience as a singing and dancing waitress on a dinner cruise. After earning her bachelors degree, the single mom confirmed her goals and set off with only $700 in donations from friends and family in her pocket. There were several years of starts and stops and lots of odd jobs, but Henson found an agent and, at the age of 26, landed her first part with a television guest role as a 16-year-old on an episode of "Smart Guy" (The WB, 1997-99). Henson's first TV credit led to further guest appearances on "Sister, Sister," (The WB, 1994-99), "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), "Felicity," (The WB, 1998-2002) and "Strong Medicine" (Lifetime, 2000-06), as well as a new status as professional actress. But it was filmmaker John Singleton's "Baby Boy" (2001), a drama examining the epidemic of absentee fathers in economically depressed African-American communities, that really gave Henson a chance to shine. In her role as Yvette, the strong-willed girlfriend of a perpetual adolescent (Tyrese Gibson) who lives with his mother rather than take care of his own children, Henson caught the eye of critics and was nominated for a Black Reel Award for her performance. Her impressive performance also led to a steady role on Lifetime's "The Division" (Lifetime, 2001-04), a female-oriented police drama that explored the professional and personal lives of female law enforcement officials. In 2005, Henson made another big screen splash in the urban drama "Hustle & Flow" (2005), where she was recognized with a Best Actress nomination from the Image Awards for the pivotal role of a pregnant prostitute and live-in girlfriend who provides emotional support to a pimp-turned record producer (Terrence Howard). Henson also sang the film's Oscar-winning song, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," raising her profile by performing it at the 2006 Academy Awards.Re-teaming with Singleton and Howard in the 2005 violent revenge drama "Four Brothers," Henson gave her all in a small but powerful role opposite Andre 3000. She maintained a presence on the small screen with guest parts in "House, M.D." (Fox, 2004-12) and " CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," (CBS, 2000-15) before returning to the theaters with a supporting role in the likable independent romantic comedy, "Something New" (2006), directed by and starring Sanaa Hamri. Revisiting the underworld, Henson had a supporting role as a hitwoman in Joe Carnahan's stylish but poorly received crime thriller "Smokin' Aces" (2006) before critical raves were again forthcoming for her role in the biopic "Talk to Me" (2007). In the true chronicle of Petey Greene (Don Cheadle), who transformed from ex-con to influential 1960s D.C. radio host, Henson gave another stand-out performance as Greene's assertive and supportive girlfriend, earning another Image Award nomination and enthusiastic reception from film critic Roger Ebert, who singled her out as "an unstoppable force and immovable object rolled into one."In the fall of that year, Henson returned to series television to join the cast of ABC's multiple Emmy-nominated law dramedy, "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), playing a new addition to the Crane Poole & Schmidt law firm. Following an appearance in the ensemble cast of the successful Tyler Perry outing "The Family That Preys" (2008), Henson received some of the greatest praise of her career for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008). Loosely based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the David Fincher-directed film chronicled the reverse life of a man (Brad Pitt) born elderly who grows younger with time, with Henson co-starring as the adoptive mother who finds the discarded "newborn" on the steps of the nursing home where she works. In a film populated by A-listers, Henson made an indelible impression with her portrayal of the kindly Southerner, earning Best Supporting Actress nominations from the Screen Actor's Guild, the Image Awards and the Critic's Choice awards. But most significantly, Henson received her first nomination at the Academy Awards.The actress advanced to starring role status in the film adaptation of T.D. Jakes' novel, "Not Easily Broken," where she and Morris Chestnut played a married couple drifting in different directions. After making a few recurring appearances on ABC's surreal drama "Eli Stone" (ABC, 2008) Henson revisited New Orleans, the setting of "Benjamin Button," to shoot "Hurricane Season" (2009), where she starred alongside Forest Whitaker and Isaiah Washington in a drama about a high school basketball team comprised of Hurricane Katrina survivors. Later that year, she landed a supporting role in the crime drama "Once Fallen" starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan. After starring as an alcoholic singer in Tyler Perry's "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" (2009), Henson landed a range of supporting roles in "Date Night" (2010), "The Karate Kid" (2010) and "Larry Crowne" (2011). Back on the small screen, she delivered an acclaimed turn as a young mother who seeks outside help to regain her son after he is kidnapped and taken by the father to South Korea in the real-life drama, "Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story" (Lifetime, 2011). The titular role earned the actress an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie.Henson also gained critical praise for her supporting role in the espionage series "Person of Interest" (CBS 2011), in which she played Joss Carter, an NYPD detective in a cat and mouse game with a pair of freelance ex-government operatives (Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson) in possession of a machine that targeted potential crimes before they happened. Until Carter's shocking death in the middle of the show's third season, Henson was regularly hailed as one of the show's best assets. In 2012, Henson co-starred in the romantic comedy "Think Like A Man" (2012), a role she reprised in the sequel "Think Like A Man Too" (2014). She next starred in the fact-based sports drama "From the Rough" (2013), which featured one of the final performances of the late Michael Clarke Duncan.