About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Studios Home
December 2008
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON | An Interview with Taraji P. Henson

An Interview with Taraji P. Henson
by Wilson Morales

December 22, 2008

On December 25 - Christmas Day, one of the most anticipated films of the year will be released. Directed by David Fincher ('Zodiac') and loosely adapted from the 1922 short story of the same name written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' stars Brad Pitt as a a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards. The setting is in New Orleans from the end of World War I in 1918, into the 21st century. It's a time traveler's tale of the people and places he bumps into along the way, the loves he loses and finds, the joys of life and the sadness of death, and what lasts beyond time.
Playing his mother Queenie in the film is the talented Taraji P. Henson.

Also featured in the film are Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas and Julia Ormond.
In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Ms. Henson, who was seen earlier this year in 'The Family That Preys', talked about her role in the film, working with Pitt and Fincher, and her upcoming projects.

How did the role come about for you?

Taraji P. Henson: Laray Mayfield, who brilliantly cast ‘Benjamin Button’. She had seen my performance in ‘Hustle and Flow’ and actually called David Fincher from the theater and telling him she found Queenie, the part that I play. This was two years before the film was greenlit, packaged and put together. I’m still promoting ‘Hustle and Flow’ which was still in theaters and two years later I get the call to go in for the audition of this film. At the audition, I was thinking that big movies tend to go for big names and that they wouldn’t be interested in me. I take all of my auditions seriously, but I didn’t think I had a shot in hell, but it worked out.


Why do you suppose she took care of a baby that to others may have seemed ‘disfigured’?

TPH: So many things. It wasn’t only his appearance, but the fact that he was White too; especially in the early 1900s when racism cut it with a knife. I think it was a spiritual thing. Queenie was barren. She couldn’t have her own children, so in mind, this was an opportunity to have something she can call her own. She works in an old folk’s home where elders come to make their transition to the next life. She is surrounded by death and here is this little ‘creature’.

In mentioning the racial aspect, what did you think was the racial tension of a Black woman raising a White child back then?

TPH: I guess it wasn’t the easiest thing to do. I think what made it easier for her was that she spent a lot of time in the house and as Benjamin started to grow, people just looked at him as an old person. It wasn’t like she had a normal looking White child to look after. I also think that people passed her by thinking she was a nanny to the child. We know what happened in the 60s. Can you imagine the 20s?

How was shooting the film in New Orleans?

TPH: It was bittersweet. I had never been to New Orleans pre-Katrina, and it was my first time there and everyone was talking about the spirit and how I was going to feel it, but when I got there, I felt the emptiness. A lot of people had not come back and I was talking to some of the locals who were still saddened by the missing loved ones and people who weren’t able to return; which I thought added a little flavor to the film I believe, an extra layer.

Did you see any similarities between yourself and Queenie?

TPH: The way she nurtured and loved unconditionally.

As yourcharacter aged in the film, did you do anything different like gain or lose weight?

TPH: They put a fat suit on me. I wasn’t on a diet or anything else like that. I just allowed myself to eat. I gained a little weight on my face, which added to the film when they put the fat suit on.

How was working with Brad Pitt?

TPH: He’s incredible. Brad is an amazing talent. He hit this one out of the ballpark because he was subtle to all these amazing characters that he encountered. They all made a dent in Benjamin Button’s life.

What did you learn from working with David Fincher on this film?

TPH: In working with David Fincher, I just learned patience. David likes to do a lot of takes, which now I’m a huge fan of. Because of that, I expect a lot of takes now on films knowing the director wants to get the scene right. When it comes to the craft, I can be a bit obsessive. I can go away from the scene and I would still obsess over it. When you get a chance to do as many takes as we did on ‘Benjamin Button’, you can still walk away feeling secure, and yet, I would still find a way to obsess.

Is there any particular scene that stood out for you?

TPH: The most endearing thing for me was a scene where the older looking Benjamin gets scolded for playing with a young Daisy. Daisy’s grandmother comes to scold him because he looks like a pervert. People don’t quite understand his disease. All she knows is that there is this old man playing under the table playing with my granddaughter. She scolds him and they go upstairs and Queenie holds him and breaks it down to him and lets him knows that people aren’t going to knowhow to treat him and respond to him because of his appearance. I’m a single mother raising an African American son and that’s a conversation that I have had quite often with him about how some people will judge him based on the color of his skin.

Have you been paying any attention to the Oscar buzz you’re receiving for this performance?

TPH: I leave that up to the stars. I’m honored to have my name in that position, but I’m just taking it one day at a time and leaving that up to God.

What else do you have coming up?

TPH: I have a film opening next year with Morris Chestnut called ‘Not Easily Broken’, and then a few months later, I have ‘Hurricane Season’ with Forest Whitaker. I also have an independent film called ‘Once Falled’ with Ed Harris and Amy Madison. I play the female lead opposite Brian Pressley. It’s the first time in my career I have had a White love interest. One day I would love to play Diana Ross. That’s my dream role.

Why should anyone see ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’?

TPH: It’sa good time to see great family film that will touch you. It’s this time of the season when you are getting together around family, and if you’re not, it makes want you to pick up the phone and call them. It will put you in touch with your loved ones and remind you how short life is and how you should enjoy each and every person that is in your life.



Terms of Use | Privacy Policy