Set Visit Report: Taraji P. Henson Talks ‘Proud Mary’

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Set Visit Report: Taraji P. Henson Talks ‘Proud Mary’
Posted by Wilson Morales

December 11, 2017

In her next project, Taraji P. Henson stars on Proud Mary alongside Billy Brown, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Xander Berkeley, Margaret Avery, and Danny Glover. Earlier this year, was able to visit the set in Boston and chat with Henson who plays a hitwoman named Mary. Mary lives by an assassins code: no women no children. But her life is completely turned around when she meets a young boy moments after a professional hit goes awry.

Babak Najafi (London Has Fallen) directs from a script by John Stuart Newman & Christian Swegal and Steven Antin. Paul Schiff and Tai Duncan are producing. Taraji P. Henson and Glenn S. Gainor are executive producers.

Jahi Di’Allo Winston (Feed The Beast) is Danny, a streetwise kid unaware of what prompts Mary to come to his aid; Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) plays Benny, Mary’s fatherly but brutally unforgiving boss; Billy Brown (How To Get Away With Murder) is Tom, Benny’s son, a fellow professional who was once romantically involved with Mary; Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger) is a well-manicured killer primed to be sacrificed to maintain peace; Margaret Avery (The Color Purple) is Benny’s wise, refined wife; and Xander Berkeley (The Mentalist) is the drug-dealing sadist Mary eradicates, provoking an all-out turf war.

Not just a generic femme fatal Taraji adds warmth and sympathy for the hitwoman who finds a heart. Henson told us that she did a ton of research to embody the character. “I don’t know what that feels like. I don’t know what it feels like to want to kill someone else, to play God, so I did a lot of prep for this I watched a lot of YouTube videos on hit men. The one that drew my attention and who I based Mary on is “The Iceman.” Henson said. She is referring to the infamous IceMan Killer. Speak further about her muse for Mary she joked ‘What I found most intriguing about him is that that’s just his job. He had a family. They had Christmas. He did it just like regular people do. He just killed people for a living. He would kill somebody and go back to the suburbs of Jersey; I think it was, and be a father. His family never knew until he got caught. He killed all of his friends. The only friend he didn’t kill was the one who turned on him, and that was on the undercover cop.

I mean I just find it so interesting. He was very charming; if you saw him in the streets, he was a gentleman. I feel like if I dropped my hanky, he’d pick it up. He’d help an old lady to cross the street, but he still kills. The one thing he said, we heard it in Biggie, Biggie Smalls album. Sean Puffy said it. “Real killers move in silence.” One thing Iceman said is he hated the loud people. He said, “The louder you were, the better. That you were an easy target.” He was very quiet and very icy. Interesting, he could talk, and he looked like grandpa. You just want to sit in the lap and let him read you a bedtime story, but he kills people.

I was trying to find the humanity in Mary and so I just watched a lot of those videos and a lot of those men were like gentleman. They will gangsters, but they were gentleman. They believed in opening doors for ladies and there’s a code. Nowadays these young kids they don’t even get it. Not glorifying any of it, but I’m just saying it was a code and it was more respected and was more respectable. People had a protocol. There was a way that you handled things. I don’t know. It’s just crazy now. Whatever.”

In Proud Mary, Mary has the same appeal a woman with her own relationship who just so happens to be a stone-cold killer. With her co-star Billy Brown, we assume the film is playing up a love interest, perhaps a former flame that gets rekindled. “Their relationship was done awhile ago. Henson said when sat down. As a woman, I guess for me; I chose as a character that love is something known. I mean I don’t know a woman, a love is something you gotta feel cause we’re the nurturers. We give life so to be a woman and to kill is different than a man in my opinion. I feel like that numbs her to think that love thing is wrong. It’s off. It’s obscure. It’s blurred because she doesn’t understand it. She’s never had it. This is why when Jahi Di’Allo Winston character is thrust into her life she finds it jarring but natural in the same instance.” On set, Henson said, “You see this woman who is not a nurturer. She doesn’t have any children. She doesn’t know what is to be a mom. All she knows is out of instinct I have to save this kid. Just out of, “I don’t want this kid to end up the way I did, and it’s all because of me.” She’s doing it all out of guilt. She’s operating out of guilt, and through that, she learns how to be a nurturer.”

Jahi Di’Allo Winston plays Danny, Mary surrogate son in a sudo-gender-bent version of The Professional. Danny Glover “The Boss” and Margaret Avery fill in as Mary’s parental figures. On set, we gather that at its core, Proud Mary is a family story. Taraji talked about leaving the character at work and then going back to being normal.

“I have played a lot of deep, heavy characters in my career and I just have a switch. I don’t know. People are amazed at that actually ’cause I can literally snot cry, ugly face cry and they yell “Cut” and I can be like, “Girl, so anyway, back to what I was whoo-whoo,” I don’t know. ‘Cause at first, emotional scenes used to wear me out because I would work for the tears, but as a trained actress, you learn it’s not about the tears, it’s about the place where you are mentally and what’s on the page. If you commit to that and you honestly do the work, all the of tears and emotions will come. 

See that takes a seasoned actor and with Danny and with Jahi. I love him so much. I made him my protégé. He’s really, really good. This kid is really amazing. He has it. He has the gift. He can do it. On cue, he can cry. I see him doing that. I go. I see him. He’s a kid. He’s a sponge. He’s new to this so he’s working and trying his instrument and so I told him. I was like, “Baby, that’s great. You can cry.” I said, “But, it’s not about the tears.” I said, “I am not moved by the person who cries. I have friends who cry. Those are the ones who get on my nerves.” It’s like, “Girl, pull it together. There is a solution to that. Moment is not the end of the world. Stop it.” What moves me is when you don’t cry ’cause most humans, that is the most sacred, private moment. You don’t want people to see you cry. When you fight those tears is where … I said, “And when you do that, it’ll come naturally. You know what I mean?” I understand human emotion. I’ll be what? 47 this year. If you tell anybody, I’ll kill you and I know how to kill. No, I celebrate my age. Honey, please, but I people watch. I’ve played enough characters. I know my instrument so I know when to turn it on and turn it off so that’s how I live. I’m not the one where you have to call me the character. 

As a matter of fact, please don’t. I hate that I’m Cookie now. People will call me that on the street and I cringe because I’m the type of actor where I can get away. I can get away while in the scene. They go, “Cut.” I’m out of it. I still got to be me. I have to be me in portraying these characters or otherwise, you go mad ’cause who are you? You’re always a character? It’s a job. Some people do this for a living. I do this. I do this. It’s just a job. Really. For me, that’s how I look at it. It’s really just a job.”

Proud Mary is a story about finding and making a new family but a family story none the less. This is not to say that the film is with out action. While we were on set in Boston, we saw Taraji doing a bit of stunt driving in a Maserati that feature prominently in the trailer as does the Tina Turner from which the film title is taken from. The trailer features Henson suiting up in leather and heels, with a visit to a secret weapons closet that is stable of all assassin films. And it clear that Proud Mary will have plenty of bullet, brawls and best of all Blonde wigs.

Proud Mary hits theaters January 12.

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