Washington, D.C., native Taraji P. Henson didn't always know that her smoldering charisma and beautiful face would make her a professional actress. On the contrary, she originally studied electrical engineering when she enrolled at North Carolina Agric & Tech. She later transferred to Howard University, where she attended classes while working as a secretary at the Pentagon, and as a singer and dancer aboard a cruise ship. She eventually changed her academic focus to theater and graduated in 1995.
Henson's career began with appearances on Homicide: Life on the Street and ER, but it really took off when she was cast in a major supporting role in 2001's Baby Boy and 2004's Hustle & Flow, in which she also showcased her vocal talents, singing on the track "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" for the movie's soundtrack, which took home the Best Song Oscar that year. Henson later moved on to take major roles in Smokin' Aces and Talk to Me. Henson made the most of her work as the mother of the backward-aging man in David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and her performance garnered Best Supporting Actress nominations from both the Screen Actors Guild, and the Academy. She became an in-demand character actress after that success and appeared in a series of films including Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys, the remake of The Karate Kid, Date Night, and Larry Crowne. In 2012, she was part of the ensemble in the hit comedy Think Like a Man, and later reprised her role in the sequel, Think Like a Man Too.
Henson returned to television on the CBS crime drama Person of Interest, playing an NYPD detective. Her character was dramatically killed off in the third season, with Henson claiming she wanted to focus on her film career. However, she quickly took a role on the FOX musical drama Empire, playing breakout character Cookie Lyon.