The paparazzi spot the eye candy as soon as she puts a six-inch heel on the red carpet. “TTTAARRRAAAJJIIII!!” “Turn to your left!” “TTAARRAAJJJIII! Show us the back!”
She obliges, then steps up on elevated platforms for the interviews with E! and “Access Hollywood.” Then it’s into the cavernous theater to her seat, row eight, on the aisle. Hanks and co-star Julia Roberts are cracking wise down front, welcoming the crowd. Henson has no date; the only person in her mini-entourage who is not part of her management team is her longtime friend Jennifer Walker.
After the screening, she’s freezing in the air conditioning and exhausted. Success is better than the alternative, but work is still work. She did the BET Awards the night before (she won Best Actress for her role in “I Can Do Bad All by Myself”) then had a late dinner with buddy Mary J. Blige. She worked a day-long photo shoot before the premiere.
But there’s still the after party! Inside-the-velvet-rope Hollywood glam! The stuff she fantasized about when she was a gap-toothed chatterbox in a rough little apartment in Livingston Road SE, the one where her mom got mugged in front of her when she was 7 (and then again when she was 9) and where she’d wake up screaming, “Not again! Not again!”
The party is at the Rolling Stone Restaurant a few blocks away. The gawkers are lining the upper floors of the shopping plaza. The mortal attendees are on the patio. Inside, Hanks and the people with his company, Playtone, are at the next table. Cedric the Entertainer is just across the way. Henson slides into a table with her name on it. The music is throbbing. You have to shout.
The food, the music, energizes her. She’s getting that moxie back, that Right Stuff, that pull-yourself-up-the-rope-one-damned-hand-at-a-time ambition that took her from Oxon Hill High to a million-dollar home in the Hollywood Hills.
“Wherever it is I’m going in this business, I’m not there yet,” she says, laughing. “Who wants to come to Hollywood and be on the B list? I want the A list!”
The last of the night flares. Henson’s got a screen test at 7 a.m. for a new film, “Think Like a Man.” She gets up to leave before almost anyone else. She leans over to shout something.
“I’m going to be asleep in the SUV before it goes two blocks.”
The summer and fall of Taraji Henson, currently starring in one of fall television’s most-hyped new shows, CBS’s “Person of Interest,” has been hectic. This is good. In the 15 years since she came to Los Angeles — as a single mom, broke, no connections, no house, no car, no job — there have been long stretches when she had no acting work at all.