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An Interview With 'Benjamin Button's' Taraji P. Henson

Henson, who was Queenie in
Henson, who was Queenie in "Benjamin Button," will be watching the envelope open with her mother and grandmother. (By Charley Gallay -- Getty Images For Naacp)
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Don't be surprised to hear some celebratory squeals at Washington area Oscar parties when the name Taraji P. Henson is read during Sunday night's Academy Awards telecast. The Best Supporting Actress nominee -- who scored the nod for her role as the nurturing Queenie in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" -- is a true hometown girl, born and raised in D.C. and a graduate of Howard University.

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We recently chatted with Henson, 38, about her first Oscar nomination, how it has changed her career and who is coming with her to the big event at the Kodak Theatre.

-- Jen Chaney

How did you find out about your Oscar nomination?

The phone rang, and it was my manager. And I started screaming because I knew he was calling with good news at that hour [5:30 a.m.]. I just started screaming, running around in the dark in circles, and my dog was running around in circles with me.

Finally, I ran to my son's room, and I screamed out, "Marcel, your mom's been nominated for an Oscar!" And he was just so happy, all he could do was giggle. And we've been giggling ever since.

Do you expect this nomination to change your career in any way, or has it already?

I don't expect anything. I'm hoping for things to get better, or that I'll get better roles. . . . This is a scary time right now with the economy and the pending strike in the industry, but that's what I'm hoping. I am definitely seeing some changes. Meetings are being set up and doors [are opening] that I don't think I could have gotten in before. Let's put it this way: A different caliber of people wants to sit down and talk to me.

You performed "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," which won the Oscar for Best Original Song, at the 2006 Academy Awards. What was that experience like?

It was pretty intimidating. The Oscars, I've always equated it to, like, royalty. This is the best of the best in the business. And you know, I'm up onstage singing about pimps and hos. That was a little crazy. But the beautiful thing about it is the audience got it. And all the faces I grew up admiring and who inspired me, I look out there and they're all pumping their fists and singing the song with me.

Do you think it's more nerve-racking to go to the Oscars as a nominee or as a performer?

I guess as a nominee because the pressure of, "And the winner is." . . . God, I might pass out. Your heart pounds really hard, and just that moment . . . wow. My grandmother is coming. My mom and my grandmother. Three generations.

Wow, they must be really excited.

Oh my goodness, my mother, she was like, "I don't know if Mama wants to come because she had a knee replacement surgery and she's been going to the doctor and it's a long evening." I said: "Mom, you know what? Why don't we just let Grandma make the decision? Let's call her and let her say no."

We called her on a three-way and I said, "Hey, Grandma, we got an extra ticket for the Oscars, you wanna come?" "I sure do, baby!"

She did not hesitate, do you understand? Grandma is not going to miss it for the world, do you hear me?

She didn't want to hear about how long it was going to be. She didn't want to hear about that, she'd moved on to what she was going to wear. She was like, "Well, I have this outfit and these shoes." I was like, "Bring it, Grandma."


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