I recently had the good fortune to sit in on a roundtable interview with Taraji P. Henson, whose new film “No Good Deed” starts on Friday. The film is about a mother (Henson) of two young kids who unknowingly invites an escaped convict (Idris Elba) into her home.
I have noticed that there are not enough African American thrillers in theatres. How do you feel about that and what should the movie going public do to get more?
Taraji: Here is a start right here. We had to fight to get this film made because it hasn’t been done. We were told “it hasn’t been done” and “it’s uncharted territory” but somebody has to take the risk. I think they were smart for doing this. Now, Sony and Screen Gems are going “Oh my God, Yeah!” Everything is about casting and scripts. If the material is good then people are going to go no matter what color the cast is. We had to fight for this. “Just do a comedy.” And I said, “I will not do a comedy.” You have two great actors, one an Academy Award Nominee and a Golden Globe winner. These are respected actors in the game. I am so glad we fought for it because this is the beginning. This is why I took the project. I was thinking to myself, when is the last time I saw a woman stand up for herself in a film and not play the victim in a thriller. I could only think of a few, such as J Low in “Enough” and Julia Roberts in “Sleeping with the Enemy” and that was how many years ago? It’s time! I think that women, no matter what color you are will identify with my character.
So what was it like shooting in Atlanta?
Taraji: It’s my fourth time shooting in Atlanta. I love it. I come home here. I love it. The air is cleaner than LA; I can see the stars and the great southern hospitality. I love it here. I am a southern girl at heart. I grew up in New York City, but I spent a lot of summers with my grandmother in North Carolina. I love southern hospitality. People like to feed you. Girl, you look skinny, you need to eat! I love that aspect. It’s just a sexy city. And I have seen it grow over the years. One of my sons God-parents lived here back in the early nineties. I have always loved Atlanta. It’s just a booming metropolitan city. It’s just a sexy city.
Are you a fan of thrillers yourself?
Taraji: Not really. I am a scaredy-cat. I’m a chicken-boo, all of that. I like anything that makes me scared or have nightmares. I decided to stay in a five-bedroom house by myself while filming a thriller. We did all night shoots, so imagine me coming home in the very early morning. And my assistant drops me off, saying, “OK, see you tomorrow” and I’m like “wait, wait. Don’t you want to do a sleep over?” There was this one room in the house that was locked. I swear to God Jason was behind there. There was this long hallway to get to my bedroom, which felt like “The Shining.” I would literally, run in the house, lock the door, set the alarm and then run down the hallway, close the door and then put a chair under it before going to sleep with the covers over my head. I will never do that again. That was so dumb!
I want to talk about your director Sam Miller. What was it like working with him? Did he allow you to improv a little bit?
Taraji: Everything that was in this movie was on the page. I love scripts like that because I feel if I am improving, then I am doing the writer’s job. The time I feel that I need to improv is to make it better. On this film, I don’t remember doing a lot of improv. Sam was comfortable with Idris (Elba) and me. He is very easy to work with. I totally trusted him. I love Sam Miller. I hope we get to work together again. I love the accent too. I liked his better than Idris.
Was it kind of a culture shock for him, doing a film in the South with him being British?
Taraji: I didn’t feel that from him. It almost felt like he had been to Atlanta before. He knew the culture so I never even thought about it. He would go to the clubs with us. We had a good time on the one day off we had.
Did you do any of your own stunts in the film?
Taraji: Well, you know safety is first in this type of film because if you lose one of the lead actors, you suddenly don’t have a movie. We were very adamant about making it look as real as possible, so we would do the stunts all the way up to the bookcase coming crashing down. I would go “Okay, can I step out now?” Or like when he threw me over the chair was clearly a stunt double. But for the most part, like where I jump on his back was me. We would do it until we got up to the point of “the danger zone.”
So talk about working with Idris.
Taraji: He’s ugly.
I know it was tough when he took off his shirt.
Taraji: Yeah, he’s fat, and he has a dumb accent. Ha, ha! No, Idris is great! He is very charming, very charismatic. To me, charming, charismatic people make the best bad guys. Even though he was really twisted, you kind of wanted him to get away with it. You don’t want to play a bad guy that everyone hates because then you lose the audience. So, I thought that was crucial as we cast for the part of Colin. We didn’t want people to actually hate him. You want people to see why he ended up like that. Colin is really off, and he needed help. That was a man who needed to see a shrink when he was little. I really enjoyed working with Idris.
What was it like producing the film?
Taraji: Actually, it was tough. The toughest part was talking Idris into doing it because he was on his way to Africa. I was like “Hold up, not so fast. You said you were going to do this movie, and my son is about to go to college. And I had this movie set aside for his tuition. You have to do this movie because I am a single mother.” Did I pull the single mother card? Yes, I did! Whatever works! I just realized that being a producer you must have the gift of gab because you’re not dealing with the actors, and you’re dealing with the actor, the actor’s ego, their team and their ego. The team is always saying “You shouldn’t play that part.” I am always having to go around the team and talk directly to the actor saying “I’ve never seen you play this kind of part. It’s the whole objective to show your range?” It’s tough because a lot of people don’t return your calls or read your script. I get personally offended by that, even though I know I shouldn’t. It’s probably Karma, because I know I didn’t read every script I got.
You are definitely a role model for African-American women. Do you feel the pressure of that? Do you think about that as you go about your day?
Taraji: No I don’t put that kind of pressure on myself. I have respect for myself and have morals and values. It’s not that I have to prove anything to anybody. It’s just who I am. I have a son, first and foremost. So there are certain things that I can’t do because my son has to respect me. If he is going to go out in this world and respect women, it’s going to start with his mother. So, it doesn’t start with I have to be a role model. I can’t raise everybody’s child. I am human, and I am flawed. I am as screwed up as the next person. If anyone decides to choose me as a role model, I am honored, but just know that I am not perfect.
Sam Miller is also an actor. Do you think that helps him with his directing?
Taraji: Absolutely. There are some directors that just don’t know how to talk to actors and work with them, helping them enhance their performance. You just have to know how to talk to an actor, and I didn’t have any issues with Sam directing me. I hope that we get to work together again. And he’s so damn cute. I was always pinching his cheeks. He was like “I am not five. Quit doing that.” It must have been the accent.
How do you know what roles to choose?
Taraji: First of all, I look at the character and see if it’s something that I haven’t done before. It that’s the case, then I am automatically interested. I look to push and challenge myself. I like to do things that I haven’t done before. I am a trained actress so you can’t pigeon hole me. I can play anything you put in front of me. I can play a man. I can’t wait to do that. I just love what I do. I am a creative person, and I have to keep creating. So it starts with have I done it before? Then I have to read the script, and if I am asleep by page ten, then clearly it’s not a good script. But if it’s a page turner and it makes me scared and nervous, then I have to do it. I have this thing that I have to overcome fear.
What role do want to play that you haven’t done yet?
Taraji: Superhero. Some sort of iconic character. I want the cape and special powers! I want the cape!
Thank you and much success with the film.
Taraji: Thank you so much. This was so much fun.
“No Good Deed” starring Taraji P. Henson, and Idris Elba opens in theatres on Friday.