Taraji P. Henson Moved to Hollywood with Her Son and $700 in Pocket – inside Her Life & Career

Actress Taraji P. Henson had an unusual journey to stardom from having just $700 when she came to Hollywood in her account to becoming a Golden Globe Winner. Keep reading to find out about the inspiring story of the talented actress.

In her almost three decades of acting, Taraji P. Henson has exhibited sheer strength and determination, as seen in her many of the characters played. 

However, many don’t know that the courage she so flawlessly displays on-screen bears a resemblance to her inspiring rise to stardom.

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 07: Taraji P. Henson attends the FOX Winter TCA All Star Party at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 07, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage)


Born Taraji Penda to janitor Boris and store manager Bernice Henson on September 11, 1970, in Washington, D.C., Taraji’s first love was showbiz.

However, the eldest of three soon had to redirect her steps to study Electrical Engineering when she was rejected from an acting program.

She went on to study engineering at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University but couldn’t cope for more than a year after failing pre-calculus. So she transferred to Howard University to major in theatre arts. To pay her way through school, Henson had to work two jobs — a secretary at the Pentagon by day and a dancing waitress on a cruise ship by night.

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 05: Taraji P. Henson attends the premiere of Disney’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” at El Capitan Theatre on November 5, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)


During her junior year in college, Taraji became pregnant for her son, Marcel. Despite having to work to put herself through school, the “Empire” star decided to keep the pregnancy and still show up for her theatre schedules.

In fact, while in her second trimester, she made an appearance in “Dream Girls.” Marcell was born in 1994, and the following year she graduated with a degree in theatre.

After she graduated, Taraji bagged a big-shot job as a supervisor at a five-star dining Cruise. She was content with her life until something monumental happened to her.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 28: Taraji P. Henson and Marcell Johnson attend a ceremony honoring Taraji P. Henson with a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame on January 28, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images)


In 1996, Taraji abandoned her job as a supervisor and relocated to Los Angeles with her son and just $700 in the bank in search of a career in acting. 

Recounting the inspiration behind her brave decision, the actress said in an interview with People Magazine:

“My dad knew that acting was my calling. One day, he looked at me and said, ‘How do you expect to catch fish on dry land?’ So I moved out here with my son with $700 in our pocket.”

HOLLYWOOD, CA – FEBRUARY 26: Taraji P. Henson arrives at the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

After auditioning for almost 2 years, Henson finally landed her first role in the television series “Smart Guy” alongside some minor appearances on “Sister, Sister.” However, she was still struggling to get career-changing roles.

Still, the-now 49-year-old remained determined and decided to produce theater productions with her friends. A ray of sunlight finally came in 2001 when she starred in John Singleton’s “Baby Boy” film. 

Her excellent performance in the movie opened the way for a significant role in “Hustle and Flow,” where she played Shug, a prostitute, and earned a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast. 

While Taraji was already on everyone’s lips, her career-defining moment didn’t come until 2008 when she starred alongside Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” for which she earned an Academy Award nomination.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 23: (L-R) Tyler Perry and Taraji P. Henson are seen backstage at the 2019 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/VMN19/Getty Images for BET)


From then on, Henson made progress as she continued rising up the ladder with several prominent features in Tyler Perry movies such as “I Can Do All Bad By Myself.” 

She also made a statement with her performance in “Think Like a Man,” which grossed a whopping $54 million at the box office.

However, the highlight of Taraji’s career didn’t come until she accepted to play the role of Cookie Lyon in the Fox musical drama series. 

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 26: Taraji P. Henson visits Build series to discuss their film “Acrimony” at Build Studio on March 26, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

She recounted in an interview how she felt reading the script for the first time. In her words:

“I just knew we had something special. This is what happens when you have great material and a studio that’s behind it and ready to take a risk – it was the perfect storm.”

Henson’s performance soon made her character a fan’s favorite and earned her first Golden Globe award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama.

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 7: Actor Taraji P. Henson attends the 2018 amfAR Gala New York at Cipriani Wall Street on February 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Tachman/Getty Images)


As noted by NPR, Henson recounted in her memoir “Around The Way Girl” that she knew from the moment she left Washington that failure in Hollywood wasn’t an option.

She also wrote about her bittersweet experience on the set of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” saying that she almost didn’t take the role because her salary was like 2 percent of Pitt’s and still had to cater for her traveling and lodging. 

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – SEPTEMBER 22: Taraji P. Henson attends Taraji’s Boutique Of Hope Launch Of The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation on September 22, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation )

However, Henson noticed that she decided to push through as her inner voice told her there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Some of Taraji’s notable films include, “The Hidden Figure,” “Acrimony,” “What Men Want,” amongst others. 

Taraji’s uplifting story proves that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. She is indeed a phenomenal woman!

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