Taraji P. Henson Says She Drew Character Inspiration From Lil’ Kim + “Nicki Minaj Got Everything From Kim”

by Samantha Denäe

Fox’s Empire has proven to be the hit of the year, drawing new audiences every week, you can’t help but to be pulled into the story line, the drama, and even the quick-wit personality of Cookie Lyon, played by Taraji P. Henson.

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But have you ever wondered where Taraji got the inspiration to be the fierce Cookie Lyon that she is? Well in a recent interview with Vogue, Taraji spoke on her character and how she drew inspiration from rapper Lil’ Kim. She even stated how the current Queen of Rap, Nicki Minaj, got everything from Lil’ Kim.

What is it about Cookie that resonates with so many people?
I think it’s because she’s the truth; she speaks the truth. You know exactly what you’re going to get from her. She is what she is—I wish everybody was like that. She’s free, she’s in the now, she says exactly what she feels, and I know most people wish they could all be so bold. She’s the moral compass.

Were there people from hip-hop culture that you specifically referenced for Cookie?
She’s more than hip-hop: She’s everywoman, she’s a mother, she’s a family woman, a wife, a ride-or-die. She made a sacrifice to break the cycle of poverty, and that makes her an everywoman. Is she influenced by Foxy Brown? Certainly. That’s where a lot of her style comes from—Salt-N-Pepa, all of that. That era of hip-hop was her heyday, those are the woman she identifies with.

Lil’ Kim is surely a big influence on Cookie.
Kim is everything. Today it’s Nicki Minaj, but Nicki Minaj got everything from Kim. Kim came on the scene and made everything change for women—she made it feminine and sexy and hardcore. She was a champion, and she’s certainly Cookie’s champion.

Is it me or do you peep a bit of the Lil’ Kim nature in Cookie? When I first saw Cookie – how she carried herself, how she was about her business, protecting her loved ones, always ready, even the jail time screamed the Queen Bee.

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When asked about a comparison between her and Cookie:

Are you and Cookie similar in any ways?
Some of it is me. I think with all of the characters I portray, there is a little bit of me. I have to pull from life experiences to make the words pop. With Cookie, I am a personality in real life, so we have that in common. But I don’t go flying off the handle in elevators. Like when she calls Jamal’s boyfriend La Cucaracha, or calls the cab driver a Pakistani. I don’t do that. I have the emotions in check.

Cookie has a lot of my dad’s character—the truth and the no-buffer. My dad was like that. I had to do a disclaimer before you met him. He don’t mean no harm, he’s just real, and that’s that. She did seventeen years in jail. What’s she gonna bite her tongue for? And that’s why people love her.

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Well whether you love or hate Cookie (which I can’t see how you could hate her), you have to admit that if Taraji didn’t bring the sass to that character Cookie nor Empire would be where it is – I can’t picture anyone else playing this part but her.

SN: I hope Nicki doesn’t try to come for Taraji about her comment, she’ll bring Cookie right on out!

Check out what else Taraji had to say about Cookie in her interview here!

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