To say that “Empire” took the TV world by storm last winter would be an understatement. The musical soap opera quickly became one of the most popular shows in television, with fans everywhere obsessing over the next moves of each member of the duplicitous Lyon clan. But a large part of that interest was inspired by Taraji P. Henson’s instantly epic performance as matriarch Cookie Lyon, who at the beginning fo the show had recently been released from prison and was on the warpath to get the family company back in her name.
Cookie is behind a lot of the shifting loyalties of the family’s drama, expertly playing each of her sons off of each other and conspiring against her ex Lucious (Terence Howard), all while dressed impressively and striding into each room as if she owns the place. When asked if Cookie will be making her trademark big entrances this year, Henson laughs and says, “That’s what she does!”
It’s a big part of the character’s personality, and Henson admits, “When they first started that, I was like, look, we can’t have Cookie busting in every room all the time. But the way they write it is so clever, because that’s how she is. That’s what she would do.”
Fans will generally see much the same Cookie they fell in love with in Season 1, as Henson promises “not many changes” to her. Instead, the show will be “delving more into the 17 years she was locked away from her family. That says a lot about her.”
And like any TV fan, Henson went to a popular source to learn about prison life. “I’ve been binge-watching ‘Orange Is the New Black.’ I’m almost done with the second season. It just made me think, that’s an important part of her life. We need to know, how did it change her? How did she go in? What did it do to her coming out?”
But that drama may have to share time in her life with her ongoing split with middle son Jamal (Jussie Smollett). While the two started out as the closest pair in the family, by the end of the season, the two were at odds and not speaking. And Henson says that’s not likely to change, despite how popular the two are. “That’s going to kill you. I will say this. You’re not going to like that part.”
Cookie finds herself in enemy territory in Season 2, as she’s recently formed an alliance with Lucious’ other ex, Boo Boo Kitty. Or to give her her real name instead of Cookie's hilariously derogatory moniker, Anika. Asked whether the two will set aside their differences, Henson just laughs knowingly and says, “You’ll have to watch that.”
Though Cookie did some singing in the first season, Henson says she’s not sure if she’ll be doing any in Season 2, though she hopes to do some. “I requested it and I thought maybe it would be interesting. Because you know women, we’re always taking the back burner for our men sometimes. Even though we might be the most talented, but to make them feel like a man, we’ll take the back seat. So I was like, wouldn’t it be interesting, because Cookie is so family-first, if not only did she go to jail for her family, and not rat you out, but what if she was the talent when they were younger and she just decided to say you know what, I’ll fall back and let him be the talent.”