Actress Taraji P. Henson can add another tick to her world takeover to-do list: makeup visionary. The star of hit series “Empire” has teamed up with M.A.C Cosmetics to create a namesake collection which includes bronzers, mascaras and the perfect nude lipstick. We chatted with the charismatic straight-talker about how she leaves her character Cookie behind at the end of the day, being true to yourself and her infamous eyebrow arch.
Q: You have such a confident persona. Has this always been who you are or did you grow into it?
A: I think I always had it because I was always kind of a rambunctious kid, not afraid to be the loudest in the class. But, I was a skinny, funny-looking kid so it’s a bit of an oxymoron, yeah, I was confident but… I wasn’t. You know? I grew into it, I got more confident the older I got and the more comfortable I got in my skin and the more I learned to love me and be okay with me. To be okay with my big eyes, and my high arches and my eyebrows!
Q: As an actor, you have had to deal with rejection a lot – is that part of how you learned to be strong for yourself?
A: That’s life, people are harsh, people are mean. But I just don’t give people that much power. Sure, it can sometimes get to me and you have to learn how to laugh it off. That’s was confidence does for you. I did a post the other day that was like, ‘when life throws you stones and rocks you build your own empire’. Laugh at the naysayers because you will make it if you believe in yourself enough and they will eat crow.
Q: I love how outspoken you are on your social channels. You’re not afraid to speak your mind.
A: No one should ever be afraid to be themselves. No one should ever ever be afraid to be who they are. We are all unique individuals, thank God! I don’t want 10 of me walking around it would be so annoying. [laughs]
Q: You’ve spoken in the past about people finding it hard to separate you from your Empire character Cookie. Do you take on a different character through the makeup and clothing you wear? How do you express the other sides of yourself?
A: Usually I take everything off. I’m not even doing acrylics this year! I wear the stick-on nails, now. The first two seasons I did acrylic, but I don’t really like it, I prefer my natural nails. This year, we found a great young lady on Instagram (@nailedbycristy) who does these amazing nails with incredible designs that you can just put on and take off. So, literally to get away from Cookie, I strip down. I got rid of all of my animal print, and I used to love leopard print! All gone. Gotta go. I wear less makeup when it’s just me.
Queen Cookie herself rockin’ my Black Glass #egyptiannails ======> @tarajiphenson:@nailedbycristy #Cookie is having MAJOR fun in your custom nails!!! #Empire back on your TV September 21 ??? #fierce #slay #cookielyon #tarajiphenson #pressonnails #pressons #nails #customnails #nailpolish #naildesign #instanails #nailart #nailshapes #coffinnails #nailstagram #stilettonails #nailsofinstagram #nailsoftheday #nails2inspire #makeup #mua #beauty #nailmail #hudabeauty #vegas_nay #nailporn #nailswag
Q: Tell us about the very special nude lipstick in this collection. Are you always into those kind of shades? It’s often hard to find perfect shade of nude for, especially for women of colour.
T: That’s why I wanted to make this one. I usually have to mix [one myself]. Sometimes I don’t want to! Sometimes I just want that lip colour and that’s it, one stroke and I’m out. I don’t want to have to sit and go, ‘which colour should I blend…’
But I also wanted something that could look good on anyone. On any skin colour. I did a post [on Instagram] about it. I’m so glad I did, I’m so smart at this social media thing.
Q: If you do say so yourself!
A: [Laughs] But you have to be [handling your social properly] though! You really do! Some people aren’t so smart. Anyway, I posted, ’cause I love to show love to my fans. They always they reach out to me and it’s the least I can do – to say, ‘hey, I see you.’ I posted an image of three ladies, one African American, one with more Latin [tones] and a Caucasian woman, they all had on my makeup line, and they all looked beautiful. I want makeup for every woman. I don’t want to make makeup just for one group of people like, what is that?!? All people love me! I love all people, all women, so wear what I wear, to look fly.
Q: How did the collaboration come about with MAC?
A: I got a call, and I was like, ‘hell yeah!’ [laughs]. M.A.C called and said they wanted to be in business with me and I said, ‘I want to be in business with you! I was really honoured that they came to me. I have been using M.A.C since they came about. That might be telling my age, but I don’t care. I always had M.A.C. The first brush that I bought, that I ever invested in – you know I was broke back in the day! I couldn’t really afford brushes like that but I would go to M.A.C and get my brushes.
Q: What was the first brush that you bought?
A: The eyebrow brush because I love eyebrows!
Q: Did you ever make any big beauty mistakes when you were younger?
A: There are so many things. I bought that M.A.C eyebrow brush and I didn’t really knew how to use it but I didn’t have a light touch. So my eyebrows were really [intense]. And I had a male friend, (and I wanted to kick him in the shins after this, I really did), and he said, ‘Taraji! You’re real pretty and everything but, why your eyebrows be looking like they coming at me?’ And he put his hands on each eyebrow like those were the eyebrows coming at him. I was mortified. What I did learn was how to do the eyebrow with a lighter touch, but ooh, I hated him for that. I never forgot it. I mean you know how long ago that was? I can still hear him in my head when I am doing my eyebrows and my hand trembles. [laughs]
Q: What is the mantra that you live by?
A: Live in your truth. Just live. In. Your. Truth. Because that’s where you find your confidence. I have ‘the truth’ tattooed on my arm. I strive to tell the truth, to be the truth, that’s all.
See the entire collection below.
Lipstick in Strip Me Down ($21), Mineralize Skinfinish in Natural Taraji Glow($38), Mineralize Skinfinish in Highlight The Truth ($38), Haute & Naughty Too Black Lash Mascara in black ($28), Penultimate Eye Liner in True Black ($24) and Brush 187 Duo Fibre for the Face ($51), at maccosmetics.ca.
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's bi-weekly newsletter