Taraji P. Henson on Shug’s ‘Vengeful Love’ in ‘Color Purple’


When “The Color Purple” director Blitz Bazawule cast Taraji P. Henson in his film adaptation of the stage musical, it wasn’t the first time Henson was asked to don the sequin dresses and enormous feather headdresses. by the handsome blues singer Shug Avery. . But when the offer was for the Broadway production, Henson didn’t feel like he had the flute to sing eight shows a week.

The cinematic opportunity was a call of providence. “Yeah something is meant for you, you can’t run away from it,” says Henson, who this time said yes and then called Margaret Avery, the original Shug in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel. “She told me, ‘I have every faith in you,’” Henson says. “And I said, ‘I just want to make you proud.’ Because when someone believes in you, it is the wind under your wings, you can fly.”

What did Fantasia Barrino, who plays Celie, mean when she said you’re the real-life Shug and she has videos to prove it?

I have no idea. But I’ve been hearing that my entire career. I’m not such a cookie [from the TV drama, “Empire”]. I don’t hit my kids with brooms. I never sold crack. I am a trained actress. But I’m grateful that [Fantasia] I said that because that means I did a good job. I give myself a pat on the back because it means I did something that made them believe this is who I really am. And it couldn’t be further from the truth. [Shug] It’s so different from me.

What is your theory about what Shug sees in Mister, Colman Domingo’s violent antagonist?

Here it is. There’s a bit of revenge love there. Come with me here. Remember: her father rejected her for living a secular life and being unapologetically herself. Well, clearly, she was looking for love in [Mister] because she slept and had babies with him. She always wanted a husband, but he never married her. He married other women. He scorned her twice. He didn’t marry her when he had her babies. Then, when her wife died, he didn’t return to her. So now she’s using him for sex, and that’s revenge love. In her opinion, she is in control. And that’s a sordid and twisted way of thinking. But she is broken and suffering. And that’s how she copes, how she feels good about what she does. She wants love so much but she doesn’t really know what she is like. And the way she jumps from man to man, she’s probably afraid of him too.

Taraji. P. Henson plays artist Shug Avery in “The Color Purple.”

(Images from Warner Bros.)

When bringing to life a beautiful, flamboyant charmer who doesn’t follow conventional rules, who did you turn to for inspiration?

She is a combination of women. But when I was a kid, my mother did something great. I don’t even think she realized how she nurtured my creativity when she was a child. I have a large family and I was the only cousin who was sent south to stay with my grandparents in the summer. I was a student of human nature, the kid in the corner, observing the adults. I am a great imitator. I’ve played a lot of Southern women in my career and I owe that to my mother, my grandmother and being around these women with incredibly rich stories. It’s the South. All you have is time. There is nowhere to rush, and no distractions. I heard the most surprising stories of these women, who emerged at a time when it was not okay to be a woman.

What part of Shug’s spectacular “Push Da Button” kept you up at night?

I’m not really a dancer. Dancers need to get all their credit. Let’s be realistic. I call myself a person who moves well. I know the count of eight. I know when to enter. I can put something on it. So the moving part was fine. I took musical theater in college. But I found the singing discouraging. Here I am with Fantasia, whose voice is anointed. [Co-star] Daniela [Brooks] She played Sofia on Broadway and has played Mahalia Jackson. We had Tamela Mann, an incredible gospel singer. And you have me, shaking in my boots.

Did you always know you’d click with Fantasia?

I’ve been a Fantasia fan since she laid down on that floor. [on “American Idol”] and she sang “Summertime,” because, I swear, she was singing to me. I voted for her until my finger went numb from her. I’ve always been a fan of hers and she says the same about me. We always wanted to meet each other. It was destiny. So it was easy. The chemistry was natural.

Talk about improvising a wild drinking and dancing scene between Shug and Mister.

We had lots of fun. That was not written. There was only one small address [in the script]something like “Shug and Mister kiss on the couch.” It’s beautiful when I meet an actor who challenges me. Colman was very professional. He said, “Can I do…?” And I said, “Listen: I don’t want to know what you’re going to do. Do it. I’m fine. I know you have me. “I know you’re not a weirdo.”

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