Taraji P. Henson found breakout success and global notoriety by playing Cookie Lyon on Empire — but fame sometimes comes at a cost

Taraji P. Henson found breakout success and global notoriety with her role as no-nonsense music exec Cookie Lyon on Empire. But fame sometimes comes at a cost.

The 46-year-old actress stopped by the Today show on Thursday, where she told host Tamron Hall about how though Cookie has given her a lot, it’s also taken away her personal life.

“I can’t shop at Target any more,” Henson said. “And if I do, I have to dress like a Unabomber!”

“I like to people watch,” she added. “It’s become very difficult for me to do!”

Henson said she doesn’t want to sound unappreciative. “It’s characters like this that bring in fame,” she explained. “I’ve never experienced fame like this before. I was kind of under the radar, but Cookie took it to another level. I really have no personal life.”

Taraji P. Henson as Cookie wearing Le Snob in Empire S2 finale.
Credit: Le Snob/Splash News Online

She also joked that fans don’t seem to know the differences between her and her now-iconic character.

“Cookie has become a phenomenon, and people actually think I am her,” Henson told Hall. “So they hit me when they see me. ‘Hey Cookie!’ They slap me, they grab me at weird hours of the morning when I’m traveling. It’s like ‘Whoa — it’s kind of early in the morning! Let me have my coffee first.’ ”

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Perhaps fans will start to recognize Henson as Katherine Johnson — her character in the new film Hidden Figures. Johnson is a real-life mathematician who was a key player in the early days of NASA’s space program.

“This is woman who never saw obstacles,” Henson remarked. “She just saw opportunity.”

Playing the math genius was a stretch for Henson, who admitted that it was never her subject. “I’m not a mathematician,” she said. “I actually failed math. I still use my fingers! Proud of it!”

So what does Henson use when leaving tips at restaurants? “I use [my] iPhone!” she confessed. “Siri is very helpful with percentages.

Empire airs Wednesday (9 p.m. EST) on Fox, and Hidden Figures hits theaters Dec. 25.