"It was very important for me to portray Cookie," Henson tells PEOPLE. "I didn't want to [screw] it up"

When Taraji P. Henson was cast as Empire‘s Cookie Lyon, she was anxious – but not for the reason you might think.

“Growing up, it was rare for me to see a woman that looked like me that inspired me,” the actress, 44, says in the latest issue of PEOPLE. “So it was very important for me to portray Cookie. I didn’t want to [screw] it up.”

With that in mind, Henson says she took special care to craft the fierce matriarch she plays on the hit Fox series.

“She’s such a powerhouse, so I was very delicate with her,” says Henson, whose portrayal of Cookie has garnered her an Emmy nomination for outstanding leading actress in a drama. “She can be really bigger than life, so I took very good care into making her someone that people could identify with – a real person, not just a caricature who could be sassy and roll her neck.”

RELATED VIDEO: What Does Cookie’s Empire Fashion Reveal About Her?

As for who inspires Henson in real life, the actress says she didn’t have to look far: “The women in my family.”

For more on Henson and more of this year’s Emmy-nominated actresses, including exclusive portraits, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE