Taraji P. Henson smiles at a cute as a Button digitized Pitt.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON directed by David Fincher, screenplay by Eric Roth from the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson and Jared Harris. A Paramount release. 165 minutes. Opens December 25. For venues and times, see Movies, for movie review, see here.
Since her breakout performance as Terrence Howard's go-to girl in Hustle & Flow - that's her voice you hear sampled in the Oscar-winning It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp - Taraji P. Henson has been working steadily as a character actor, building a resumé that includes everything from a run on Boston Legal to Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys. In Benjamin Button she plays the adoptive mother of Brad Pitt's backwards-aging hero. We sat down with her on a recent Toronto promotional stop.
So much of Pitt's performance in the movie is digitized - obviously, he's not really there when you're talking to the tiny, wrinkled Benjamin. Did they have you acting opposite a tennis ball on a stick or something?
They hired actors, really good actors - three different actors, of different sizes - to play Benjamin. They had, like, a blue sock on their heads with their faces cut out, and Xs and Os and dots on it. They gave me something to work with; it wasn't just someone reading lines off-screen.
Your character ages through old-fashioned prosthetics and makeup. Was it hard to act under so much latex?
They had to do something for it to be believable. The fat suit and prosthetics help me bring the character to life. I try to be truthful and honest to Queenie, to try to live her truth. And that means separating Taraji out of it. I have to gag Taraji and throw her in a closet so she doesn't get in the way.
How did you live the truth of a black woman born in the post-Reconstruction South?
I know how to play 26, but 26 in 1918? I had to research every decade, because as you grow and mature, what's going on in the world affects you and changes you. And I had to research what happens to the body physically when you age. I used women in my family, my aunts. My grandmother had a family get-together at her house, so I just sat back and watched all the women, because there was a woman there to represent every age I had to portray.
What was it like shooting in New Orleans a year after Katrina?
The Ninth Ward looked like Hiroshima. I took pictures of cars upside down, houses crashed together, big holes from the barges. It was so depressing, because you go over that bridge and you look at the landscape and just by the way it's laid out, it looks like that neighbourhood never should have existed there.
Do you get the sense that the city is recovering?
They're trying, but it's never gonna be the same. It's never gonna be the same.
Taraji P. Henson on aging nearly half a century over the course of the movie:
On working with David Fincher:
On seeing the finished film: