Taraji P. Henson Opens Up About Big Person of Interest Twist, the Race Issue and That OMG Kiss
CBS’ Person of Interest this week shocked, and in some cases devastated, viewers by killing off a main character, played by original cast member Taraji P. Henson. But make no mistake, the onetime Academy Award nominee (for her turn in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) was not blindsided by the twist. (As the POI EPs told TVLine earlier this week, the entire cast was told on Day 1, “Nothing lasts forever.”)
Here, Henson tries to tender comfort to her fans, offers her POV from the other end of That Kiss and shares her hope that Joss Carter’s legacy is for other shows to “shake it up a bit” with diverse casting.
TVLINE | People are understandably having a hard time digesting Carter’s death. What can you say to appease some of the disappointment they’re feeling?
I just want them to know that this was always going to be Carter’s story. She was never meant to last forever. And art imitates life, and sometimes the good guys don’t make it. Sometimes they’re the ones that lose in the end. I think what we did for TV [on Tuesday] night was great. I mean, TV needed that. So many times when you watch these procedurals, by the end of the show they found that one little piece of hair in the big old carpet that solves the whole mystery. Life is not that sewed up in the end. No, it’s messy and it’s ugly. Just when you got your life together is when you walk outside and catch a bullet. That’s life.
TVLINE | Tell me how the conversation went with [POI creator] Jonah Nolan, when he flew out and told you it was happening?
Well, we always knew it was going to happen, so it wasn’t a surprise. It was just about when. But, yeah, I found out on Valentine’s Day. I was like, “Jonah, you do realize we’re breaking up on Valentine’s Day?” He was like, “Oh, no… But don’t worry, it’s going to be incredible.” But I wasn’t worried, because the writing has always been superb. I totally trust the writers to handle Carter with grace and class, and they did. I’m the type of actress who loves to leave people wanting more. That’s just me. I don’t think I’m there in my career yet, where I ride out a show until the wheels fall off. I’m still getting calls by big-time movie directors and I still have a lot of movies I want to do. So that was always the plan. I don’t want people to think that we had some kind of argument, or there was a falling out. No, no, no. We’re all on the same page and it’s all good.
TVLINE | But diving deeper, as you can appreciate, some people are like, “Oh, man, they had to go and kill off the black character.”
I know…. That’s why we’re talking, so that everybody knows it’s not like that at all.
TVLINE | Instead, people should perhaps celebrate what a strong character they created, on one of TV’s most watched shows…
…and all the good that she did, yes. And we upped the ante for all the other shows. Like, “Come on, get on board! It’s too safe, it’s too safe, so shake it up a bit.”
TVLINE | What was No. 1 most important to you about how Carter went out?
I think [being killed in a shootout] is how Carter would want to go out, as would any person who serves and protects for their country or for their city or state. When you put that shield on… you’d rather go out taking a bullet while serving and protecting than, like, being sick in a deathbed. That’s not a way you want to go out.
TVLINE | I understand that you and Jim [Caviezel] kind of took a flyer with that kiss, that it wasn’t in the script?
It wasn’t in the script at all. And I’m really a very spontaneous actress, so if somebody is going to try something new, I like them to just do it. Then you get the honest reaction. So, that’s what Jim did. He came over to me and was like, “I want to do something…,” and I said, “Don’t tell me, just do it.” And that’s where the kiss came from and that whole look on my face, because I really was like, “What the hell did we just do?”
TVLINE | I could see your eyes well up.
Yeah…. That was the night it was coming to a head. Like, I knew I only had a couple more [days on the show], so it was very emotional — for everybody, even the crew. You had big ol’ hairy-backed men coming up to me crying, “Oh, my God, we’re going to miss you.”
TVLINE | So if Carter hadn’t died, what do you think might have been next for her and Reese?
I don’t know. Since I’ve been on the show, I never tried to guess where the writers were going to go. Because every time I would guess, I guess wrong.
TVLINE | They could very well have just never spoken of it again.
You know what, probably not. Because you saw how when she got him out of jail they never talked about it. They never said, “Hey, that kiss….” And that’s what happens. When you’re in a vulnerable place in life, humans do the most honest things. [Joss and John] needed each other, the walls were closing in, they were about to die. “What if I never get to see this person again” So it just kind of happened. It was like, “Oh, my God, I just kissed my friend, my best friend.” But I think Jim really always wanted to kiss me. [Laughs] I think he always had a secret desire to lay a wet one on me.
TVLINE | As you watched your final episode, did you cheer when Fusco (Kevin Chapman) wrested himself free and got the drop on Petersen (Lee Tergesen)?
Absolutely. And he had me in tears when he was on the phone with his son. When he thought they were going to kill his baby? In. Tears. It was a powerful thing for him.
TVLINE | What will you miss most about this cast? Any idiosyncrasies, any wacky habits on set?
I will miss Jim with the random music. During a crazy car chase we once did, in between takes Jim was playing all of New Edition’s old songs. Me, him and Kevin were in the car having a New Edition throwback moment. In the middle of a car chase. I’m also going to miss smoking cigars on random rooftops in New York with Kevin Chapman…. I’m going to miss my deep conversations with Michael Emerson…. I’m going to miss that crew…. I mean, that was my family. I saw them more than I saw my family. They haven’t stopped texting me since I left!