In one of sister site Variety‘s annual Actor on Actor conversations (opposite Grey’s Anatomy‘s Ellen Pompeo), Empire‘s leading lady said, “I had to leave a show before, and it was the most money I’d ever seen in my life, and I was so miserable. It was stealing my joy. I just remember praying to God: ‘God, I’m not happy creatively.’
“[T]he next day, I called the producer. He got it. And I walked away, not even knowing where I was going,” she continued. “I ended up doing a play in Pasadena.”
Henson never names the TV show in question. But two weeks after her POI swan song, it was announced that she would star in the Pasadena Playhouse’s world premiere of the play Above the Fold.
“I didn’t care about who was coming to the theater, executives or casting directors. It was about Taraji falling back in love with this craft,” she said during the Variety chat. “Fox had to woo me to do Empire]. I wouldn’t read the script. I was done with television.”
Back in November 2013, when POI stunned viewers by tragically killing off fan-favorite Carter, Henson represented the parting of ways in this manner to TVLine: “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 .” The actress expressed a certain peace with the situation, saying, “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.”
(Henson also shared that the tears in Carter’s eyes following the kiss that John Reese unexpectedly gave her, as improvised by scene partner Jim Caviezel in the same episode, were quite real. “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.”)
POI EP Jonah Nolan echoed that take, telling TVLine of the decision to kill off Carter, “I flew out early in the year to sit down with Taraji and say, ‘OK, here’s where we’re going,’ and she knew [it had been a possibility]. It was a wonderful but bittersweet conversation.”
As Nolan explained, “the promise we made to Taraji and all of our actors is we weren’t signing them up for a show where, even if everyone was wildly successful and the ratings were great, we’d have them spin wheels for 200 episodes.”