Taraji P. Henson moved into Hollywood's acting elite this year with her Oscar nomination for best supporting actress as Brad Pitt's adoptive mom in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."
Henson, 39, was born in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Howard University with a degree in theater arts. She worked two jobs simultaneously while studying at Howard just to pay the bills, splitting time between positions as a Pentagon secretary and a singing-and-dancing waitress on a dinner cruise ship.
Along the way, she had a son, Marcel, moved to Los Angeles and began acting. Today, she is probably best known for her roles in "Baby Boy" in 2001, her singing debut in "Hustle & Flow" in 2005, Tyler Perry's "The Family That Preys" in 2008, and of course, "Benjamin Button." Henson reunited with Perry this year in "I Can Do Bad All By Myself," which brings her back to singing and dancing. Up next is a remake of "The Karate Kid."
Bankrate: You've said all of this is a dream come true, so when did you first begin dreaming?
Taraji P. Henson: I was dreaming since I came out of the womb. I got really serious about acting sometime around junior high. I was first runner up in the Miss Talented Teen pageant in D.C. After that, I auditioned for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in D.C., but I didn't get accepted. I honestly thought that meant I couldn't act. So I set my dreams aside for a minute and enrolled in college where I went for electrical engineering. I'm not mathematically wired, though.
Bankrate: Coming from humble beginnings, are you more or less high maintenance than before "Benjamin Button"?
Taraji P. Henson: I'm really very low maintenance and always have been. I get up most mornings, make breakfast for my son, do some meditation, sip my morning tea, check in with my publicist and other people, then go about my day, whatever that might be. I live modestly in the same house in the San Fernando Valley that I have been in for many years.
Bankrate: When did you feel truly confident you could make it as an actress?
Taraji P. Henson: I'm still not sure I can make it (laughs). Actually, I think I've done a lot with my career. I've had done quite a few films since 1998, but I think it wasn't until "Hustle & Flow" in 2005 that I started to get noticed. I did singing and acting. I remember singing at the Oscars that year, and the song won best original song. From then on, I gained more confidence that I could make it here. Acting is my thing, but singing is something I can do and I like that experience. You get a high on the stage when everyone is singing your song. I'm passionate about my work and it's given me rewards in return. My son goes to a top private school, and I'm also able to give my mother nice things. She lives in Florida, and I have her come to stay with me when I'm working or traveling so that my son has someone here at home. The arts changed my life for the better. But I always say the greatest recipe for success is having self confidence.