Taraji P. Henson revealed that although she didn’t make a lot of money from her Academy Award-nominated role in 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” she learned a valuable lesson that she’ll carry with her for the rest of her career.
Henson previously referenced the film’s pay gap problem in her 2016 memoir, “Around the Way Girl,” alleging that she made “the lowest of six figures,” while her co-stars, Pitt and Cate Blanchett, whom she was billed just underneath, made millions. The movie ended up becoming a box-office hit, grossing over $335 million worldwide and landing a slew of award nominations for the cast, including Henson.
During a recent chat with InStyle Editor-in-Chief Laura Brown on the magazine’s “Ladies First with Laura Brown” podcast, the actress, who played Queenie, the adoptive mother of Brad Pitt’s character, revisited the issue, calling it the wake-up call that made her recognize her worth.
“It wasn’t until ‘Benjamin Button’ actually because I had started making my way,” she said beginning at 22:40. “You know, when you’re first starting you have to build up to a quote. So me and my tea, we had felt like we’d finally gotten to this place where I could ask for half a million! That’s all we were asking for. Couldn’t get it.”
Instead of the $500,000 she felt she deserved based on where she was in her career at the time as well as projected ticket sales she would have been responsible for bringing in, Henson ended up landing at $150,000, a number that she admits made her have to swallow her pride. Henson’s co-stars reportedly made millions for their work on the film, while Henson ended up with just $40,000 take-home pay.
“I don’t know exactly how much Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett…I’m sure they got whatever their quote, which was WAY more than what I would probably see in my lifetime because they not paying actors that much anymore, except Ryan Reynolds for ‘Deadpool,’ she said. “You don’t hear a lot of $20 million quotes anymore, but at this time that was happening. And rightfully so; I’m not saying they shouldn’t have paid Cate and Brad what they deserved.”
She continued, “They deserved that okay, because when this comes out people are coming because of Brad, and they’re going to discover me. I’m bringing a certain amount to the seat too and I felt like what I was asking at that time in my career was fair, was fair to the ticket sales that I would contribute to this big film. Wouldn’t do it. They did $100,000 is what they offered right away and then I was gutted. When it was all said and done I got $150,000, but I had to swallow my pride baby.”
The fact that $150,000 sounds like a great check to many wasn’t lost on the “Hidden Figures” actress, who broke down her expenses involved, including having to pay her team and taxes, which left her with close to $40,000, some of which she had to put toward her son’s $30,000 tuition.
“I know people go ‘$150,000 — that’s a lot of money!’ Let me just break it down to you…because I don’t ever want people to think that I’m ungrateful because that is not me,” she stated. “$150,000. Uncle Sam is going to take 50 percent of that, so now you’re left with what? $75,000. Now before Uncle Sam takes the money, I have to pay my team before taxes. Thirty percent. So once Uncle Sam takes his 75, then I got another 30 that’s coming off of that 75, so I may have made $40,000?”
Henson realized that “they didn’t see my value yet,” and her hard work to prove it paid off. She was nominated for a 2009 Academy Award in the category of Best Supporting Actress, among many other nominations and wins for the role.
“That moment made me start standing up for myself. .. when I portrayed Cookie, now you gon’ give me my money because I have proven myself. This is the biggest show you’ve ever had in a long time; we overseas now,” she said with a laugh. “You gotta give me my money.”