‘I Never Saw Myself as Miss Hannigan’: Taraji P. Henson Credits Going to an HBCU to Help Her Prepare for ‘Annie Live!’

Taraji P. Henson isn’t taking her casting as Miss Hannigan in NBC’s “Annie Live!” lightly.

The “Hidden Figures” actress has been rehearsing diligently for her turn as the iconic booze-loving owner of the girls orphanage in the cast, which also features newcomer Celina Smith as Annie, Harry Connick Jr. as Daddy Warbucks, Tituss Burgess as Rooster, and Nicole Scherzinger as Grace Farrell.

Taraji P. Henson is excited to portray Miss Hannigan during a live television performance. (Photo: @tarajiphenson/Instagram)

Fans were thrilled to learn of Henson’s casting in June and look forward to seeing her embrace her musical side beyond her unforgettable role as Lyon family matriarch Cookie in “Empire.” Henson told Extra that landing the role is more than a dream come true for her, because seeing a mainstream Black Miss Hannigan, or an African-American in any traditionally white role, was more than than she could have imagined when she was growing up.

Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan in “Annie Live!” @tarajiphenson/Instagram

“As a young, Black artist, studying in college all those years ago, and wanting to be, dreaming to be, I never saw myself as Miss Hannigan because back then, we weren’t into this nontraditional casting that we’re doing nowadays, which is so beautiful,” she told Extra reporter Julissa Bermudez. “But going to an HBCU where I was able to play whatever I wanted to, I was certainly up for the challenge and just grateful that they tapped me.”

The “Proud Mary” star follows in the footsteps of actresses who portrayed the role before her since the original 1977 Broadway run, including Nell Carter, the first Black actress to play Miss Hannigan on Broadway, and the first actress to portray her on camera in the 1982 film adaptation, Carol Burnett.

“I love and have studied the great Carol Burnett … and I just hope I make her proud,” said Henson, who also admitted that while she hasn’t directly spoken to Burnett yet, she does plan on honoring her for the occasion. “I’m sending her a nice package We’ve been trying to reach out to her, but don’t worry, I’m going to get in contact with her. Don’t worry … I have to.”

“Annie Live!” stars Celina Smith, Harry Connick Jr., and Taraji P. Henson. @nbc/Instagram

Henson’s enthusiasm about stepping into Miss Hannigan’s shoes is only matched by her want to make everyone who loves the musical proud.

“I hope I make the franchise proud,” the NAACP Image Award-winning actress expressed. “‘Annie’ has been around for a while, you know, and it’s such a staple and a lot of our memories and when we think of cinematography or musical theater, it’s like a staple for all of us. So, I’m certainly down for the challenge. I’m grateful and I hope I make everybody proud.”

The “Think Like a Man” star announced that she’ll be releasing her first EP in the coming months and is ready to focus on creating “feel-good music” music for a little in an effort to continue to challenge herself throughout her career.

“I’m just working on some really good, feel-good music,” she later added. “I’m not trying to toot my own horn here but it was time for a pivot because I’ve done so many iconic roles, you know what I mean?” she said during a “Good Morning America” appearance.

“It’s like, I can’t just, you know … acting, it has to be something that excites me and challenges me. Like, Miss Hannigan in ‘Annie,’ challenges me. That’s musical theater, taking me back to my roots. So it’s about just continuing to challenge myself.”

“Annie Live!” airs Thursday, Dec. 2 on NBC.

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