Taraji P. Henson: Life before 'Cookie'

Taraji: Swahili for “hope”

Penda: Swahili for “love”

Throughout a 15 year career, Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson has expressed these emotions, and a range of others, through a collection of characters who are anything but simple – and nothing short of fascinating.

Her story begins in Washington D.C.

The son of a janitor and a metal fabricator, Taraji paid her way through college by working as a secretary for the Pentagon. After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts, she picked up bit roles in a string of TV series, like the teen comedy “Smart Guy.”

But in 2001, things changed. That’s when the world took notice of Henson after her breakout role in the dramedy “Baby Boy.”

While she’s always been able to dominate the small screen, appearing in House, ER, Murder She Wrote, CSI and Boston Legal, the big screen is where her talents really showed.

She would meet her future “Empire” co-star Terrence Howard on screen in the Academy Award nominated film “Hustle and Flow." But just three years later, she announced her skills to the world, earning an Oscar nomination for her role opposite Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Since then, she’s starred in a number of successful films and television series, but nothing could compare to the character that would forever change her life: Cookie.

After just one season, Henson dominated television with the captivating character of Cookie Lyons. She won a BET award, a Critics Choice Television Award, and could very well walk away with an Emmy later this month.

Yes, we’ve seen a lot of talent from the young career of Taraji P. Henson, but if she’s proven anything, it’s that the best is yet to come.