Jeff Vespa/contour by getty images

Person of Interest star Taraji P. Henson isn’t afraid to work hard to get where she belongs.

Though she earned critical acclaim for her breakthrough role in 2005’s Hustle & Flow and an Oscar nod for her turn as Brad Pitt’s adoptive mother in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Taraji P. Henson is not yet the household name her talent seems to merit. With her gig as Detective Joss Carter on CBS’ Person of Interest, Henson is determined to change that. American Way caught up with the 42-year-old Washington, D.C., native to get a peek at her master plan.

Henson with Jim Caviezel on Person of Interest.
David Giesbrecht/cbs
American Way: Is it true that you started out majoring in electrical engineering?
Taraji P. Henson: I applied to Duke Ellington School of the Arts and didn’t get in. When you’re young, you don’t understand that rejection. My fear took over [so I switched to engineering]. When I failed, I called my dad, crying, and he said, “I needed you to see for yourself that that was not what you were supposed to be doing.” That’s when I auditioned for [the Department of Theatre Arts at] Howard University, and from then on out I was singing, dancing and acting.

AW: You performed at the Oscars with Three 6 Mafia in 2006, early in your acting career.
TPH: Hustle & Flow will always be special because my dad died of cancer two weeks before I sang at the Oscars. He told me since I was a little girl, “You’re going to win an Oscar,” and this was years before I got serious about acting. So a part of me was like, “Oh my God, I’m really here,” and I just knew I was going to be back.

AW: And you were, when you got an Academy Award nomination in 2009. So why commit to a regular TV role on Person of Interest?
TPH: Because Jonathan Nolan [co-writer of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises] called me. Come on, it’s Jonathan Nolan calling me! I wasn’t interested in television, but I found out that when he and J.J. Abrams were talking about the project, J.J. said I was the one person they should go to for Carter. So then I read the script, and I’m like, “Oh my God, this is something I’ve never seen before!”

AW: Where would you like to see your career go from here?
TPH: I want to move more into romantic comedy. My favorite movies are feel-good films like Bridget Jones’s Diary, Pretty Woman and Brown Sugar. I’ve been doing the serious stuff, and people know I can do that. But funny is where the money is. That’s why I stay busy: because it’s going to click one day. While I’ve been working, working, working, I’ve been building a massive audience. So when I do get my shot for a Taraji movie, everyone will want to go see it!