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Playing a figure in real life is a minefield of minute details. Everything from speech patterns to hand gestures, as well as wardrobe choices and physical appearance, can be studied and scrutinized in the name of turning yourself into another person. But even with all of that effort, it still isn’t an exact science. That is when the time honored tool of a good prosthetic suit comes in handy, and while playing The Best of Enemies’ civil rights hero Ann Atwater, actor Taraji P. Henson understood this specific point the best.
During CinemaBlend’s recent conversation with Taraji P. Henson, as part of The Best of Enemies’ promotional tour, the subject of just what it took for her to sink into character came up. And in discussing that point, it all came down to the physical transformation that Henson had to make in order to truly embody Atwater’s trademark movements and gestures.
In the effort to make this change as accurate as possible, the suit that Henson wore in the film needed to undergo some specific alterations. And those changes, as explained in our conversation, came down to the following physical attributes:
The boobs were small, and they were perky and pretty. And I was like, ‘That doesn’t match the woman.’ … When I put the suit on, it felt light. I felt like I was walking like myself, and I was like, ‘I need to walk differently, I can’t walk like Taraji. I need to be earthy, heavy, in the ground, you know?’ I said, ‘Call Tyler Perry, and ask him who made Madea’s boobs, because I need boobs like that.’ … My point is, they didn’t think I would be willing to go there, and I was like, ‘I have to. This is a real person. I would be doing her a disservice if I didn’t."
It’s that sort of dedication that’s been extremely significant in Taraji P. Henson’s evolution as an actor. In preparing for Proud Mary, Henson previously spoke to us about how she prepared to deal with a film that had more action than she was previously used to. That same dedication is what comes through in her description of how she got ready for The Best of Enemies, as everything from how Ann ate to how she walked was put on the table as qualities to be studied and mastered in her portrayal.
The end result was something that everyone on set, and especially Taraji P. Henson herself, noticed during the filming of The Best of Enemies. Even her own personal security detail, whom she hired after their work on Proud Mary, noted to her that she was a totally different person once she’d gotten into her full prosthetic suit. And thanks to her push for a more accurate design, Henson was able to proudly claim this special victory:
For me, every time I put the suit on. Every time I got suited up, and I put on that fat suit, I was Ann.
It doesn’t matter if it’s getting a prosthetic suit just right, adapting to intense stunt work or whatever other challenges she has faced in the various projects she’s been a part of, Taraji P. Henson has a process when it comes to digging into a role; and it’s a huge part of what makes her specific brand of acting so unique. Tthat process works like a charm, as it allowed her to truly dig into the personal story of Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis’s friendship, which is at the very heart of The Best of Enemies.
The Best of Enemies will be in theaters this Friday.