This is a great week for Taraji P. Henson. Not only does her hit Fox show “Empire” return from its winter hiatus on Wednesday, but also her latest film, “Tyler Perry’s Acrimony,” hits theaters nationwide on Fri., March 30.
The coincidence is one Henson herself initially missed. “Yeah, I just realized that,” she chuckled via telephone from New York City.
Ever since she began starring as Cookie Lyon in 2015, the Washington, D.C. native’s popularity has skyrocketed. Quick-tempered and sharp-witted Lyon, the ex-wife of rapper/music mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) and the mother of his three sons, spent nearly twenty years in prison before coming back to reclaim her half of the music empire for which she sacrificed her freedom.
Meanwhile, Melinda, the woman scorned Henson plays in “Acrimony,” might remind fans of Cookie, but the two are not exactly alike.
“I hope they can see the difference in the characters,” Henson clarified. “Cookie’s already been to jail … she’s not going to jeopardize her freedom so she’s not going to snap. Melinda is snapping.”
“Empire” fans will immediately recognize Ajiona Alexus as the same actress who plays a teenaged Cookie. As with Cookie in “Empire,” Alexus’s role as a young Melinda here, especially as she falls for the younger Robert, is critical to understanding who Melinda becomes.
“It was so crucial (for me) to show those moments that trigger her and show how much she held in,” Alexus explained via telephone from Los Angeles. “I feel like Melinda is the type of character (who) holds (her emotions) in and then, when she pounces or she attacks, she goes all the way in.”
Tracking Melinda’s early emotional build-up is important, Alexus shared, because “it shows you, ‘okay, she dealt with that, this happened and this happened;’ it wasn’t just a random, ‘Oh my God, this girl’s crazy!’”
On the surface, Melinda does seem to be more vulnerable than Cookie. So much so that audiences may recognize themselves or someone they know in her. But, like Cookie, she too has a score she needs to settle.
After loving and sacrificing for her husband for years, another woman is enjoying the fruit of Melinda’s labors and she’s not happy about that.
In fact, a good portion of “Acrimony” focuses on how Melinda and her husband Robert, played by “She’s Gotta Have It” heartthrob Lyriq Bent, get to this point.
At some point during their failing marriage, Melinda discovers not only that Robert has been cheating on her, but he actually gets engaged to the other woman. Scorned and embittered, this housewife then becomes obsessed with exacting revenge against him, no matter the cost.
For Henson, Melinda’s unhinged state made her an appealing role.
“It was very intense. It was like Glenn Close in ‘Fatal Attraction.’ So, I always had a character like that on my bucket list,” Henson said.
There are no dead bunnies here, however. Instead, the heat is turned up on relationships. There are a lot of factors working against the couple.
Robert’s blind obsession with perfecting an invention he believes will make them ridiculously rich generates a lot of tension. Melinda’s sisters’ refusal to accept Robert adds another layer of conflict. And then there are signs, many of them missed, that Melinda may suffer from mental illness.
So even Melinda is not without her faults.
For Henson, Melinda’s unspoken expectations also play a role in the marriage’s demise.
“She made a vow with God that she would love that man through sickness and health, ups and downs, good and bad,” she said. “This man had a dream. That’s not new information. She knew that when she jumped the broom with him.
“Now did she go in with some kind of expectation? Probably, you know, ‘I’ll give him 10 years for this dream to pay off,’” she continued. “But we all know that life can throw curveballs.”
Tyler Perry’s latest psychological thriller, ‘Tyler Perry presents Acrimony’ opens nationwide this Friday, March 30. The film is rated ‘R.’