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'Empire' producer reveals Taraji P. Henson was cast 30 seconds into her audition

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Chuck Hodes/Fox

How perfect was Taraji P. Henson for the scene-stealing role of Cookie Lyon? 

She was cast mere seconds into her Empire audition. 

That’s what Empire executive producer Danny Strong told an audience of fans at the ATX Festival in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, explaining how the Person of Interest actress came in to do a “chemistry test” with series star Terrence Howard in front of Strong and executive producer Lee Daniels.

“About 30 seconds into Taraji being Cookie, Lee whispered to me, ‘She’s Cookie right?'” Strong said, and noted he told Daniels that he agreed. “Then [Lee said to Henson]: ‘All right bitch, you got the part.'” 

Strong said no other actors were seriously considered for the role of Lyon’s ex-wife (“She was at the top of the list”), but confirmed that offer had been made to Wesley Snipes for the lead role (which the actor rejected). “I always wanted Terrence,” the producer noted. 

“The part I was most worried about casting was Jamal,” Strong added about the part that went to Jussie Smollett. “You needed a performer you could believe was a massive star … and was likable.” 

For more from Empire‘s ATX Festival panel, see our rundown of highlights from the event.