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September 07, 2016 at 02:57 PM EDT

Taraji P. Henson was on cloud nine when she received her Emmy nomination earlier this year — almost literally, as the actress reveals to EW she found out her performance as Cookie on the Fox drama Empire had been honored for the second year in a row while she was on an airplane.

Speaking to EW during a recent interview, the Oscar-nominated actress recalls the shock she felt when first learning she’d been nominated for her third career award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

“I was on a flight, and — will I go to jail if I say I forgot to turn my cellular service off?” Henson jokes. “I go to the bathroom and I come back and I just had these messages. I’m like, ‘Why would I have messages when I’m 10,000 feet in the air?'”

Henson says she received an influx of well-wishes and congratulatory notes from people, which baffled her, until a moment of clarity came to her thanks to a stranger seated beside her. 

“I look to the guy next to me and I’m like, ‘What could people possibly be congratulating me for?'” she says. “He’s like, ‘An Emmy!’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I guess it is that time of year.’ Pretty anticlimactic.”

She might be a nominee in the category for the second year in a row, but Henson tells EW she no longer feels the weight of a historic victory resting on her shoulders.

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“The pressure of last year was, is an African American woman going to get it, finally. We’re past that now, so the pressure is off,” Henson says, referencing Viola Davis becoming the first black woman in history to win the Best Actress in a Drama award at last year’s ceremony.

Still, Henson admits winning isn’t everything, especially when it comes to celebrating the art she creates with other people in the industry.

“I never really look to win. It’s just always very beauitful when you’re acknowledged by your peers. That’s how I look at it,” she says. “I never look at it as a lose or a win. If you’re nominated and you’re in that room, you’re winning.”

The 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards air Sunday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. ET on ABC. Watch more of Henson’s EW interview in the video, above.

Lee Daniels and Danny Strong created this Fox drama about a kingpin of hip-hop (played by Terrence Howard) and his family, who fight him for control of the empire.
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5
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01/07/15
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