Taraji P. Henson’s Role in ‘Baby Boy’ Almost Went To Another Actor

Taraji P. Henson is best known as the sassy Cookie Lyon on the FOX musical drama Empire but before that, her career spanned nearly 20 years. Henson’s breakout role was as the love interest of singer Tyrese’s character in Baby Boy. Ironically, Henson nearly lost out on the role against fellow actor Essence Atkins.

Tyrese and Taraji P. Henson in 'Baby Boy'
Tyrese and Taraji P. Henson in ‘Baby Boy | Courtesy Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

Essence Atkins almost landed the lead role in ‘Baby Boy’

Atkins began acting at a young age, playing a number of different types of roles. She was excited to audition for the role of Yvette in the John Singleton directed coming-of-age drama Baby Boy.

“I screen-tested for ‘Baby Boy’ against Taraji,” Atkins shared during a Zoom interview with Madame Noire. “I screen-tested with Tyrese and John (Singleton) was there and it’s so funny because I remember when I was done I felt like, ‘aw this is mine,’ and then I saw Taraji walk in and I was like, ‘Maybe not.’”

Source: YouTube

Related: ‘Baby Boy’ Star Tyrese Tells Story of How Tupac Was Supposed to Play Jody

Atkins and Henson worked together previously. Henson played Atkins’ character’s best friend on the sitcom Smart Guy. She says she knew Henson would have landed the role in Baby Boy because she’d witnessed Henson’s magic up close during their time working together.

“Because we had worked together and she played my best friend on “Smart Guy,” I knew how brilliant she was and I knew how gifted she was so I wasn’t surprised when she was cast and she killed it. She was amazing in that film. But, yeah, that’s one of those almosts,” she says.

Despite losing out on the role, Atkins’ career continued to flourish. She starred on the UPN sitcom Half & Half for four seasons, as well as the NBC sitcom Marlon as Marlon Wayan’s ex-wife. She’s also starred in a number of film projects and remains friends with Henson today.

‘Baby Boy’ becomes Taraji P. Henson’s breakout role

Released in 2001, Baby Boy is a  coming-of-age drama film written, produced, and directed by Singleton. The film is an adaptation of events from Singleton’s own life.

Tyrese stars as bicycle mechanic Joseph “Jody” Summers, an immature mama’s boy juggling affairs between his devoted girlfriend, his ex, and his children between both women. Baby Boy marks Henson’s film debut. 

Though it made just under $30 million at the box office, the film is now a cult classic. The on-screen chemistry between Henson and Tyrese is magical, leading to a close friendship and the two working together multiple times after. Henson even starred as Tyrese’s love interest in one of his music videos for his 2011 single “Stay.”

Source: YouTube

Related: What Will Taraji P. Henson Do After ‘Empire?’

Tyrese gushed over Henson in a 2015 interview with The New York Daily News, saying, “That’s my baby. We always get together for lunches and dinners and connect,” he said. “I’m always at her house, she’s at my house. It’s love. I’m very, very honored to tell the world we’re still family and we still connected and hang out beyond that ‘Baby Boy’ set.”

Despite never dating one another, Henson and Tyrese remain close friends and say their relationship mirrors one as siblings.