Editor: Michael St. Michael @michaelstmichael Interview: Dylan Jader @thedylanjader Photo: Djeneba Aduayom @djenebaaduayom MUA: Dominique Lerma @dominique_lerma Hair: King Patrick @king_patrikk Wardrobe Exclusive with @ivanbittonstylehouse styled by Lundyn Rose @lundynellerose
Prune: From working at a nursing home to finding yourself at an Empire audition. Take me back to the start of it all.
Ta’Rhonda: I was working three jobs and literally did not see the light of day. Someone gave wind to my brother that Terrence Howard was looking for female rappers. I ended up auditioning for the show – not knowing it was for a show. The casting director asked me to leave my name and number and I thought that was her way of shoving me out the door, but that same day she emailed me the Porsha role. The third day I went in I told them “look I have a job, I can’t keep postponing work.” I still didn’t know what was going on. This day I also met Lee Daniels, but I had no clue Lee Daniels was Lee Daniels. He’s screaming “yassss bitch” and I’m wondering who this man is screaming “bitch” at me with pajamas on. He told me I was brilliant and that I could leave. After being on hold, I finally got the call that I’d booked the role. The same day I got a call from a hospital that I was being offered a job. I went home a prayed, asking for a sign. I had a cousin, who was like my brother, that was murdered that same year. I kept a watch of his, and when I said I needed a sign the alarm on the watch went off. It was 8:23pm. I always played the lottery and I played the number 823, but I’d never win. At that point, I realized I’d finally won.
Prune: You’ve made a huge splash in the industry with your role as Porsha on Empire. Talk to me about the impact of this show on your career.
Ta’Rhonda: First season I had no clue – I didn’t know the ropes. There was a scene where Porsha had to walk with Cookie and talk to newscasters. We did the scene over and over and I finally started laughing to myself. I was sitting next to Taraji P. Henson and she asked what was funny. I told her it would be funny if I jumped in front of the camera, because everyone wants their five minutes of fame and to go home and watch themselves. She said “oh my god do that. Anything that makes the show better, do you.” I took those words and ran with them. The second I did it, Lee yelled cut. He asked me who told me to do that, I told him nobody, and he told me it was brilliant. Taraji nudged me and said “see, told you.” From there on out, Porsha was basically ad libbed from me.
Prune: You work alongside some of the most accredited actors in Hollywood. Talk to me about this cast.
Ta’Rhonda: Oh my god, Phylicia Rashad, it’s crazy. These are people that I’ve literally looked up to since watching TV as a child. Taraji, these are household names. Forest Whitaker – he’s so sweet it’s scary.
Prune: Empire is Fox’s top-rated show. What is the secret to success?
Ta’Rhonda: Lie and steal. Meaning, lay down your own rules and steal every opportunity that comes your way.
Prune: What character do you relate most to on the show?
Ta’Rhonda: I would say Becky. She’s been an underdog on the show. Last season, she thought she was going to get promoted, and when she didn’t she started to feel some type of way. Becky can be underestimated, and so can Porsha. They can bring a lot to the table.
Prune: Aside from Empire, you’re also building a music career. Talk to me about that.
Ta’Rhonda: I’m actually working on music now. My brother is number one fan, and he tells me I need to start putting out a video once a week to remind people this is what I do, this is what I came to the game for. I have a lot of music in the works, hopefully I can put out an EP no later than Christmas.
Prune: Who inspires you most in the industry?
Ta’Rhonda: I would say Taraji. I work alongside her and I know her struggles. She has an amazing story. She’s been going at it for a really long time, she never gave up and she knew that this was what she was destined to do.
Prune: Earlier in the year you returned to Chicago to host a celebrity basketball game to raise awareness about gun violence. Talk to me about this event and its importance.
Ta’Rhonda: As mentioned earlier, my cousin was murdered. This was the worst thing that’d ever happened to my family. I thought because I have a big enough platform to bring awareness to people, I wanted to be able to help my community. Before Empire, I was already active in my community – everybody knows I love kids. I wanted to do something fun, basketball. I teamed up with the Brady Campaign and put on a celebrity basketball game. My Empire cast came, and the looks on everyone attending the game’s faces were priceless. The turnout was amazing. Taraji came, Jussie came, everyone was going crazy. Gabourey was the referee, Serayah played.
Prune: We’ll finish on our favorite topic – fashion. What is your everyday style?
Ta’Rhonda: Edgy sheek. I’m a sneaker girl. When I was first in the game, I told my publicist I didn’t want to wear heels on the carpet, I wanted to be known for wearing gym shoes. She said no.
Prune: What are your three favorite trends at the moment?
Ta’Rhonda: Trench coats, bell bottoms, and Adidas sneakers.
Prune: And finally, pop culture pruning. What trend would you like to eliminate?
Ta’Rhonda: Squiggly ass eyebrows. Whoever came up with that, they don’t deserve eyebrows.