Black History Month is meant to be a celebration. But sometimes, the celebration begins with a confrontation. THE BEST OF ENEMIES arrives in theatres right as Black History Month draws to a close. And it shines a light on a complicated time in U.S. history, when noted civil rights activist Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) clashed with Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) over the idea of school integration in North Carolina.
Henson sat down exclusively with AMC to discuss her role as Atwater in THE BEST OF ENEMIES and her chemistry with Rockwell on set. She heard about the part from Danny Strong, a producer on Henson’s hit television show, “Empire.”
“I read it, and I remember asking him, ‘Is this a true story?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ So I looked it up online, and I remember going, ‘Oh my god, this is incredible,’” Henson said. “Like, ‘Do you see art imitating life here? Do you see how important this story is? We have to tell this story!’”
Taraji P. Henson knows a thing or two about bringing important historical chapters of our nation’s identity to the forefront. Her 2016 drama HIDDEN FIGURES celebrated the hardworking and dedicated women who pioneered breakthroughs at NASA during the space race. That film earned a Best Picture OscarÒ nomination, so Henson knows how influential these types of stories can be.
For that reason, Henson never hesitated about taking on another role playing a true-life person portraying actual historical events.
“I don’t have any reservations about playing any character, really,” Henson said. “I’m a character actor, so I’m more interested in playing characters that scare me. If it doesn’t make me nervous in a way that it’s not going to change or transform me — and if I’m not changed or transformed — how will the audience change or transform? Ann Atwater scared the bejesus out of me! But again, knowing that she wanted me to portray her, she wanted me to be a part of this story, knowing that her family approved, it was almost like my mission. She’s asking me to do it. I can’t say no.”
Though audiences haven’t yet seen THE BEST OF ENEMIES, Henson already knows the messages she’d like moviegoers to take away from the story. She wants people to remember that deep down, we are all the same: human beings struggling with our own issues. She also emphasizes that love wins, always, in struggles such as this.
“Love is the search for understanding,” she said. “We have to try and understand each other, which means we need to listen to each other.”
And she hopes that listening leads to conversation once people see THE BEST OF ENEMIES on the big screen.
“I definitely saw it [as a] big-screen [movie], because that’s how you reach the masses,” Henson said. “It had to be on the big screen.”
Directed by Robin Bissell, THE BEST OF ENEMIES stars Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Wes Bentley, Anne Heche and Bruce McGill. You can see it when it opens in AMC theatres near you on April 5.