Taraji P. Henson stars in a new film titled “What Men Want” — and while the trailer dropped this week, the film is not slated to release until January 2019.
However, Shadow & Act was invited to visit the set for the movie about halfway through filming and meet the cast, which includes lead actress Henson who stars as ambitious sports agent, Ali. The film also features actors Phoebe Robinson, Tamala Jones, Aldis Hodge, and Tracy Morgan and follows Henson as her character gains an unexpected edge over her male colleagues when she develops the ability to hear their thoughts.
Between stories about their fifteen-year friendship, longtime hair and makeup stylist Ashunta Sheriff let us know that we can look forward to seeing Henson don “A lot of earth tones and wispy lashes.” She added the lashes she said, for the rare times when Ali does choose to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants. One of the biggest challenges of working with Taraji, who Sheriff met when the actress was filming Smokin’ Aces, were Henson’s tattoos of which there are a plethora. “We have to cover her tattoos which is a lot. Me and her we have ritual that we do every award season where we get tattoos.”
Costume designer Sekinah Brown revealed she began the process of dressing Taraji’s character Ali by checking out the internet for sports agents. She found that many of them were fairly casual from a sartorial standpoint. That wouldn’t be sufficient at all for the film since as she pointed out, “It’s still a movie, it’s still fantasy and I had to make her look like she has money.” She chose to put Henson in, “A lot of power suits. Then she is part of the boy’s club so I gave her very structured, clean lines, darker colors. Throughout the movie, her palate gets a little bit lighter because she softens up over the course of the movie but I start her out very dark and structured and you’ll see the transition in the film.” Unlike her very first job as a designer for rapper Bubba Sparxxx, which she confessed left her in tears, she always looks forward to working with Henson. “I already knew that she was super cool, she’s very laid back and she gets it. I knew her so I was excited about it. She’s very easygoing and I just love her spirit.”
Aldis Hodge says he was eager to do a comedic role. Hodge is indeed known for his turns as intense characters such as escaped slave Noah in Underground and the unforgettable death row inmate Jack in the Black Museum episode of sci fi anthology series, Black Mirror. He explained, “I don’t think the audience has seen me do comedy. I think they think all I can do is be angry and make people cry so this is exciting. ”Hodge plays Henson’s love interest Will. “Will’s not the only catalyst for change, he’s a part of that. What the film does in smart ways is address what women deal with on a daily basis as they try to navigate male dominated spaces in their personal lives as well. How they have to address their own femininity how she deals with the professional space with her job, how she deals with the romantic space. How she feels whether it’s love or not with Will. There are different reasons why she evolves as a person throughout the film and Will is one of those elements.”
Hodge opened up about his own battles with colorism as a dark-skinned actor, his past as a stand-up comic, and his nervousness about doing a comedic film. He was eager to do a comedy because, like most actors he doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed into playing just one type of character. That still didn’t keep him from feeling nervous when the cameras began rolling. “It took me a few days to feel safe with (Adam Shankman) not because of him but within myself, but he was like ‘Yo, I got you!’” Hodge soon found his groove. “I haven’t touched the comedic stage for a long time so for me on this one, I’m interested to see what I look like and what happens.”
Hodge also let on that the new film will not strictly follow the original in tone either. In essence, it is a very loose remake. “I feel the tone is definitely different but given the generation, given the times, given the leading lady we’re working with and we’re dealing with current issues. The tone has to be different to catch up to what we’re dealing with now.”
The film’s star Taraji P. Henson rushed in briefly; completely unselfconscious wearing a navy blue robe backwards to completely protect the maid of honor (or bridesmaid) dress she was wearing for filming that day. It was fairly ironic given she had just recently become engaged to former NFL player Kelvin Hayden. Touching on the subject, given that her role is that of a sports agent she confessed, “I don’t know stats and things but I do like watching men bounce balls. Basketball is my favorite but I’m learning football because my fiance is an ex NFL player.” Joking that she has enough trouble dealing with her own thoughts, she made it clear that she has no interest in the ability to read other people’s minds. However, her dog is a different story. She laughs, “It would be my dog. I mean come on, like (he’s thinking) ‘I really wanna poop and you’re not gettin’ off the sofa!”
Similar to Hodge, Henson’s long history of playing heavy, dramatic roles sharpened her longing to do something lighter. “This is the role that I’ve been waiting for. As a single parent moving to LA doing a half hour sitcom was a dream role for somebody in my position because I’d still have time to go home and do homework and it didn’t require those crazy hours but as God would have it, I was always doing drama. So I’ve always wanted to do this and I knew I would have a lot to prove. I try to put comedy in everything I do because in life you laugh one minute and cry the next.”
Speaking of comedy, the What Men Want cast boasts a bevy of actors who are primarily known for their comedic work. One of them is Josh Brener. Known primarily for his role in HBO’s critically acclaimed comedy Silicon Valley, Brener is also distinguished for being a former president of Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals. His character is the only person who knows about Ali’s unique power. “The character is Ali’s assistant who happens to be gay, and there is a fun storyline with a will they or won’t they office romance which is a lot of fun to play. I get to work a lot with Pete Davidson from Saturday Night Live who is a brilliant weirdo.” Davidson, of course, is the other part of the “they” to which Brener refers.
One half of comic duo 2 Dope Queens, Phoebe Robinson, was on her second day of shooting. Wearing a bridesmaid dress and sporting locs, she explained that her character Sierra is part of Ali’s inner circle. “Sierra is a little bit boho, go with the flow, everything’s good, free love, we’re all happy. Then Taraji tells me there are some things in my marriage that I don’t know about, that’s when I lose it. It’s really nice because in the beginning I’m really open and frank about sex in the movie so it’s really nice to sort of go through that arc where it’s like, well, you don’t know everything, and I think my character is a little bit taken aback by that.”
Robinson was excited about the project for a number of reasons, one of them being black hair aesthetics. “I had a conversation with Adam Shankman because I wear my hair in a medium-sized fro and I was like I really want my character, if we’re gonna do wigs and stuff to have a natural moment or a loose wave moment. I just kind of wanted to run the gamut of black hair. I remember growing up everyone had really straight hair so it was nice to be a lead character in a movie and have hair like this, it feels really cool.”
What Men Want hits theaters on January 11, 2019.