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In 'Benjamin Button,' Taraji Henson lives a dream

Taraji Henson spent less than 24 hours in Philadelphia during her press tour and said she "probably met every member of the press here" during that whirlwind.

Taraji Henson spent less than 24 hours in Philadelphia during her press tour and said she "probably met every member of the press here" during that whirlwind.

Henson was still upbeat and enthusiastic when discussing her career on her way back to the airport.

How could she possibly still have that much energy?

"Because I love what I do," she explained with a laugh.

With the busy year Henson has had, she must be used to being tired - and excited. She has four movies due, including long-awaited "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which opens tomorrow.

In "Button" she plays Queenie, a young woman who works in a nursing home and adopts a baby that she finds left on her stairs: Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), who ages backwards.

"It was great," Henson gushed about the movie. "These are the movies that you dream about when you say you want to act. You think Hollywood films with big stars, you know. This is what you pray.

"Everybody doesn't make it to this level in their career," Henson continued. "I'm very honored and blessed and thankful. I don't take it for granted."

Though acting has always been one of Henson's passions, she thought she'd have to steer in a different direction after being denied admission to a performing-arts high school. She went to college, at first, to study engineering but doesn't really know why.

"I'm not even wired mathematically," she said, "but I tried and failed, so here I am, an actress, where I should have stayed anyway." She transferred to Howard University, from which she graduated in 1995, and has been acting ever since.

Because the movie covers the entire lifespan of Benjamin Button, from the time he is born until he dies in his eighties, Henson had to age in the movie. Though she has been acting for more than a decade, playing a character over a long time period was a new experience for her, and through it she gained a new appreciation for other actors.

"I had never aged in a film before, I never had to wear prosthetic makeup," she explained. "It is a very tedious process, and I have a newfound respect for Jim Carrey, for Eddie Murphy, in these movies when they're playing five or six different characters, because they have to have a lot of heavy prosthetic work."

Part of what made the movie so special to Henson was working with director David Fincher.

"He was incredible," Henson said. "Quite nurturing for me. Men usually leave the nurturing to the women," but not Fincher.

Henson also recently appeared in "The Family that Preys," where the work environment was incredibly different, but equally rewarding.

"[Writer/director] Tyler Perry is so much fun, his sets are so much fun," she said.

"It was almost to the point where I felt guilty, like I was at a big party and not at work."

Henson's love of laughing is clear and contagious.

Perhaps it explains her long-term goals as an actress.

"I want to do comedy," she said. "I'm a comedic actress. I have played a lot of dramatic roles, and people haven't seen [the comedic] side of me yet, but they will. I want to break from heavy characters."

This is a surprising fact coming from someone so good at playing "heavy" characters. There is "Oscar buzz" around Henson's performance in "Benjamin Button," but anyone can see her innate comedic chops even in such a serious movie.

"I add an element of humor in all my work because even the darkest characters have a funny side," she explains. "And anybody with half a brain can see I'm funny as . . ."

She laughs instead of finishing her sentence. *