Exclusive Interview: How Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures & Pure Kindness Changed The Life Of Denise Woods: The Queen of Speech
If you see a beautiful black woman with green eyes, a bright smile and a dialect so clear, it makes you want to go home and watch ‘My Fair Lady,’ it might be actress and dialect coach to the stars, Denise Woods.
With a career spanning nearly 3 decades, the accomplished teacher who formerly performed on Broadway and taught speech at Julliard, has been apart of the success of Hollywood’s biggest stars! Award winning actor Anthony Mackie, who was her former student once told me that she was one of his favorite teachers of all time and with her patient disposition and vibrant personality, it’s not hard to believe.
Denise Woods has worked with everyone from A list talent and up and coming stars to everyday people who want to improve their speech. Her client list includes Will Smith, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, Common, Jessica Chastain, Ray Liotta, Portia De Rossi, Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rashad, Morris Chestnut, Soledad O’Brian, Mike Meyers, Chris Kelley, Eve, Sanaa Lathan, Chris Hansan and Taye Diggs to name a select few. But, working with Empire star, Taraji P. Henson and the cast of Hidden Figures would be the encounter that would give her one of the most gratifying experiences of her life.
Instead of a traditional interview, I let Denise explain in her own words, how an act of pure kindness, put her on a trajectory that changed her cards.
What was it like working on the set of Hidden Figures?
“I became very close with Katherine Johnson’s daughter. That was beautiful. We all new that we were apart of something very large and we just wanted to honor these women and get the story right.”
How did this experience come to pass?
“It goes back for about 3 1/2 years. I had a client who studied at the Richard Lawson studios. And Richard Lawson of course is Beyonce’s step father. He married Tina Knowles. He is a very good friend of mine and he said to me, ‘Denise I have this wonderful actress from Philly and she has a very thick accent and she will never work in this town with that accent. Could you work with her?’ I said of course. So this beautiful African American girl walks in and her accent was so heavy. And when I quoted her what my price was, she said ‘I can’t afford it, I have a son, I’m a single mom and I can’t afford to do this.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to train you for free. And I did. And we worked off and on for about 6 or 7 months. And right before my eyes, I just saw this girl transform. And after 6 months, she went back to all of the people she met with before who told her to fix her accent and one of the people she goes back to, says to her, ‘Oh my gosh! You don’t even sound like yourself. What happened? And she said, this woman named Denise Woods, do you know her? And he was like, no?’ And she had my card. She gives it to him and he happens to be Halle Berry’s manager and Taraji P. Henson’s manager. So, just from being a Blessing to someone else, the Blessing came back. Because he called me and he wanted me to initially work with Halle’s husband at the time, Olivier on his accent, which we did. And from there he just kept sending me clients and we have a really great relationship. Almost like a father, cause he’s from Brooklyn! His name is Vince Cirrincione . And he calls me and says. ‘Denise, Taraji’s getting ready to play this scientist and we don’t want her to sound like Cookie! And she only has a week between Empire before she has to go down to Atlanta to shoot, so I want you to call the director. So I call the director and the director says, ‘I like what you’re telling me, what would it take to get you down here to be everybody’s dialect coach?’ I said, make me an offer!’
“And then, I’m down on set coaching everybody, with the exception of Octavia Spencer, who came to me very sweetly and said,’Baby, I don’t need a dialect coach, I’m from the south. I got this.’ I said, ‘Cool! Ok mama!’
“I worked with Taraji, Janelle Monae, Kirstin Dunst and Kimberly Quinn. So, long story short, the trajectory is over 3 1/2 years of just being kind and trust me, 3 1/2 years ago, I could not afford to give away anything. I was just barely making it with my huge overhead of my studio and everything. But, I just said, you can’t afford to turn this girl away Denise. And look at what it yielded. It’s beyond my wildest expectations. Taraji brings me with her on every movie now. We’re the best of friends and it’s truly been a Blessing. Sometimes we get so caught up in the business of acting that we forget the altruism, the philanthropy, especially in those moments when times are hard.”
“The last movie that I recently worked on with Taraji is a Tyler Perry film. And we were on set and I’m coaching her, because she brings me so she will stay in character and Cookie won’t creep in, because Cookie’s such a part of her DNA now. And she was on set with an actress that wasn’t giving her what she needed for the scene. And Tyler says I will just do the scene with Taraji. So, he does a take and Taraji says, can you do me a favor and bring my coach in to do the scene with me? Because we tore this up in the dressing room and I’m finding that I’m replicating what we did. And instead of replicating it, let’s just do it!’ So, we do the first take and we are on point! And Tyler says cut. ‘Denise can you come here? Are you an actress? Or a voice over actress?’ I said,’I am an actress and I taught voice and speech at Julliard.’
“He said,’Oh ho, ho! Julliard, get this women a microphone and a contract, she’s got the job!‘ Yes!! So, I’m in Tyler’s next movie! All because [3 1/2 years ago] I looked past that girls circumstance and said,’ Come on in here, girl I’m gonna train you.’ [Being in Tyler’s film with Tarji] It was one of the highlights of my life and a reminder of the old adage, stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.“
Thank you for sharing your story of inspiration Denise. What an outstanding reminder to us that when you open your heart and give with no expectations, the blessings you receive in return may exceed the biggest dreams you’ve ever had for yourself.
Look out for Denise in Tyler Perry’s upcoming film with Taraji P. Henson. The name of the film has yet to be released, but when we spot the trailer, you will be the first to know! And check out the outstanding film, Hidden Figures that is killing the box office right now!
Also, if you are interested in taking class with the Queen of Speech, Denise Woods (I highly recommend her!) You can take class with her at her studio in Los Angeles or via skype! Check out her classes on her website SpeakitClearly.com