Taraji P. Henson’s “Proud Mary” costar is Jahi Winston, 14, of Marietta

Image: Sony Pictures

Nothing gets to Taraji P. Henson’s character in “Proud Mary,” in theaters Friday. The professional hitwoman has nerves of steel and ice water flowing through her veins. Getting ready for “work” means packing the right pieces, and her only concern is making sure the job is done.

Until she inadvertently crosses paths with Danny, a 12-year-old who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but with the right accessories. She finds him at the scene after her work is done. Because he’s been playing video games with his headphones on, he has no idea what’s just happened.

Mary sneaks away, but can’t quit thinking about that kid. She keeps an eye on him and eventually becomes part of his life. That’s where the real story begins.

Here’s the trailer:

“Like Danny, Mary was forced by circumstances to take on this life,” producer Paul Schiff said in a statement. “As a child she’d been picked up off the street and trained to kill. The only love that she has ever really known is from this dark, criminal family that cared for her in return for her services as an assassin—and as she gets older that perverse relationship continues.”

Jahi Di’Allo Winston, 14, of Marietta in north metro Atlanta, plays Danny. He got his start on Broadway as young Simba in Disney’s “The Lion King,” and his past work includes roles in “Feed the Beast” and “The New Edition Story.”

Photo: Jennifer Brett

“What drew me to Danny was basically his need to be vulnerable,” he said during an interview Thursday morning. “He got put on the streets very abruptly and had this new lifestyle. He has to put on this front but really he’s this sensitive kid who got ripped from his home.”

He was awed at working with someone of Henson’s stature.

“When I look at Taraji and I look at her work I see good, strong women in my family,” he said.

The role was a challenging one.

“It was a lot of hard work. I’d never done anything this emotional before,” he said. “I worked so hard to do this role and to get it right and to do it respectfully because this is a lot of people’s lives.”

A homeschooled teen growing up in suburban Atlanta, he doesn’t have much in common with a kid tossed to the streets and growing up amid violence, but embodying Danny has increased his empathy.

“His want and need for affection,” is what drew him to the role. “He’s abandoned. He needs love. He’s this lost soul. You have to look deeper in. We all have our assumptions of people when we meet them. Once you actually meet them you’ve got to let that go.”

Once Jahi auditioned for the role of Danny in “Proud Mary,” everyone knew the selection process was over.

“One of the pleasures of producing movies is that moment when an actor comes into a room, delivers an audition, and you realize not only have you found exactly the actor that you were hoping to discover, but that no one else can play the role,” Schiff said. “And that happened when Jahi came in. He has an uncanny level of technical skill that many adult actors don’t have. Most actors that young disappear until their next lines come, but he’s the exact opposite—he’s so present. He listens. He’s in the scene and in the moment, completely connected to the character and to his fellow actor.”

In a statement, Henson raved about her young co-star.

“His little eyes draw you in and melt your heart,” she said. “He is my little pea, my little booboo.”

Jahi’s desire to perfect his craft led to a strong off-screen bond between the two.

“As an actor Jahi’s hungry and wants to do better; he’s always asking me questions, following me around like my little shadow, which is great for the relationship between Mary and Danny,” Henson said.

 

Image: Sony Pictures

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