In “What Men Want,” in theaters Feb. 8, Taraji P. Henson plays a successful sports agent who feels cheated by the opposite sex professionally and has trouble relating to them personally. After a bachelorette party involving a wacky tarot card reader (played by Erykah Badu) with a special tea and a head injury on the dance floor, she awakens with the ability to read men’s minds.
If the premise sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it is. The movie is a re-imagining of 2000’s “What Women Want,” directed by Nancy Meyers and starring Mel Gibson, and it’s the latest in a string of gender-swapping remakes and re-imaginings of beloved films.
“Women are [the ones] who go to the movies, and I think Hollywood is finally getting hip to that,” Henson tells The Post.
The film comes on the heels of two big hits starring all-female ensembles — 2016’s “Ghostbusters” and 2018’s “Ocean’s 8” — along with last year’s “Overboard,” which features Anna Faris in the Kurt Russell role and was also a box-office success.
There’s more to come with a re-imagining of “After the Wedding” premiering at Sundance earlier this month, a female-led “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” reboot hitting theaters in May and a “Splash” with Channing Tatum playing a merman supposedly still in the works.
Insiders say these projects just make sense from a marketing standpoint. To get people to go to the theater, “you need the movie to be familiar enough that they’re interested, but unique enough that they feel the need to go,” says a research executive who works with major Hollywood studios.
But these female-centric films aren’t only motivated by box-office potential, says “What Men Want” producer Will Packer, who made the 2017 smash “Girls Trip.” (Henson is also a producer of the new movie.)
“[Women’s] stories are the interesting stories that we haven’t heard,” Packer tells The Post.
‘Women are [the ones] who go to the movies, and I think Hollywood is finally getting hip to that.’
Paramount first came to him just over a year ago with the idea for redoing “What Women Want,” a title the studio owns and a big success that brought in more than $374 million at the worldwide box office.
“They were thinking about redoing it and they said, ‘Maybe we’ll gender swap it, put a women at the center,’ ” Packer says. “I said, ‘First of all that’s smart’ . . . and then I said, ‘Listen, there’s nobody other than Taraji P. Henson that can play this role.’ ”
He and Henson had worked together on “Think Like a Man” and other films, and he flew to Chicago, where she was shooting the TV show “Empire” to sign her on. The Golden Globe-winning actress, who got an Oscar nod for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” was burnt out on serious roles, telling Packer, “I have cried every way you can cry in a role. I have ugly-cried and smile-cried.”
“I wanted to do a comedy so bad,” Henson says. And, “I love the original [movie].”
Director Adam Shankman admits he wasn’t initially excited when his agent told him someone was remaking the Gibson flick.
He thought, “Oh, really, good for them.” Then he heard the words Taraji P. Henson, and he had his agent send the script over.
While the Gibson movie and the new film share a central conceit, they’re quite different. Good thing, says the director, because the 2000 film and its main character would likely come across as offensive by 2019 standards.
“I do not think that movie would be made today . . . [with] his level of chauvinism and misogyny,” Shankman says. While Gibson’s womanizing protagonist is the villain of the film, in the new movie, Shankman says, “the culture is the villain and [Taraji’s character is] just working really hard to navigate [it].”
Stylistically, he says the new movie borrows a lot from the fast-talking comedies of the ’30s and ’40s that featured stars such as Rosalind Russell. Henson says she looked to the physicality of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, particularly Burnett’s Mrs. Wiggins character, for her performance. Henson and Shankman bonded over their deep knowledge of old comedies and musical theater.
“Before he would get out of his seat,” the actress says, “I was like, ‘I know what you want, Adam, let me give it to you.’ ”
The star believes that while the different sexes think differently, their basic needs and desires are the same.
“[Women are] more complex in thinking. [Men are] more like, ‘Cut to it,’ ” Henson says. “But I think at the core of men and women, we want the same thing as far as relationships are concerned, unless you’re a swinger and you just want everything.”
And she has her own ideas for gender-swapping remakes.
“I wouldn’t mind doing ‘Pretty Woman,’ but make it a guy, like a male escort,” says Henson, who says, with a cackle, that she’d “absolutely” be up for playing the Richard Gere role. “That’s empowering for women!”
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