Jussie Smollett from 'Empire'

Category: Television


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“What viewers see is a man trying to make it work. Empire (airing Wednesdays on FOX) doesn’t preach, but rather holds up a mirror, while entertaining them,” insists Jussie Smollett, who plays the Lyons’ middle son Jamal. Having come out as gay on the Ellen DeGeneres show in March 2015, he’s determined to play Jamal “as honest and fearless as I can.”

Learning from a less than stellar sophomore season two, that packing too many superficial characters and failed casting stunts in the storyline doesn’t work, co-creator Lee Daniels has returned to the series major draw – the Lyon family and Jamal plays a prominent role in that goal this season.

Smollett’s character finds himself struggling with PTSD after being shot last season and he finds himself falling hard for his counselor, Philip (Juan Antonio). “I’m happy where the storyline is going although I had to do some extra research,” the 33-year-old actor admitted.

Jamal has never been his father Lucious’s favorite among the three Lyon boys.  Smollet has a theory about that. He interjected, “It’s not about Jamal’s sexuality. They just have a problem because they are so much alike. We don’t all have to see the world the same. We don’t all have to agree.”

Attempting to channel his character’s psychological pain into something positive, Jamal also teams up with politician/businessman Angelo Dubois (guest star Taye Diggs) to discuss gun violence and host a summit for awareness.

Refreshing memories, in last May’s cliffhanger Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and her ex-husband, Lucious (Terrence Howard) appeared to be on the verge of rekindling their romance, but instead he hastily married Anika (Grace Gealey) to prevent her from testifying against him in court. Cookie has finally had it with Lucious, so it’s no surprise that her new love interest is Angelo.  This stirs up the melodrama plot – Lucious is crazed with jealousy, while Angelo’s domineering mother Diana (Phylicia Rashad) sees her son’s political aspirations being compromised.

After hinting about a mysterious guest star for the past year, it turns out to be Mariah Carey, who joins Jamal onset in the recording studio. “Back in the 1990’s it was Whitney and Mariah. I flew into Los Angeles early to start preparing and I prayed to the Lord a lot because our duet has to be on point,” said Smollet, whose achieved his own degree of musical recognition for his song You’re So Beautiful that earned him a mantel’s worth of trophies at the 2016 NAACP Image Awards.

Actively involved in numerous charities, he was singled out as one of the “30 artists under 30” by the Black AIDS Instituted and was given the group’s prestigious Heroes in the Struggle Award. Smollett also sits on the Board of Artists for a New South Africa, the Trayvon Martin Foundation, and the RuJohn Foundation.

The Columbia recording artist, who calls LA home, will next be seen in Ridley Scott’s Alien: Convenant, and the biographical drama Marshall where he portrays renowned poet Langston Hughes. Smollett becomes unusually mum, however, when it comes to divulging any specifics about Alien.  My  contract was pretty much the size of a phonebook.  If I tell any of the secrets I have to give up my first born. I can say my character is a member of the convenant and it was such an awesome crew,” he begged off. For anything more, fans of the franchise will have to wait until the movie premieres on Aug. 4, 2017.

About the Author

Winnie Bonelli is a former entertainment editor for a daily metropolitan New York City area newspaper. She is passionate about movies and television and loves to take readers behind the scenes.