*”Empire” is an unflinching family drama about the music industry, particularly hip-hop, through the lens of one family who built a music empire through blood, sweat and fears.
Jussie Smollett stars as Jamal Lyon – one of the members of this family in the series premiering on Fox on Wednesday, January 7, at 9pm E/P.
“He kind of shies away from the spotlight,” Smollett said in an exclusive interview about his character, a gay R&B pop singer. “He’s really kind of an internal person as well as being a musical prodigy.”
“The Mighty Ducks” star is in the role of the middle son of Luscious Lyon played by award winning actor Terrence Howard and Cookie Lyon played by Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson.
Cookie had $400,000 in drug money invested in Empire Entertainment.
“She took the fall for Luscious so that he could continue to raise the kids and really make sure that the music and the empire was built properly,” Smollett said.
Cookie served 17 years in prison. While she was behind bars Luscious divorced her.
In the premiere episode she gets out of prison and declares she “wants her company back.” To help her achieve that goal Cookie enlists Jamal, the only one of her three sons to visit her while she was in lock down.
“He (Jamal) is the heart of Cookie. When she gets out he shies away from the spotlight and wants his music to stay pure. When Cookie gets out of jail you know she basically comes up to him like let’s get this money – let’s show the world what you got. She’s really the one who brings him to the forefront,” Smollett said.
The brother of “Eve’s Bayou” star Jurnee Smollett has got music skills and shows what he’s got with the series’ first original song, “No Apologies,” featuring him and Bryshere Gray who portrays the youngest of the three Lyon sons.
The music in the series is sure to be amazing because Timbaland is the Executive Music Producer.
“Empire shows how powerful music is – the jealousy, the envy, the prosperity really feels like my life,” Timbaland stressed. “This is Timbaland at his highest peak.”
There will be three original songs per episode from artists who have hits and new artists.
Luscious is a tough CEO who reached the top the hard way much like rap titan Jay Z revealed he did.
“I started selling drugs when I was nine years old. I did it to feed myself. But it was the music, the melodies that played in my head that kept me alive. It was the music that saved my life,” Luscious mused on the show.
On the season opener Luscious let everyone know he’s literally fighting for his life because he has a terminal illness.
“It’s meaty and it’s raw and it’s truthful,” Smollett said about the nighttime drama. “You really do see another side of the music industry. As beautiful as music is to me – to know that there’s a lot of stuff going on behind closed doors. Then on top of that you put in the fact it’s about a family. And we’re talking about a whole whole whole lot of drama. Drama for your mama.”
What does he think about his character being an out gay R&B singer? This is going against the grain. Frank Ocean is the only name of an out gay R&B star in the real world that comes to mind.
“In the character of Jamal as with all the characters you’re going to find his truth. You know while he’s finding his own truth – you’re also going to find it with him. I think that that is kind of a defining thread in all of Lee Daniels films and projects in general,” Smollett said.
When asked what he thought was the most intriguing thing about “Empire” he replied, “I think that it’s a universal story that everybody can relate to. Music is universal.”
Produced by Lee Daniels of “Lee Daniels’ the Butler” fame – “Empire” also features “Precious” star Gabourey Sidibe.
HEAR more of Tené Croom’s exclusive interview with Jussie Smollett:
Check out the trailer for “Empire”: