From the current legal battles to all of the Empire lawsuits you haven’t heard about, today we look at Jussie Smollett and the Empire cast’s darkest secrets
For those who aren’t huge fans of Empire, we’re going to talk a little about the show before we get into the dark secrets involving cast members and creators. This series debuted on Fox in January 2015. It’s set in the Big Apple, but filming takes place in Chicago. Empire revolves around a man named Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard, who used to deal in illegal substances and is an executive in the hip hop industry. Lyon has to choose a successor to run his company, called Empire Entertainment, after he finds out that he’s facing a fatal illness. While he’s preparing one of his sons to assume his role as CEO, Lyon turns the three of them against each other. Plus, Lucious’ wife, who had just served a seventeen-year-long sentence in prison, attempts to take control of their sons and Empire Entertainment. The show was created by Danny Strong and Lee Daniels, the latter of which produced films including Precious, The Paperboy, and Monster’s Ball. Some of the stars in Empire are Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Bryshere Y. Gray, Jussie Smollett, and Trai and Grace Byers. So far, critics have given the series mostly positive reviews, and its first season has an eighty-four percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The second season went up an additional three percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Plus, Empire has won several awards so far, including a couple of BET Awards and Teen Choice Awards.
Just about everyone has heard about the alleged incident involving Jussie Smollett, who played Jamal Lyon on Empire. He came out as gay in a March 2015 interview with Ellen DeGeneres. Smollett has been acting since 1991 in films like The Mighty Ducks and North. However, he gained most of his fame after joining the Empire cast. But, this actor ended up getting kicked off the show after his recent falsehoods and legal problems. On January 22, 2019, Smollett received a letter that threatened his life and contained homophobic slurs. “MAGA” was written on the envelope in reference to President Donald Trump’s famous slogan, “Make America Great Again.” About a week later, the actor claimed that he was jumped by two men who proceeded to make derogatory remarks about him, poured some type of chemical on him, and tied a noose around his neck. He also said that the men shouted, “This is MAGA country!” while doing so. The police opened an investigation at the end of January, and people began questioning whether or not the event actually happened. But, Smollett said he’d been truthful. After looking through the phone records Jussie gave them around mid-February, the police noted that they were heavily revised or edited.
As the investigation continued, Smollett went on Good Morning America for his first television interview after the alleged incident. He began tearing up and defended himself against people’s claims that he was lying. Jussie even noted that he wasn’t going to report the event initially because he wanted to maintain his pride. Around the same time, the Chicago PD said that the media’s claims about the entire thing being fake weren’t confirmed, and there was no available evidence that it was set up. However, after the police questioned two people of interest, they released the men and said that they needed to complete more investigative work. On February 16, 2019, a source informed CBS that the two men who were questioned told the detective that Jussie had paid them to beat him up. They further noted that the rope around the actor’s neck had been purchased at a hardware store in the area. A couple of days later, they made a public statement reiterating that they weren’t homophobic, racist, or anti-Trump.
On February 20, 2019, surveillance footage came out on CBS that proved the men had purchased ski masks and a red hat one day prior to the incident. The next day, Smollett turned himself in to the police, and a one-hundred-thousand-dollar bail was set. People everywhere were aghast at the news that Smollett set the incident up to help his career. But, he continued to claim he was innocent. However, he was charged with sixteen separate felony charges and was charged with one felony for “disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.”
Another Empire star, Terrence Howard, has had a lot to say about the Jussie incident as well. But, Terrence himself has dealt with various legal problems throughout his career. Women accused him of domestic violence on several occasions. In 2009, he was accused of hitting his ex-wife twice in the face after making threats, stalking her, and breaking into her home. He admitted to being physically aggressive with her in 2015. In 2011, Howard’s other ex-wife was granted a restraining order after telling the judge that Howard caused her physical harm that forced her to go to the hospital. She got a second restraining order two years later after he gave her a black eye. Despite Howard’s shady past, he apparently questioned his co-star’s claims after the news about Smollett was reported. A source told TMZ that Howard was very upset after it came out and didn’t believe Jussie from the beginning. The source added that Terrence questioned Smollett several times when holes in his story came to light. However, Terrence later defended the actor, stating that his friends have his back. He even said that he’s referred to Smollet as his ‘son’ for five years.
Somebody else from Empire that doesn’t have the best reputation is Nia Long. This actress is known for various things like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Boyz n the Hood, Big Momma’s House, and Are We There Yet?. But, her alleged diva attitude got her in trouble while she was on the set of Empire’s third season. TMZ reported that the makeup and hair stylists for the show had to officially file a complaint against Long. However, it wasn’t only the stylists that had issues with the actress; the production people and cast said that she was unprofessional and disrespectful throughout her time on the series. TMZ’s sources also claimed that she was continually late and rude. But, Long’s representative said she is always professional and is friends with her co-stars.
Long & Henson
Apparently, Nia didn’t get along with her co-star, Taraji P. Henson, either. These two reportedly had beef on set, and they remained silent about it for a long time. However, Nia denied the rumors. She said she loved Taraji and called her “an amazing actress,” according to a BET article. But, other reports suggest that it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies between these two celebs. E! News noted that the women both wanted to be in the spotlight and were “at each other’s throats” while shooting. They further stated that tensions were so high the producers wanted to film their shared scenes at different times. Nevertheless, Nia and her representative continued to deny all the rumors.
Despite all of the negativity revolving around the Empire cast, two of the stars found love on set. Grace Gealey and Trai Byers began dating while they were filming the show. They were cautious about getting involved at first because work relationships can end badly, especially if you’re stuck together for several more seasons. However, they fell in love and became engaged in 2015. They tied the knot about a year later on Grand Cayman Island. Grace took to Instagram after their wedding to thank their fans for wishing them well. So far, these two are living happily ever after!
Not only have the stars of Empire faced many legal and personal troubles, but the show’s producers have as well. One woman named Sophia Eggleston said that the role of Cookie Lyon was based on her life. She filed a three-hundred-million-dollar lawsuit against Fox and Lee Daniels, one of the creators of the series. Eggleston noted that they stole her story, which she had written about in her book titled The Hidden Hand. She stated that there are just too many similarities between her and Cookie for it to have been a mere coincidence. However, Sophia wasn’t the only person to sue the show. A man named Ron Newt said that he gave Terrence Howard a DVD copy of his documentary called Bigger Than Big. He further stated that Empire was stealing his life story. But, the judge threw the case out, and Newt didn’t receive his ten million dollars. Fox and the show’s co-creators, Danny Strong and Lee Daniels, were sued once more a few years ago. That time, the author of the book Unity Incorporated: The Mastermind, Timothy J. Levi, claimed that they had “infringed his copyright” by taking a significant amount of material from his book. He added that he had given a copy of his original text to a lawyer named Robert Walker. Levi said that Walker gave a copy of that manuscript to the show’s creators before Empire debuted. Considering the similarities between the book’s and series’ characters and storylines, Levi decided to sue for one and a half billion dollars in 2016.
It’s no surprise that the ordeal surrounding Jussie Smollett and his alleged lies would cause a lot of angst for the creators of Empire. Lee Daniels spoke out about the incident in March 2019. He said that the past few weeks have been really difficult and full of ups and downs. He also stated that he’s been dealing with a lot of different emotions concerning Smollett. Daniels noted that he and the entire cast of Empire have felt sadness, pain, anger, and frustration and weren’t sure how they should handle it. He added that the point of the series was to help mend the divisions in America and spark discussions about current issues. However, Jussie’s incident tore things apart and brought about the wrong type of attention. Originally, the director quickly sided with Smollett because the actor’s character in Empire is based on Daniels’ life. He is also a gay man of color that relates closely with Jussie on and off-screen. But, throughout the weeks following the police report Jussie filed, the story kept changing. When he was accused of faking the report and staging the incident, Daniels and the rest of the Empire team had to take action. They decided it was best if Smollett wasn’t in the season’s last two episodes.
Jussie Smollett’s case had an even more significant surprise more recently. After changing from a victim to a villain, everyone was sure that Smollett would face some serious time in prison considering his sixteen felony charges. However, things took a turn for the better for the actor. On March 26, 2019, news came out that all of the charges against Jussie had been dropped. He went to court for an “emergency hearing” that morning. The details of the hearing weren’t released. However, after Smollett went to court, his attorneys made a public statement. They noted that his “record has been wiped clean” of the false charge. They stated further that he had been physically harmed by two men that he couldn’t identify and that he was wrongly portrayed as the criminal in the situation. In addition to that, they said that many people were hurt by the accusation and that dismissing the charges against Smollett “was the only just result.”