Fox’s Empire is an incredibly over-the-top soap full of twists and turns, but sometimes its behind-the-scenes drama spills out into real life.
In March, a New York Post story went viral that insisted Trai Byers, who plays bipolar oldest son Andre, was so dissatisfied he wanted off the series. Nearly all the major creative forces behind Empire agree the first half of season 2 suffered from the sophomore slump, but they were able to rebound by the back half.
When asked about the rumors he wanted to leave, Byers denies them, telling EW, “Andre is a very complicated character. And my approach is complicated as well. The character is going through spirituality, trying to find his identity. How do we get to the truth but still keep it interesting and still fit into the world of Empire? I think that’s where the frustration lies.” Adds co-creator Lee Daniels, “I think we were struggling for story for him, and I think he was concerned.”
To that end, a large part of season 3 will focus on Andre, who was last seen watching wife Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) and Lucious’ new wife, Anika (Grace Gealey), fighting to the death on a terrace. “One of the things we said [in the writers’ room] was, ‘If season one was Jamal’s season and season two was Hakeem’s, then season 3 is gonna be Andre’s,'” says executive producer Ilene Chaiken. “Andre has a big story, a great story, and we’re being rigorous about tracking his character.”
For his part, Byers is thrilled with season 3. “We go to interesting places already, man,” he says. “I’m loving these scripts. I love what we’ve done before, but I just feel like we’ve really upped it a few notches. We have to step up our game every season, and this season we really, really do.”
Empire returns on Sept. 21 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.