This week’s Empire features the debut of Courtney Love’s Elle Dallas, a gravelly voiced diva who is responsible for some of the label’s greatest hits. But Elle has fallen on some hard times and needs a career rejuvenation, so Lucious (Terrence Howard) hooks her up with one of her biggest fans, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson). EW has the exclusive first look at Love’s entrance to the Empire world and talked to the rock star about being part of 2015’s biggest TV hit.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this come together? You signed on for this before the series even aired!
COURTNEY LOVE: Yeah I did. We didn’t know it was going to be as intense a hit as it is. About three years ago, I was having lunch with André Leon Talley while he was still at Vogue and he said, “You should work with Lee Daniels. He would really like you.” Then another friend said it and another friend said it. It seemed like a unicorn. Then, he was having dinner with a friend of mine named Pablo. The next day Pablo texted me and said, “You should talk to Lee Daniels!” I was like, “I don’t know him.” I mean we know a lot of the same people. And it turns out, between the two of us, we have seen it all! But we had just never crossed paths. Pablo said, “Please text him. He was talking about you at dinner last night.” I just found myself writing the number Pablo sent me and I said, “Hi it’s Courtney Love. I’m a big fan. XO.” Two seconds later, Lee called me and he goes, “I’m doing this little show, and I’m doing a part for you.”
A few weeks passed and I texted him a few times, “What’s going on?” I didn’t hear back. Then all of a sudden it was upon me. I went over to Lee’s house. On this episode, I mess up a song and I’ve lost my voice. They wanted me to initially do a Patti LaBelle song called “Messin’ With My Mind.” I was so terrible. It was so wrong for me. When I sang it on the phone to the six Fox executives…I think they’re still cringing. It’s Patti LaBelle, man! I can’t hit those kinds of notes, never could. So we decided on something that would be in keeping with Empire. But also this character has sold about 147 million records and she’s made Empire’s first money, and they wanna drop her. So I had to get into the mindset of someone with that kind of sense of entitlement. I wanted to get more into the real diva and a delusional diva because I’m on drugs—not in life at all but as this character. You can’t imagine the research I had to do for that because I know nothing about that! [Laughs.]
But it was super fun. I got to work with Terrence. I met Gabby and I met Jussie. But I mostly got to work with Taraji P. Henson, and she is a revelation! She has been working a long time, but she’s never been at the forefront of anything like this. She’s somewhere between Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Collins. She’s redefining so much. The show is redefining so much; I mean homosexuality in the rap community. It can be campy but at the same time culturally profound. It’s great. I had the time of my life filming.
There’s an incredible scene in next week’s episode where Cookie makes you take off your make up. Was that nerve-wracking?
Well, there’s a motel scene this week as well where I asked them to put on more zits. Having seen Precious, having seen The Butler, having been directed by Lee at my house privately, I know he likes real, he likes dark, he likes the real thing, he likes it pure. I gave him the ugly. I had to do ADR and I’m not ever going to be 35 again, but they lit me kindly, I will say that. I’m aging and I’m hoping to do it gracefully. I really wanted to do that for Lee and give him that.
Would you come back for season 2?
Oh my God yes! It all depends on what happens in the writers’ room. I loved filming in Chicago. It’s a dream. It’s absolutely wonderful. The only difference for me is that I came from film and there’s a new director each week, but all the directors are totally A-list and high-end. Again, it was this little show and it blew up. I’ve only been back from Berlin for a day, but my publicist told me it’s a huge hit.
You’re going on tour this summer with Lana Del Rey right?
I’m doing a short tour with Lana. I’m not that interested in doing music right now unless it’s for Empire, or I just finished a theatrical run of a musical called Kansas City Choir Boy. The reviews were off the charts. It was a very intimate setting, and the music’s fantastic. The composer is Todd Almond, and he’s another unicorn. He’s amazing.
I heard you had maybe written a memoir—is that true?
Well, I have a deal with HarperCollins, but to be honest with you, I would really like a great third act where I walk off with, like, a prize of some sort. There’s some drama. There’s some tragedy. I would certainly never write some kiss-and-tell. But I’m putting it off because I’m sort of in the midst of doing that third act right now. I have incredibly nurturing agents and incredibly nurturing publicists—I haven’t had that in a long time.