EW Fest 'Empire' panel: Taraji P. Henson says Cookie is her Sasha Fierce, Jussie Smollett reveals album details
Jussie Smollett reveals which co-star inspired 'You're So Beautiful,' and when his album will drop.
Kicking off the evening festivities at Saturday’s inaugural EW Fest, Empire stars Taraji P. Henson and Jussie Smollett took the stage by storm. Their characters might currently be at odds on the show, but the actors are anything but.
Moderated by EW’s Tim Stack, the panel, which you can watch above, took things back to the auditioning process for the hit show, for which Smollett remembered how he DM’d Empire creator Lee Daniels on Instagram before the casting process because he was so passionate about the role of Jamal Lyon. He also remembered the moment that Henson spoke up, claiming that she and costar Terrence Howard wouldn’t do the show if Daniels didn’t cast Smollett. “I kinda meant it,” Henson joked.
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But Smollett wasn’t the only cast member that Henson went to bat for. Henson has spoken previously that she knew Howard had to play Lucious. “I just knew it had to be him and I was willing not to do it,” she said during the panel. “I know that we have that relationship. We trust each other.”
As for Henson herself, she was hesitant to get back into the television genre. “Television to me always felt like a caged little box,” she said. “By that I mean, to me, it always felt like a genre for the writers. I’m like a true artist, I need to be free. Don’t cage me. Let me breathe. Art is supposed to be free.”
But when Henson, who was doing theater work at the time, got the script for Empire, she chose the project because she knew that “this could kill my career. I only choose projects that scare the s–t out of me because I know in some way it’s going to change me. “
As to how Cookie has changed her, Henson said that Cookie Lyon is more like her alter ego. “She’s my Sasha Fierce,” she joked.
For Smollett, he said the show has affected him because “it’s allowed me to allow people in just a little bit more. It’s made me walk in my truth.” Smollett then compared his career to Jamal’s. “In many ways, [we are] going through parallel journeys, except he’s a billionaire. I’m a hundred thousandaire baby,” he joked, adding, “There was a time when I was a one-inaire so this is a huge deal.“
Other highlights from the panel include:
Empire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.