In his first interview since the attack in Chicago, Empire star Jussie Smollett sat down with Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts to share his full account, as well as address those accusations that he made it all up. “I’m pissed off,” he had said of such claims in a promo clip released ahead of Thursday’s segment.
As Smollett, 36, already reported to police but reiterated to Roberts, Frank Gatson, the actor’s friend and creative director, picked him up from the airport and brought him back to his apartment. Realizing there wasn’t any food, Smollett went out first to Wallgreens, thinking it was open 24-hours, but then called Gatson to say he was instead going to Subway.
“I went to the Subway, got my order,” Smollett continued. “During that time I texted my manager, thinking that he was still in Australia… I said, ‘Call me when you can.’ He called me immediately and while he was on the phone, I heard as I was crossing the intersection, ‘Empire!’ And I don’t answer to Empire, my name ain’t Empire. And I didn’t answer, I kept walking, and then I heard, ”f— Empire n—.’ So I turned around and I said, ‘What the f– did you just say to me?’ And I see the attacker, masked, and he said, ‘This MAGA country, n–,’ and he punched me right in the face. So I punched his a— back and then we started tussling.”
The actor remembered, “there was a second person involved who was kicking me in my back and then it just stopped and they ran off.” It was only after getting back on the phone (which was still on during the attack) with his manager that he realized there was a noose around his neck and a liquid (that appeared to be bleach) poured on his person. “It happened so fast,” he said. “It felt like minutes but it was probably 30 seconds.”
Smollett also cleared up some false reports that his ribs had allegedly been fractured. “My clavicle was messed up, my ribs were bruised but nothing was cracked,” he said. “Like, I walked into the hospital, I walked out of the hospital.”
Chicago police found Smollett’s account to be credible and consistent, but an ongoing investigation has yet to find surveillance footage of the attack. Authorities released photos of persons of interest, but they also haven’t found footage of Smollett’s entire walk back home. Paired with the delay in handing over specific phone records deemed acceptable by police, some outlets and individuals began spreading the idea that this was all a “hoax.”
“It became a thing of like, ‘Oh, It’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth, you don’t even want to see the truth,'” he said. “It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot much more,” he added. “A lot more. And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country.”
Smollett pointed to reports that he allegedly described the attackers as wearing MAGA hats, which he didn’t say: “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f–, they called me a n–. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of a racist sundae.”
Another narrative Smollett found to be “ridiculous and offensive” was the claim the attack was just “a date gone bad.”
However, one of the biggest talking points for Smollett’s dissenters involves his phone. So he explained, “They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for 3-4 hours. I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna do that.” He noted his phone contains sensitive information, including “private pictures and videos,” his partner’s number, his cast mates numbers, and his family’s numbers. “I don’t know what that’s gonna be to hand over my phone,” he said. “And, honestly, by then inaccurate, false statements had already been put out there.”
On why he didn’t immediately call the police, Smollet, an openly gay man, said, “There’s a level of pride there. We live in a society where as a gay man you are considered somehow to be weak and I’m not weak. I am not weak. And we, as [LGBTQ] people, are not weak.”
President Trump, whose “Make America Great Again” 2016 campaign slogan was said to be uttered by the attackers, previously addressed the assault on Smollett. “That I can tell you is horrible,” he told the press. “I’ve seen it. Last night. It’s horrible. Doesn’t get worse.”
“I don’t know what to say to that,” Smollett said. “I appreciate him not brushing over it.”
When it comes to his attackers’ motivations, the actor, who mentioned he comes out “really really hard against” Trump, said he can only judge the situation based on their words. “Who says, ‘F— Empire n—,’ ‘This MAGA country, n—,’ ties a noose around your neck and pours bleach on you, and this is just a friendly fight?” he asked.
“I will never the man that this did not happen to,” he said. “And I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I do subscribe to the idea that we have the right and responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us. Good and bad.”