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Interview with Jussie Smollett of "Empire" on
I really wanted to make this call, but unfortunately,
they changed the time and dae, and I wasn't able to make it.
Too bad because it's such a good show, and he does an
amazing job in this role.
FBC Publicity: Conference Call with
September 28, 2016/9:25 a.m. PDT
Moderator Ladies and gentlemen,
thank you for standing by and welcome to the conference call
with Jussie Smollett. At this time, all participants are in
a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a
question-and-answer session, and instructions will be given
at that time. As a reminder, this conference is being
recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to
our host, Alex Gillespie. Please go ahead.
Thank you, Roxanne. Good morning and welcome to the Empire
Conference Call with Jussie Smollet. Just a reminder that
Empire airs on Wednesdays, which is tonight, at 9:00 p.m. on
FOX. We also have tonightís episode posted on the Fox
Screening Room, and on FoxFlash, we have photos and clips
that are available.
Without further ado, Iíd like to
turn the call over to Jussie.
Jussie So how
are you? Super weird. Nice to talk to you all. Letís go.
Alex Great. Roxanne, weíre ready for questions.
Moderator Certainly. [Operator instructions].
Alex And our first question comes from the line
of Jerry Nunn with Windy City Times. Please go ahead.
Jerry Hey, Jussie. Iím calling from Chicago.
Jussie All right.
Jerry We love
having you film here. Itís been great.
Yes, itís starting to get cold in Chicago. Iím starting to
cry a lot.
Jerry I just want to talk to about,
like, the LGBT aspect to the show. Whatís fansí reactions
been like over the few seasons and how do you think itís
changed the dynamic of the culture?
think that itís shown just a man trying to make it work and
that this is just who he is. What Iíve seen is that itís
made a lot of people, both members of the LGBTQ community as
well as allies of the LBGTQ community, itís really opened up
a conversation, and itís also opened up, I think, some sort
of understanding of that everyone knows someone whether you
know it or not.
And again, this show, we donít preach. We never have, and I
donít think we ever will. But I think what weíve done is
weíve been able to just hold up a mirror to society and the
world while also entertaining them, but just hold up a
mirror and be like, ďIs this you?Ē Everybodyís okay with gay
people until theyíre in their family. Everybody is okay with
integration until your daughter brings home a black man. You
know what Iím saying?
Jussie I think what itís opened up is this very, very
strong conversation about who am I and who I am, what is it
Jerry Yes. Thank you so much.
Jussie Thank you.
Moderator And our
next question comes from the line of Russell Weakland with
Hollywood Life. Please go ahead.
man. How are you?
Jussie Hey, how are you?
Jussie Wait, where
are you from?
Where are you from?
Jussie Okay. Hollywood. All right. Cool.
Russell Working with Mariah, how has that been and do
you plan on recording any music outside of Empire with her?
Jussie Working with Mariah, itís perfect. It is.
Itís perfect, and I keep saying this. I was talking to her
the other day just to thank her. She didnít have to show the
incredible amount of support that she has to me personally.
But she has, and Iím very honored to work with her. Itís
I grew up in the í90s and the 2000s
when our main go-to vocalists were Whitney and Mariah. To be
able to sing with one of these greats is just an honor. Itís
an honor. Itís been wonderful. As far as recording music
outside of the show, I would love to. I think that we just
have to talk to Mariah and try to figure it out.
Russell Fair enough. What kind of love interests would
you like Jamal to have this season, if any at all?
Jussie I guess youíll just have to watch and see. I
will say this, Iím very happy where Jamal is going. This is
the toughest season that Iíve done so far because this
season has made me have to do real research, not just
digging inside of myself but real research of PTSD and panic
attacks and things like that. Itís really made me have to do
extra, extra work, and I love it. So this season, I will say
without giving too much away, I love exactly where Jamal is.
Russell Very cool. Thank you, man.
Jussie Thank you.
instructions]. Our next question is from Ariana Romero with
Wet Paint. Please go ahead.
Ariana Hi, Jussie.
Great to talk to you.
Jussie Hey, Ariana. How
Ariana Okay. Well, we were just
talking about Mariah, and I know youíre about to do three
performances with her. So how are you preparing for that?
Jussie Praying to the Lord a lot. This is the
biggest thing that I have ever done, so it has to be on
point. So weíre just working hard. Iím working with my
creative team and Fred Gossett [ph], and weíre going to just
put on the very best show that I can. So Iím excited. Iím
just preparing. Iíve already started. I flew here to LA to
start preparing already.
So itís exciting. Itís
unbelievable because youíre already going to have the Mariah
fans there who have to keep their attention because theyíre
waiting on Mariah. You know what Iím saying? So we have to
keep their attention. We have to give a good show. So thatís
what Iím just aiming for. Itíll be great, though. Itíll be
Ariana And then my other question is we
didnít get to spend a ton of time with Jamal in the premiere
last week. So what should fans expect to see from him
tonight since it seems like heís going to be anchoring the
episode a little bit?
Jussie You know what it
is, that when we think of this good versus evil, I always
say that no one is all bad and no one is all good. Lucious
is not all bad, and Jamal is not all good. But what we see
is this battle between the good and the bad, and he finally
admits this episode that he really does have a problem, but
what comes with that problem is rooted in the family.
So this episode, we get to see that heís really tapping
into his own awareness and sensitivity and awareness of what
really is going on in the world because thereís a certain
level ofóI donít know how to put itóthereís a certain level
of guard that heís had his entire life. I think that this
season is really about the Lyon brothers opening up their
eyes to the reality of what is out there, that itís not just
everything that is around us immediately. Itís something
much bigger than us, and I think that youíll see in this
episodeóagain, Iím trying not to give too much awayóbut
youíll see in this episode that it really is the opening of
his eyes, so to speak.
Ariana Okay. Awesome.
Jussie Thank you.
Iíll keep watching. Itís great.
you so much.
Ariana Youíre welcome.
Moderator We have a question from the line of Malcolm
Venable with tvguide.com Please go ahead.
Hi, Jussie. Thanks for taking the time.
Hey, how are you, Malcolm?
Malcolm Good, man,
good. I have two questions on two different topics. One,
well, first of all, did you think Jamal and Lucious will
ever get to a point where Lucious is accepting and evenóI
donít want to say enthusiasticóbut accepting of Jamalís
sexuality and embracing him fully?
Hereís the thingóand Iím so glad that you asked this because
it leads me to a slightly bigger pointóis that I donít
think, at this point, really itís not necessarily about
Jamalís sexuality. Itís not to say that Lucious is the
supportive father and is going to be on the marches and the
front lines of parents of LGBTQ people, but I also think
that they just have a problem with each other because more
than anybody, theyíre most alike. You know what Iím saying?
That is the issue.
So this season, itís not
necessarily about the sexuality. Itís so much bigger than
that. That leads me to the whole thing of will Lucious ever
accept his sonís sexuality. The thing isóthis is the point
that I keep on trying to drive homeówe donít all have to see
the world in the same way. You know what Iím saying? Lucious
has every right to think and to believe that Jamal being
homosexual is wrong. He has every right to believe that. It
only becomes wrong when he sh*ts upon Jamal and Jamalís
basic freedoms. Thatís all.
So Jamalís obviously a
bigger picture for the world as a whole. We donít all have
to agree, and it doesnít make us bad people if we do agree.
It only makes us bad if your disagreement and your beliefs
then trace over my simple basic freedoms. Thatís all. I
think that goes for Lucious and Jamal as well.
Malcolm Sure. Great. Thank you. Then the second question
is particularly in tonightís episodeóI want to ask you if I
got this completely wrongóbut I feel like particularly in
tonightís episode, there was this under theme of
black-on-black violence which is a taboo topic within the
microcosm of the Black Lives Matter conversation. It just
struck me as interesting that Jamalís point of view is
talking about ending violence, and you have Dubois, Taye
Diggsí character, essentially come on as this voice of ďYou
guys need to get it together.Ē
So I was just curious
how you felt about what weíll see tonight as potentially a
conversation about violence within the black community and
how Jamalís affected by that, and yes, if this episode is
about black violence specifically.
Right. I think that what weíre able to do again in an
entertaining way is really show a conversation and two very,
very valid views in that conversation but two views that if
joined together could actually be much more powerful. So if
you watch the episode, Angelo has some good things to say,
and Jamal has some good things to say, but there has to be a
common ground found between what theyíre both saying. But I
think that itís a much bigger conversation.
problem comes in is when someone talks about police violence
or racial profiling, and then the conversation someone
throws up, ďOh, well, what about black-on-black crime?Ē
These are both extremely valid points, but these points, one
does not outweigh the other. You know what Iím saying? So
thatís the conversation that starts tonight. Trying so hard
not to give too much away, so hard.
All right, man. Thank you.
Jussie Thanks, man.
Moderator Our next
question comes from the line of Kristyn Clarke with Pop
Culture Madness. Please go ahead.
Thank you so much for speaking with us today.
Jussie Of course.
Kristyn So over the
course of the past two seasons into this season, your
character has gone through so, so very much, and as you
continue to go through these trials and tribulations of the
character, is anything that you find that you continue to be
surprised to learn about yourself as a person?
Jussie Sure. But I think thatís a part of art. Yes, I
learn something new about myself every day playing Jamal,
but I learned something new about myself every day when I
was a broke artist before I even knew of anything called
Empire. So you have to understand, also, that Iím older than
Jamal is, not by much but by enough, like five years. Thatís
enough. So Iíve been through a lot of things that Jamal has
been through already. The only thing is that now I feel
sometimes like Iím going through them again because now more
people are watching me go through them. Does that make any
Kristyn Yes, absolutely.
Jussie So itís a different experience, but sure, I learn
something new. I think that if Iíve learned anything, Iíve
learned from playing Jamal to be as honest and fearless as I
possibly can, and thatís not always going to work in your
favor in the short run, but in the long run, it will.
Kristyn Absolutely. Thank you so much.
Jussie Thank you.
instructions]. Our next question is from James Windley,
TalkNerdyWithUs. Please go ahead.
Jussie. How are you?
Jussie Hey, how are you?
James Iím good, Iím good. So my question is more
about the music. I recently read an article that the song
ďHemingwayĒ that was used in the show, you said that you had
started playing with that idea, written it before you were
cast on Empire. So my question is how much input do you have
into what your character sings and then the music overall
for the show?
Jussie Well, I have input
obviously in what Jamal does. Iím not about to roll up into
Yazzís sessions and be like, ďYazz, brother, youíve got to
do it like this.Ē Hell, no. Let him try to come and show me
how to do a run. No, I definitely donítóthat has nothing to
do with me, but my music, Iím so blessed because there is
such a collaborative thing that happens here at Empire, from
the acting and the scripts and all that type of stuff, the
writers and the show runner, Ilene, and our creators, Danny
and Lee. Theyíre so collaborative, and I think thatís why
the show reads, even though itís so big, thatís why the show
and the music reads in a very real way.
Jussie Itís because itís so
collaborative, and it comes across as really real. So yes, a
lot of the songs, ďI Want to Love You,Ē which was in Season
One, that was written for my album. I was working as an indy
artist, and that was written before Empire. ďAll of the
Above,Ē I wrote that before Empire and recorded it before
Empire. So when Season One happened, I was also pulling
songs that I wanted to release on my album and was pitching
yeah, another thing, this episode, I believeóor maybe itís
next episodeóthereís a song called ďCome Undone,Ē which is
my song that I wrote literally four years ago before Empire.
So I do have a say, but the thing is that the team that Iím
working with this season is so phenomenal, the whole
Darkchild [ph] team, I love that everybody this season has
their own team so that everything is tailor-made to that
artist, and I love that.
James Right. Thatís
awesome. All right. Then one more question, does it ever
wake you in the middle of the night the fear that Taraji
[ph] is recording you sleeping?
f**king day because itís become this thingóthis is the thing
is that Iím the most brilliant at this. All these other mark
a** busters on the set, they think theyíre cute about it,
but hereís the thing, bro, hereís the thing, they all got it
from me. So Iím the original. Iím the original. So itís all
good, but the problem is that because Iím so good at it,
everybody wants to try to get their little shine, their
little [audio disruption] by videotaping me. So Iím always
on guard, and I get tired. I get tired. So in between takes
sometimes, weíre waiting for a different setup, I do fall
asleep, and a lot of people over the last months or the last
being back for Season Three have gotten me. Thatís fine, and
Grace has posted something today on the Empire fan pageóI
know sheís posting itóof where she got me. But thatís all
right because I donít need to get them anymore. Iím getting
them in other ways. Watch.
James Right. Okay.
Jussie Raising s**t up, raise it
James All right. Well, thank you very
Jussie All right, man. Yíall keep your
Moderator Our next question is from
Erika Monroy with Universal. Please go ahead. Erika, your
line is open.
Erika Yes. Hi.
How are you?
Erika Thank you very much for the
Jussie Thank you.
want to know how difficult is being part of this family,
because I know this is a drama family, too. So I want to
know how difficult it is being part of this family.
Jussie I would think that being a part of the Lyon
family would be very difficult although I also think that it
has its perks. For me playing a part of the Lyon family,
itís sometimes difficult because with the scenes that we
have to play, theyíre so emotional, and we genuinely truly
love each other. But thereís also a level of the reason why
itís not difficult is because we all trust each other, we
all trust each other in real life, and I think again, thatís
why the show comes across as so real, and you believe us as
a familyógood, bad and uglyóbecause we all genuinely love
each other and are like a family. When we get on each other
nerves, itís like a family, when we are loving on each
other, itís like a family. But itís so family.
Erika Yes. I also want to know you just said that in the
í90s, we have our biggest stars in music like Mariah. So I
want to know your opinion about nowadays, whatís happened
with these big, big stars that I think that we donít have
any more like this big?
Jussie Well, thatís
the thing, I think that every one of these big stars, they
make their own. As any performer, you make your own path,
and thereís a huge freeway. Everybody has their lane. But I
actually disagree. I think that there are a lot of
incredible artists out now that are our generationís
superstars. So I think there are a lot of great artists, but
whatever we grow up on, we are turning into our parents
because whatever they grew up on, that was absolutely the
best. So whatever we grew up on, thatís absolutely the best.
We are going to look down on everybody else just like the
next generation will do the same. So thatís just the way it
Erika Perfect. Thank you very much.
Jussie Thank you.
Alex Okay. We
have time for one more question
question comes from the line of Ny Magee Eurweb. Please go
Ny Hello, Jussie. Thank you for
speaking with us this morning.
you. Itís Nya?
Ny Ny, N-y, Ny.
Jussie Ny. Nice to meet you.
Ny Yes. Nice
to meet you, too. Thank you. My question is in terms of
Jamalís growth over the past two seasonsóbecause I know you
probably canít spoil anything about this seasonóbut in terms
of his growth over the past two seasons, which character arc
has been most rewarding for you to explore?
This character arc in the third season because itís trying
in a way that is itís absolutely exhausting, itís
emotionally exhausting. See, before it was emotionally
exhausting because I felt like I had to dig up so much old
stuff, and I had to be honest, and I had to be real. But now
Iím doing that, but also, this takes a lot of work.
After a scene, you feel like youíre literally about to pass
out. But I love it so much as an actor. Itís such an actorís
dream to be able to sing and do all of this wonderful,
wonderful stuff but also to be able to dip so deep into what
this character is going through. Thatís my favorite.
Definitely so far, this is my favorite arc that Iíve had a
chance to play because I feel like I have to be bold in it.
Ny Thank you, and if I can ask a really quick
follow-up question really quick, can you talk a bit about
your character that youíre playing an Alien Covenant?
Jussie No, I cannot because I literally signed a
phonebook. I think I have to give up my firstborn. But what
I can say is that he is a member of the covenant, and itís
awesome. Listen, working with Ridley Scott and Michael
Fassbender and Carmen Ejogo and Billy Crudup, Danny McBride,
just such an awesome crew. Iíve been so blessed in these
casts that I get to be a part of that we actually are cool
with each other. I havenít run into any castóknock on wood
yetóthat Iíve worked with where Iím like, damn, I hate these
people, God, I want to go home. Itís always been cool. So
that was a great thing. I donít know if that answered any of
your questions about Alien, but itís going to be dope. It
comes out August 4, 2017, and itís pretty incredible. Itís
kind of scary.
Ny Thank you very much.
Jussie Thank you.
Alex Great. Thank
you. That concludes our conference call. Thank you to Jussie
for joining us. Roxanne, did you want to give the replay
Moderator Certainly. Ladies and
gentlemen, this conference will be made available for replay
after 11:40 a.m. this morning through October 5, 2016 at
That concludes our conference for today.
Thank you for your participation and for using AT&T
Executive Teleconference Service. You may now disconnect.
Jussie Thank you.
Alex Thank you.
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