Jussie Smollett started as a kid actor in films like The Mighty Ducks and North, but has now grown into a full-fledged adult, garnering rave reviews for playing Jamal Lyon in the hit Fox TV show Empire.
The musical series Empire was created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, and it debuted in 2015. It tells the story of the Lyon family navigating the hip-hop world along with family drama. Smollett plays Jamal, one of the three sons, who came out of the closet in season one and took over as CEO for a bit.
Next year he has a new film coming out called Alien: Covenant. Windy City Times was part of a conference call to the out actor about his character and his progression on season three on Empire.
Windy City Times: Hi, Jussie. We love having you film here in Chicago.
Jussie Smollett: It's getting cold in Chicago. I'm starting to cry a lot.
WCT: I just want to talk to about the LGBT aspect to the show Empire. What have fans' reactions been like over the few seasons and how do you think it's changed the dynamic of the culture?
JS: I think that it's shown just a man trying to make it work and that this is just who he is. What I've seen is that it's made a lot of people, both members of the LGBTQ community as well as allies of the LBGTQ community, it's really opened up a conversation.
It's also opened up some sort of understanding of that everyone knows someone whether you know it or not.
On this show we don't preach. We never have, and I don't think we ever will. I think what we've done is we've been able to just hold up a mirror to society and the world while also entertaining them.
Everybody's okay with gay people until they're in their family. Everybody is okay with integration until your daughter brings home a Black man. I think what it's opened up is this very strong conversation about who am I and what is it to you.
WCT: Do you think Lucious [Jamal's father, played by Terrence Howard] will ever get to a point of accepting Jamal's sexuality?
JS: I'm so glad that you asked this because it leads me to a slightly bigger point; I don't think, at this point, it's necessarily about Jamal's sexuality. It's 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, they're most alike. That is the issue.
So this season, it's not necessarily about the sexuality. It's so much bigger than that. That leads me to the whole thing of will Lucious ever accept his son's sexuality. This is the point that I keep on trying to drive home, we don't all have to see the world in the same way. You know what I'm 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 shits upon Jamal and Jamal's basic freedoms. That's all.
So Jamal's obviously a bigger picture for the world as a whole. We don't all have to agree, and it doesn't 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. I think that goes for Lucious and Jamal as well.
WCT: What kind of love interests will Jamal have this season?
JS: I guess you'll just have to watch and see. I will say this: I'm very happy where Jamal is going. This is the toughest season that I've 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. It's really made me have to do extra work, and I love it.
So this season, I will say without giving too much away, I love exactly where Jamal is.
WCT: Working with Mariah, how has that been and do you plan on recording any music outside of Empire with her?
JS: Working with Mariah, it's perfect. It is. It's perfect, and I keep saying this. I was talking to her the other day just to thank her. She didn't have to show the incredible amount of support that she has to me personally. But she has, and I'm very honored to work with her. It's just everything.
I grew up in the '90s 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. It's 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.
WCT: How do you prepare for your performances with her?
JS: Praying to the Lord a lot. This is the biggest thing that I have ever done, so it has to be on point. So we're just working hard. I'm working with my creative team and we're going to just put on the very best show that I can. I'm excited. I'm just preparing. I've already started. I flew here to LA to start preparing already.
It's unbelievable because you're already going to have the Mariah fans there who have to keep their attention because they're waiting on Mariah. We have to give a good show. So that's what I'm just aiming for. It'll be fun.
WCT: After all Jamal has been through in past seasons, do you continue to learn things about yourself as a person through this character?
JS: Sure. I think that's a part of art. 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.
You have to understand that I'm older than Jamal is, not by much but by enough, like five years. That's enough. So I've been through a lot of things that Jamal has been through already. The only thing is that now I feel sometimes like I'm going through them again because now more people are watching me go through them. So it's a different experience, but I learn something new.
I've learned from playing Jamal to be as honest and fearless as I possibly can, and that's not always going to work in your favor in the short run, but in the long run, it will.
WCT: Can you talk about the character you play on Alien: Covenant?
JS: No, I cannot because I literally signed a phone book. I think I would have to give up my firstborn.
What I can say is that he is a member of the covenant. Listen, working with Ridley Scott, Michael Fassbender, Carmen Ejogo and Billy Crudup was just such an awesome experience. I've been so blessed in these casts that I get to be a part of that we actually are cool with each other. I haven't run into any castknock on wood yetthat I've worked with where I'm like, "Damn, I hate these people, God, I want to go home." It's always been cool. So that was a great thing.
It comes out Aug. 4, 2017, and it's pretty incredible. It's kind of scary!
Empire airs every Wednesday on Fox at 9 p.m. CT.