‘Empire’ team spills on diversity, Cookie’s inspiration and getting Terrence Howard

01.17.15 3 years ago

FOX

It's already been a good day for FOX's “Empire.”

The freshman smash — the second week rose from the first, which pretty much never happens — was renewed for a second season on Saturday (January 17) morning, which doesn't usually happen after two airings. 

But now, the “Empire” ensemble, plus producers Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Ilene Chaiken and Francie Calfo are ready to meet with the Television Critics Association press tour.

Click through and follow along.

5:33 p.m. Pacific. The first question is for Lee Daniels' Lee Daniels. “It's hard. That show is my life. 'Empire' is my life. And it's mixed with happiness and sadness, as with 'Precious,' as with 'The Butler,' as with my other films,” he says. “It's life, but with a little bit of camp so that we can laugh,” Daniels says.

5:34 p.m. “It was time,” Daniels says for this show and diversity on TV. “When things make money than people are interested,” Taraji Henson says smartly. “People want to see people who look like them on television. They also want to see people who do not look like them,” Jussie Smollett says. “Right now we're seeing people enjoying the culture of America, the culture of the world as a whole,” Terrence Howard says, adding, “We're showing real life now.”

5:36 p.m. Danny Strong says that “Empire” is based on “Lion in the Winter” and “King Lear” in fundamental and conceptual ways, but mostly just taking archetypes and turning them into “a modern day soap opera.”

5:37 p.m. Is “Empire” going to be about Lucious coming to terms with Jamal's homosexuality? Or will that not be the arc? “Homophobia is rampant in the African-American community and men are on the DL,” Daniels says. “I wanted to blow the lid off the door on homophobia in my community,” he says. Howard says that parts of his character are based on Daniels' father. Howard says that his own father was also homophobic and that growing up he would have never thought to be friends with somebody like Jamal. “God made us all to do whatever we want to do in this world,” Howard says. Howard says that he hates that he has to take this mantle, but he's also glad he can show the African-American community the darkness of these circumstances. Daniels thinks that if his father were alive today, he would have evolved.

5:41 p.m. “Uh-Oh!” Henson says, regarding whether Cookie is going to get her groove back. Francie Calfo teases that she'll get her groove back more than once. Ilene Chiken says Cookie has to decide if she wants another man or if she wants to get back with Lucious. “She's in love with him. What do you do when you go to jail… This is real. This has happened… What happens when you're in jail for 10, 15 years? What happens to that relationship?” Daniels asks. Howard says that Lucious and Cookie have been together for a thousand different lifetimes.

5:43 p.m. “I think today in television you see the anti-hero are some of the most popular characters we have,” Danny Strong says of crafting Lucious Lyon. He liked doing a soap, but also attacking social issues. Lee Daniels says he likes Lucious and he likes him because he's human. “My gay friends love him. They can't figure out why. He's flawed. We're all flawed,” Daniels says.

5:45 p.m. Is Cookie driven more by power or by love? “Love,” Henson says without hesitation. “Everything she does is for her boys, is for her family,” she says. 

5:46 p.m. Why are they embracing the term soap opera? “Don't y'all miss 'Dynasty'? I miss 'Dynasty'!” Daniels says. Henson really, really misses “Dynasty.” “Life is a soap opera. All the way around,” Howard says. Chaiken thinks Danny and Lee did something new, by setting it in a world that has authenticity and grit and intensity. “God bless FOX for being so bold,” Daniels says. Daniels remembers being inspired by what FOX did on “In Living Color.” 

5:49 p.m. A question for Terrence Howard about his past legal problems. “You mean me as a lawyer?” Howard asks. He refers to the book, “The Power of Now.” He references things he got involved with when he was young, not knowing how to deal with frustration. “I've grown so much from anything that's happened in the past,” he says. “I don't think they took any of that stuff into consideration. I think they looked at the power and talent of this moment,” Howard says. “He's our leader. He has been front and center taking bullets for all of us and I am so proud to be working with him,” Daniels says of Howard.

5:51 p.m. A follow-up about Howard's problems and whether there have been double-standards regarding his past. He says that the only people who can make judgment are judges in the court or God. He says there have been no criminal charges filed. “You've gotta give people a chance to grow from anything that happens,” he says, pretty much comparing himself to Jesus. “We slayed our Messiah under false accusations,” he notes. [A full breakdown of Howard's record, if you want to parse.] [It's also been suggested that Howard *may* have been referring to Bill Cosby in the answer about criminal charges. Why really knows?]

5:52 p.m. Does Trai Byers miss that he won't get to sing? “I think that it was a brilliant move to have a straight man in the middle of all of the pizzazz, the fame and fortune,” Byers says. Smollett wants us all to know that while Andre might not sing, but Trai Byers says. Danny Strong says Byers got the part partially by walking in and identifying Andre as Iago. [Not Edmund? Shrug…]

5:54 p.m. There are no rules regarding whether famous people come on as themselves or whether they come on in roles. “It's so broad, the foundation that's been laid down,” Howard says. “It's the perfect playground for an artist,” Henson says. Are they expecting any “Idol” cross-promotion? “It'd be stupid not to,” Howard says.

5:56 p.m. “It's an honor to be blessed enough to tell a story that means something to people,” Smollett says. He's gotten an “overwhelming” number of Tweets and other online messages. 

5:57 p.m. “As an artist, I don't ever want to do safe work,” Henson says. When she first read the script, she was scared. “I was like, 'We're gonna piss a lot of people off,'” she says. “I don't run. I'm pretty tough. And I don't like to bow down to fear,” she says. But Henson is living her life ruled by faith, not fear. “I know who Cookie is. I can defend her to anyone,” she says. “She's not loud just for the sake of being loud. When a person is the way they are, there's a reason why,” she says. 

6:00 p.m. She goes back to Bette Davis as an inspiration. She was also inspired by Diahann Carroll. She's obsessed with fluffy slippers from “Dynasty.” She faux-mocks Lee for killing her “Dynasty” moment on “Empire.”

6:02 p.m. Smollett had been recording an indie album in his apartment and then four weeks later he was in the studio with Timbaland and Yazz — He mocks Yazz being called “Bryshere Gray” in his bio. He says that even without “Empire,” the songs from the show could stand alone. “Lee doesn't do anything halfway,” Chaiken says of Daniels getting Timbaland on the show. 

6:05 p.m. What would Henson's character be like if she had a mother like Cookie? “My dad was like Cookie,” she says. The character was based off of him. Henson tells a glorious story about her father, explaining that the “goat-ass” line came from her father. Howard says that 90 percent of Cookie's lines are from Danny and Lee, but Taraji dips them in her gravy. 

6:07 p.m. “I didn't think he was gonna do TV,” Daniels says of Howard. They worked together on “The Butler.” Lee Daniels says that they were talking to Wesley Snipes about the role. But Taraji told them that she wanted to do the role with Terrence Howard. She didn't have the job yet at the time. Daniels didn't know that Howard would even do TV.  “Terrence did 'Sparks,'” Smollett interjects. Howard recalls how much Henson helped him on “Hustle and Flow.” “I called him and I threatened his life,” Henson jokes. “She got me and I'm so thankful,” Howard agrees. 

That's all, folks…

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