By Valerie Milano
Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 10/18/17 – EMPIRE is back for its fourth season in a new 8 p.m. time slot with the epic blend of music and drama that keeps its viewers on the edge of their seats each and every week.
Executive producers Ilene Chaiken and Sanaa Hamri; creator, writer, and executive producer Lee Daniels; and lead actors Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, and Jussie Smollett assembled at the FOX portion of the TCA Press Tour Panel which was held on Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to discuss their smash hit show.
The empire in question is a fictitious media company known as Empire Entertainment. Taraji P.Henson and Terrence Howard star as ex-spouses Cookie and Lucious Lyon with mighty tempers to match their last name.
At one point last season, Cookie (an ex-con) snapped and destroyed the Empire offices with a bat! “EMPIRE shows that the biggest threats to a family business can often be the family itself,” observed an audience member.
Everyone on stage was ecstatic about the addition of Forest Whitaker to the EMPIRE family. Terrence Howard considers Whitaker to be a mentor in life and is ever so pleased to have him on the same show.
“The fans are going to follow you wherever you go,” said another audience member. “The fans know the truth. And you listen to your fans,” replied Lee Daniels. “They’re very clear. They’re very loud. And when they’re unhappy, we know!”
Jussie Smollett considers himself both a cast member AND a fan of EMPIRE. He said, “I’ll be the first one to call up Lee and be like, ‘Lee, the streets are talking. We need to talk.’ And he’ll listen and he’ll be like, ‘Honey, what are the streets saying?’
“You call and you’re like, “Sanaa, the streets are talking.” And I’m like, “Okay, said Sanaa Hamri.
“I’ll send tweets and Instagram. I’ll send them right up the flagpole!” added Taraji P. Henson. Could this kind of interplay on and off screen be a secret of EMPIRE’S enduring success?
The EMPIRE body count continued with veteran actress Leslie Uggams, best remembered for her heart-rending portrayal of Kunta Kinte’s daughter Kizzy from the renowned 8-part 1977 ABC miniseries ROOTS. These are Lyons after all!
Phylicia Rashad of THE COSBY SHOW has also appeared on EMPIRE. Taye Diggs and Demi Moore will soon guest star.
“The ones who fit in have stayed the longest,” observed Sanaa Hamri. “It’s so beautiful how the show has evolved into us finding ourselves, really,” said Lee Daniels.
One TV critic had been singing FOX’s praises for having women and minorities in prominent roles, saying, “EMPIRE is certainly an all-star on this roster. You guys kill it year after year. I just wanted to know, is there an extra amount of pressure to keep blazing that trail?”
“No. I don’t put myself under any pressure. I think our goal is just to continue to do good work,” replied Taraji P. Henson. “Why put that kind of pressure on yourself? If we stay true to what we started off with and that’s doing good work, giving the audience good, impactful stories, then there’s nothing to compete with. Did I answer that good?” Yes indeed!
Sanaa Hamri said, “We’re lucky to have not only the creatives and everybody involved pushing that, but also FOX being behind us to ensure that we keep moving forward to what really is the truth.” “Which is diversity,” said Lee Daniels.
“It’s the voices that make the show what it is,” said Ilene Chaiken. “Well, I definitely feel represented. So thank you,” said a satisfied audience member. “Job well done, y’all!” exclaimed Taraji P. Henson.
The explosive chemistry between Henson and Terrence Howard (“Mama Bear” and “Papa Bear”) is what keeps the show sizzling for many. Some EMPIRE fans have pushed for a reconciliation between the exes. Like many of us, they fell in love when they were young and life got in their way.
EMPIRE also puts an interesting spin on the dynasty concept by making the Lyon family African American and setting the urban drama in the seductive and sometimes dangerous world of hip-hop music. For big money can be made many different ways in the USA! Terrence Howard sagely pointed out that affluence and success don’t always make your family members saner or safer.
Jussie Smollett liked that the show included many different character types and music from all genres. “Jussie’s on fire!” commented Lee Daniels. Sanaa Hamri thought that EMPIRE’S universal Shakespearean themes were of the sort that everyone could relate to.
Taraji P. Henson is the rare performer who looks like a leading lady but can play character roles. She and Jussie Smollett have become quite a mother and son comedy team on social media! Perhaps FOX should hop on a new series as she suggested from the stage.
“Go forth into the world and be great,” said Ms. Henson in closing. EMPIRE
has already accepted this challenge for three smashing seasons! With its season premiere on Wednesday, September 27th, 2017 just behind us, there is still time to catch up and tune in!
EMPIRE is from Imagine Television in association with 20th Century Fox. https://www.fox.com/empire/