“I am Cookie now, I guess my dad must be turning in his grave,” the actress told the audience as she revealed how “Cookie Jar!” is now screamed at her by fans.
The session was part of the annual Emmy campaigning season and took place just six days before the highly-anticipated season finale on Fox of Lee Daniels‘ hit hip-hop drama.
Before the talk began to flow, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere “Yazz” Gray, who play musically-gifted brothers Jamal and Hakeem on the network’s breakthrough musical drama, performed a special concert for the audience.
Terrence Howard, who plays patriarch Lucious Lyons recalled how the casting for the show got off to an explosive start.
“Taraji’s idea of a chemistry test is to slap the shit out of you,” he said. “She slapped him so hard!” agreed a member of the panel, as it was quickly decided that Henson was born to play the role.
Along with Henson, Howard, co-creators Daniels and Danny Strong, were other cast members included Trai Byers, Kaitlin Doubleday, Grace Gealey, executive producers Brian Grazer and Ilene Chaiken.
Showrunner Chaiken explained what first attracted her to the series. “It was the alchemy of the cast, the brilliance of the execution and it’s that magic that comes together very occasionally,” she said. “And when you see it, you know that something really incredible has happened.”
“Martin Luther King, we made it to the mountain top!” proclaimed Henson.
“I don’t know what is more exciting, that my story — our story — is being told, or that there are so many people of color working behind the scenes,” said Strong about the diverse cast and crew.
Daniels, who has been openly-gay for many years, praised the sexual equality that “Empire” generates. “Homophobia is deep in the African-American community,” he said.
Smollett, who plays gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox series, said: “I get letters from kids all the time — homosexual and heterosexual — saying that Jamal has helped them understand themselves.”
While Jamal is shunned by his hip-hop mogul father, the actor embraces the powerful role. “Jamal is a blessing to play. I wake up every morning and thank God, then I thank Lee Daniels,” he said.
Meanwhile, Byers’ character, bipolar-inflicted Andre, has his own demons to face, which is why he is one of the few non-musical members of the family.
“He was isolated for reason, it aids him to be in that place not to sing,” he said, before being persuaded to take center stage for an impromptu performance of his own.
The explosive two-hour season finale of “Empire” airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Fox.