The cast and series producers behind Fox’s “Empire,” which tells the story of the raucous musical Lyon family, held a live-streaming panel and performance event on Friday from Los Angeles.
Cast members participating included Taraji P. Henson, Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Gray Kaitlin Doubleday, Grace Gealey and Estelle.
Highlights of the event:
“I just feel like watching the show is like experiencing a live event … where you ‘re experiencing something in real time that you have to share on social media immediately,” Grazer said about what he attributes the success of the show to.
Henson on her first reaction to her character, Cookie: “When I first got this crazy script, I was like, ‘We are going to piss off a lot of people.’ … I just remember reading Cookie and thinking, ‘They’re going to hate her.'” She said she felt fear and that she knew that feeling fear meant it was a challenge, “And I don’t scare easy.”
“Cookie’s not afraid to speak her truth,” Henson said, admiring her character’s spunk.
“It’s a dream come true,” Gray said of working on the show as brash young Lyon, Hakeem.
About the past year, Smollett, who plays singer Jamal Lyon whose homosexuality had been a problem with the family patriarch, said, “It’s been so emotional — and it’s only June … My life has changed forever in this last 365-and-some-change while I’ve been working with these crazy — these right here — but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Chaiken said she expects to continue having remarkable ride with a remarkable cast as long as the story “stays grounded.”
It has to, Daniels said, as there’s a lot of his own life in the show and described how pieces of himself are in each character: “I can’t direct or even co-write anything if its not personal … It’s my life — warts and all.”
Asked about awards season, Henson said it’s a lot of pressure, but she’d be glad to make history as an African-American actress. Daniels said he doesn’t do it for awards; the award he takes home at night is touching his audience so that their lives are changed for the better.
“And the second biggest award is an actual award,” Strong joked. “If you want to nominate me, I will show up in a tuxedo. Ultimately, it’s about telling a story — the award is a cherry on top.”
“People are so effected by the show itself — it’s a conversation starter … People are, like, ‘Boo-boo Kitty!” Gealey said of when people approach her on the street about her character, who people “love to hate,” Anika Calhoun.
Byers, who plays bipolar eldest son Andre, said he shakes off the darker moments and doesn’t take them home.
“If you have watched the entire season,” Henson said, “he’s the quiet one, but he’s been unraveling the entire season … it was effortless.” Henson related the story of watching Byers’ character develop and deal with his disorder. And when she watched Byers being put into a straightjacket, “I ugly-cried.”
Daniels said the story drives the music, which he said is hard, “but magic happens.”
Asked about the clothes, Henson said she revels in the show’s wardrobe choices.
“I’m a girlie-girl — I like to play dress up,” Henson said, explaining that when they bring her jewelry to try on, she tries to wear it all at once. “What girl wouldn’t like to get in there and play in Cookie’s closet.”
“Anything he can do, I can do better,” Henson said of the competitive spirit she shares with Terrence Howard, who plays her ex-husband Lucious Lyon. She also said it’s essential to the show.
Daniels and Strong discussed how natural Gray was, despite the fact that he had never acted before and was cast from videos online.
Fox has announced that Season 2 of “Empire” returns Sept. 23 for 18 episodes.
Asked for teases of the new season, Strong joked, “It’s the season of cuddling and ‘Kumbaya.'”
“He’s teasing,” Daniels interrupted and promised lots of fights, sex and dysfunction to come.
“A dynasty will rise!” Henson said.
After the Q&A session, the cast performed songs from the show. Smollett and Gray took the stage for “No Apologies,” Estelle and Smollett performed “Conqueror,” and then Yazz returned for “You’re So Beautiful” to close the show with Smollett.
See video above or here.