‘Empire’ Co-Creator Danny Strong Talks Season 2 Shockers, How Cookie’s ‘Head in the Box’ Gift Almost Got Cut

“I just remember us thinking, ‘That’ll be a crazy “Empire” moment,'” executive producer tells TheWrap

Fox/Dan Busta

(Spoiler alert: Please do not read on if you have not watched Wednesday’s season premiere of “Empire”)

Season 2 of “Empire” got off to a crazy start on Wednesday night.

Chris Rock turned in a surprisingly terrifying performance as drug lord Frank Gathers, the man Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) ratted out to get herself out of prison in Season 1. When Gathers ends up in prison with Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie’s cousin Jermel (DeRay Davis), things get tense quickly.

Gathers knows that Jermel killed a member of his crew (on Cookie’s orders) and immediately sets to work getting Jermel to disclose who paid him to do it.

After a vicious beating, Jermel reveals Cookie ordered the hit and ratted Gathers out. Gathers sends a message to Cookie by having Jermel’s head sent to Cookie’s doorstep in a box.

“I remember when we came up with [the head in a box], we all loved it,” series producer and co-creator Danny Strong told TheWrap. “I just remember us thinking, ‘That’ll be a crazy “Empire” moment.’” However, the moment almost didn’t make it to the screen.

“Someone wanted to cut it, I think someone at the studio, and [Lee Daniels], who directed the episode, started freaking out,” Strong said. “Like, ‘I love that head in a box! You can’t cut that!’”

Strong also talked about the decision to cast Rock in a role so against type for the comedian.

“Ilene and I were in the middle of writing the premiere and she said to me, ‘What about Chris Rock as Frank Gathers?’” Strong said. “And I had seen him in a play called ‘The Motherf–ker With the Hat,’ and he was really great in it. And there was something very dangerous about him in it and very badass.”

Outside the prison, Cookie, Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), Andre (Trai Byers) and Anika (Grace Gealey) continue their efforts to take over Empire Records from Jamal and Lucious, but they desperately need the support of billionaire investor Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei).

Whiteman is interested in the company, but even more interested in Anika. Anika goes so far as to sleep with Whiteman, but Whiteman betrays Team Cookie and sides with Lucious and Jamal, leading to yet another classic Cookie line: “You can’t even dyke right.”

Looking ahead at the rest of the season, Strong promised even more madness is just around the corner.

“All the key relationships have shifted from last season,” he said. “When I was writing ‘Empire’ last season, Cookie was in jail. Now Lucious is in jail. And that’s what we wanted to do, is literally shift everything. And things kind of all go crazy from there.”

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