Taraji P. Henson and Jussie Smollett Talk Their ‘Empire’ and Success

Taraji P. Henson and Jussie Smollett Talk Their ‘Empire’ and Success

Empire may be on a break until the highly anticipated season two premiers, but the fan conversation surrounding the hit series is still running rampant. The number one show following the drama of the Lyon family’s musical dynasty is FOX’s highest rated program since 2012. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with two of Empire’s fan favorites, Taraji P. Henson and Jussie Smollet, at the Summer Sizzle BVI Launch Party to talk their career strides, which actors they admire, and what’s next.

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Henson, an Oscar-nominated actress who will serve as this year’s American Black Film Festival ambassador, is beyond deserving of all the rewards Empire has bestowed. After punching in overtime for over a decade, starring in popular films like Baby Boy (2001) and Hustle & Flow (2005), she tells BlackEnterprise.com that the evolving success is attributed to “hard work, tenacity, [and] never giving up.” The star who transforms into an ex-con, musical genius and loyal-to-a-fault mom and ex-wife reveals, “I studied the craft. I know I have a voice, I know I understand the craft of acting.”

While such understanding comes from days and years of hitting the acting books, Taraji P. Henson also credits a certain legendary actress for the inspiration behind her compelling performances. When we ask her to name one actor she would like to brunch with, without a second thought, she responds, “Bette Davis because I studied all her work. John Singleton named me Bette Davis eyes when I did Baby Boy.” The director and producer was the one to teach Henson “it’s all in the eyes.” She lights up as she reflects back on how Singleton kept calling her Bette Davis, as she reminded him of the icon. “I knew exactly who Bette Davis was, but I wasn’t really an avid student of her work. So, I just bought everything she’s ever been in… And you’re talking about somebody who can just slice you with a look! She doesn’t have to say a word, it’s all in her eyes.”

Jussie Smollett, who plays Henson’s middle son, is a Hollywood newcomer. He doesn’t have the years of experience as Henson or Empire’s other leading actor Terrence Howard, but his raw talent caught the attention of a reported 16.5 million finale viewers—and the show’s creator, Lee Daniels, too. He takes BlackEnterprise.com back to the moment when he landed the role: “I had gone to the beach the day that I knew the decision was being made, and I just prayed and meditated for four hours. I lied to everybody; God, forgive me. I said that I had meetings all day just because I didn’t want anybody to be like, ‘Hey, have you heard?’, ‘Are you okay?’ Smollett says, “I didn’t pray for the role. What I prayed for is that God would give it to whoever it was for. If it was for me, let it me be for me. If it’s for the other actor, who’s a brilliant actor, let it be for him.” After a few hours of conversing with God, the new talent drove home and spoke to his mother on bluetooth. En route, he received a text message and pulled over, “because Oprah would not want me texting and driving…” The message read, “It’s YOU.”

Read onto page two and see what Jussie says about his new music career and having children.