“Empire” returns for an epic second season this Wednesday, Sept. 23 on Fox. 

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Fox hosted a special fan event at Carnegie Hall to celebrate the second season of “Empire.” Those who couldn’t be there in person were able to watch the panel and performance online. The full stream is below:


The entire cast was in attendance at the world premiere event. Jussie Smollett, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, Kaitlin Doubleday, co-creator and director Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Naomi Campbell, Terrence Howard, Mary J. Blige, Bryshere ‘Yazz’ Gray, Serayah McNeill, Grace Gealey, Trai Byers, Brian Grazer, Rafael De La Fuente, Becky G, Lawrence ‘Miss Lawrence’ Washington, Ilene Chaiken, and Ta’Rhonda Jones all walked the red carpet. Musical contributors Ne-Yo, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz and Veronika Bozeman were also in attendance. After the panel, Jussie and Yazz gave an incredible performance. At the after-party Mariah Carey, Courtney Love and Marisa Tomei were all spotted mingling with the cast. The event was presented by Lincoln and Pepsi. Read highlights from the Q&A below:

What was your first thought about your character when you first read him.

Terrence Howard: My first thought was this is never going to work. Then after talking to Lee, after talking to Taraji, and talking to my assistant and talking to my wife, you realize it’s just challenging to play a monster in a sense, and then to [have] an ex-wife, gay son, bipolar son, crackhead son.

Taraji P. Henson: Like he said, these are characters you’re used to seeing in movies cause it’s safe in movies. You can do what you want to do, say what you want to say, cause it’s movies. But when you talk about primetime network television I was like [woah], this is never going to work. I honestly thought we will put this incredible work in the can, and Fox will choke, and they’ll put it on cable. I went on about my summer, like maybe I’ll go to Italy and I get the call that the show is picked up, like what, are they crazy? Like Cookie beats her son with a broom and she calls one son the F-Bomb and what … they are letting us say this? And every week I get the script and I’m like I can say this? Really! I mean, it’s what I’ve dreamt of as an artist, to do work that’s going to get people to think and ruffle feathers and get people upset and spark intelligent conversations so that change could happen. To be a part of this show is just amazing. Yes I was scared as hell of Cookie but I knew that if she was played and based in reality, then people would identify with her and understand the struggle. Cause you can judge her and say whatever you want about her, about Lucious, about what they did to get where they are, but at the end of the day, their sons are not statistics. Their sons are not in jail. They broke a cycle of poverty and anyone that’s from the hood knows that’s very hard to do. To break it, and not just for yourself, but for your sons, your black boys that are coming up, that’s why I think they’re heroes in a very American way, if you will.

Lee Daniels: And again, that’s the reason why we have to think, and I say this not to be politically correct but from my heart, and sometimes I may get in trouble, but Dana Walden and Gary Newman let us do our sh*t. They think every week, oh my God, what are they thinking of, what are they going to do. Because we’ve got a network to run, at the end of the day, but at the end of the day they let all of us up in here do us and that is some pioneering, because nobody else is doing it.

Jussie, when you first saw your character, what did you think?

Jussie Smollett: I said that I have to play Jamal. I had to beg, I kicked, I screamed, I sang, I danced, I instagrammed, I dm’d, I slid up in Lee Daniels’ dm’s like what? But the strange thing was I wasn’t expecting for it to be this, I wasn’t expecting it to be a part of something so incredible and I had seen all the work that Lee Daniels had done and all the work Danny Strong had done, separately and together, but when I read the script I was like this is still a Lee Daniels and Danny Strong project. Yes it’s for network television but it’s still there. It was so bold and brave and fearless and for that it made me so fearful… I’m blessed and I’m happy I got this role, for sure.

Bryshere Gray: For me, this being my first acting role and stuff like that, being able to work with nominated directors like Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, Taraji P. Henson, it’s a dream come true. For my audition I had to audition with Terrence and Taraji so I walked in and I was a little nervous, and Lee asked “Do you want them to leave?” and I’m like no, I see y’all on BET re-runs all the time, so I’m like I know you. Then I heard about Naomi Campbell, Lee Daniels’ friend, who is an iconic supermodel, and I wanted to do the role. And Brian Grazer, I did a facetime with Brian Grazer, and he loved it and I’m here today.

Trai Byers: I saw Shakespeare, I came from a schooling for a long time — ten years. I saw something that was familiar yet dangerous. I saw a man that was full of frailty and vulnerability built on a persona that he didn’t really fit. I saw a man searching for his identity and that really intrigued me as a man and as a black man, particularly with the bipolar disorder seeing how quickly that could be swept under the rug in our nation and be able to spotlight some of these issues. It was really important for me to see, Jussie, dealing with a father and son with Jussie, a man who’s son is homosexual trying to come into his own ultimately how is the father son relationship, what is the dynamic between all three and it was very interesting and it was something I’ve never seen before and it was a blessing.

Kaitlin, if he’s Iago, then you’re Lady Macbeth.

Kaitlin Doubleday: That was what Danny talked about in the audition and that was super exciting for me because as a ‘skinny blonde pretty girl’, you don’t get juicy parts often, it’s either the girlfriend or the best friend… Also, somebody powerful, and loyal, and extremely driven and educated and smart and married to someone with bipolar disorder and what that entails, and being thrust into this family as the only white person on the show.

Grace if you could talk about what you thought of your character when you first read her in the script.

Grace Gealey: Yeah, I think that every character in the script was a character of substance, and for Anika, I love that she was this powerful, smart, multi dimensional woman of color who loved her man [while] all of this stuff was happening and all of a sudden Cookie comes in and she’s like wait a minute and threw her for a loop and I really loved that and it made me very interested in who she was and what she’s going to do. I remember I was auditioning with Lee, there was a scene that wasn’t in the pilot that I loved. It was a scene where Anika was trying to grapple with Lucious, the fact that he had an issue with Jamal being gay, and Anika stood up for Jamal, and was like Lucious, this is not a choice, this is who he is and you have to love him, and that scene was taken out. I say that to say that it’s those elements of her personality and her character that made me really attracted to her as a good person with a good heart who’s been thrust into this very unfortunate and complicated situation. She’s flawed, she’s very, very flawed, but I think that’s what makes her so interesting because I think a lot of times in this industry you have to fight against your type and the one thing I never ever wanted to be was one who was cast based off the way I look. I wanted to be something more than that.

Earlier in the day, Saks Fifth Avenue and the cast of “Empire” celebrated the unveiling of their new EMPIRE-curated fashion collaboration with a star studded soiree at 10022-SHOE on the 8th floor of the revered retailer’s Fifth Avenue flagship. The Empire x Saks partnership features curated collections from luxury fashion brands that represent the show’s glamorous aesthetic including jewelry from Alexis Bittar, women’s ready-to-wear from Cushnie et Ochs, men’s and women’s footwear from Jimmy Choo and handbags and accessories from MCM.  The EMPIRE and Saks Fifth Avenue’s multi-platform collections will be available in-store, online and on-screen.


Photo Credit: Fox