In a lengthy interview with Vulture about his long, varied career, Empire co-creator Lee Daniels admitted that he’s “beyond embarrassed” about the allegations that former Empire star Jussie Smollett faked a racist/homophobic attack in a bid to get a bigger payday from the show.
“I think that when it happened, I had a flash of me running from bullies,” Daniels told the site. “I had a flash of my whole life, of my childhood, my youth, getting beaten.”
He said knowing Smollett, the incident came totally out of the blue, though Daniels still holds out hope that the Chicago police department’s findings might not be true. “If it turned out that he did it, was guilty, and all of it’s accurate,” it would be a huge betrayal, Daniels said. “Of course, there’s some doubt. I’m telling you that because I love him so much. That’s the torture that I’m in right now, because it’s literally if it were to happen to your son and your child, how would you feel? You would feel, ‘Please, God, please let there be that glimmer of hope that there is some truth in this story.’ That’s why it’s been so painful. It was a flood of pain.”
Daniels said he didn’t read any of the local coverage in the Chicago Tribune of the controversial case — which Vulture pointed out left little doubt about Smollett’s guilt in perpetrating a hoax — because he was “too busy putting out fires…we weren’t there. I can’t judge him,” Daniels said. “That’s only for the fucking lady or man with that black robe and God. I had to detach myself and stop calling him, because it was taking away the time I have for my kids, the time I have for my partner. It was affecting my spirit and other shows, everything.”
Smollett, 36, has maintained his innocence all along, with Daniels and the show’s other producers initially supporting the actor before announcing their decision to cut him out of the final two episodes of the most recent season and dropping him entirely from the upcoming sixth and final season. On Jan. 29, Smollett claimed to police that two masked men attacked him near his Chicago apartment, put a rope around his neck, poured bleach on him, hurled racist and homophobic slurs at the openly gay, black actor and yelled, “This is MAGA country!”
A reportedly exhaustive investigation by the Chicago police found that Smollett had fabricated the incident and in February he was arrested and charged with filing a false police report and faced 16 counts of disorderly conduct, until states attorney Kim Fox dropped all charges unexpectedly on March 26. Pointing out that Daniels is a noted provocateur, Vulture wondered what it meant that Smollett went from being virtually unknown to being the “most famous guy in America” due to the alleged incident.
“What do you make of that? Think about it. If he didn’t do it, he’d be Martin Luther King right now,” said Daniels, who added that there is a showbiz part of him that would have tipped his hat to Smollett if he’d gotten away with it and made himself a household name. “He’d be some sort of god.”
Click here to read the full Vulture interview.