A small audience of Empire fans got the chance to see the show’s season five premiere ahead of its Sept. 26 air date, as well as hear from cast member Jussie Smollett, at the Tribeca TV Festival on Saturday (Sept. 22). “That was great, but it’s nothing compared to the rest of the season,” Smollet said after the screening during a Q&A with Afropunk Chief Content Officer Emil Wilbekin.
The new season actually begins with a time jump, pushing viewers two years later than what they saw at the end of season four. Smollett, who plays Jamal, told The Hollywood Reporter that the shift sort of acts as a reset, making the season reminiscent to Empire‘s first.
“This season is really about growth and unity. I think we needed this,” the actor told THR. “I’m really excited, everybody’s really excited. You see the vibe on set — everyone’s just happy to be there.” For Smollett, he’s glad that the show is still resonating with audiences.
“We’ve been given a really special platform to be able to represent certain people that feel underrepresented,” Smollet said. “To have the opportunity to play Jamal in this way, in this season, is probably the most exciting thing.” Smollett will also step behind the camera this season after making his directorial debut in season four. In the seven days leading up to Saturday’s festival, Smollett spent them all directing.
Empire, created by Academy Award nominee Lee Daniels and Emmy Award-winner Danny Strong, returns to Fox on Sept. 26.
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.