Cast and creators of Empire came to TCA to tout the fourth season, which picks up as Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) makes his first public appearance since being injured in an explosion, with Lyon family reacting variously as he regains his physical and mental faculties.
Asked if the show’s move to the earlier 8 PM timeslot will affect content, Howard joked “no, we get to get off earlier,” while co-creator/writer/EP Lee Daniels insisted “Empire is going to be Empire” and their fans would follow.
Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker is going to guest-star in a multi-episode arc, playing “Uncle Eddie,” a music icon/hitmaker who gave Lucious his first radio airplay. Decades later, Eddie steps up for Lucious during his rehabilitation, and a grateful Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) invites him to produce a song in celebration of Empire Entertainment’s 20th anniversary.
Howard told TV critics Whitaker is a mentor in real life, having recommended him for his Crash role.
Howard and Henson continue to take questions as to their “chemistry” whenever they show up at TCA. “Me and Taraji have wonderful chemistry,” Howard said, describing his on-screen work with her as one in which only one person can “take the frame,” and that “keeps the competition up.” Similarly, with Whitaker on board for an arc, Howard said he does not “know who is going to take the frame.”
“I’m not competing with you, Terrence,” Henson insisted.
“I’m competing with you,” Howard shot back.
Later Howard said of their seemingly coordinated TCA outfits, “We did not coordinate. I don’t know how this happened with our clothing.”
Henson returned to compliment, saying she and Howard are friends off-screen. “This is my guy,” she said.
When conversation turned to the series’ other well-known guests stars, including Leslie Uggam, Phylicia Rashad, Taye Diggs, Demi Moore, etc., Daniels moved in to get the chat back on track and focused on his cast. When too much attention turns to guest actors, he warned, “we lose who it is that the fans want to watch. They’re obsessed with the Lyons,” he said. “So we focus more on our family.”
Critics shut up about the guest stars.
Later, some cast took issue when one TV critic called it a drama about the “dangerous and seductive world of hip hop.”
“You have to be careful when you say that, because Empire is not a hip hop show,” Henson warned.
Howard called it an “urban drama” that happens to be affluent “in comparison to the normal urban drama.”
“This is a damn successful show that is good,” cast member Jussie Smollett chimed in.
Daniels thanked his producing partner Danny Strong for bringing “that Shakespearean experience to this world.”
Henson got asked if she wants to do a comedy movie. She does. She called it a “no brainer.”
“She looks like a leading lady but absolutely is a character actor, and also one of the funniest people alive,” said Smollett. “We play mother and son [in Empire], but it’s more like sister and brother.”
“I’m the younger one,” Henson explained.
“I’m significantly younger,” Smollett corrected.
During the TCA panel, a TV critic wanted to know about last season’s midseason premiere, in which Cookie took a bat to the Empire HQ – a scene with Lucious that had not culminated in their having sex — though the scene reportedly had been written that way.
“For me, as a woman, I felt that the power would be lost if she had sex with him,” Henson explained, in regards to having lobbied for the script change. Smashing the office with a bat was “very animalistic,” she explained and she did not want that to be followed by a “fall for flesh.”
“A lot of women in relationships can understand that moment,” she said, adding “things happen with women when you have sex with men.” She called the change “a stronger choice” for her character.
“And, she looked good swinging that bat,” Daniels added.