The violent and bigoted assault on Jussie Smollett in Chicago early Tuesday morning has left the cast and crew of Empire shocked and seeking answers amid a temporary and unrelated shutdown of the Fox show.
“This horrible attack was on one of our own, in our town,” an insider on the hip-hop drama told Deadline today. “Everyone’s behind Jussie 100%, and he’s the first priority, but people need to process what happened to him too,” added the source on the musical drama created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong.
In that process, counselors and a SAG-AFTRA representative were made available on the set of the Terrence Howard-Taraji P. Henson series Tuesday to talk with and listen to cast, crew and producers. The intention is that those trauma counselors will continue to maintain a presence on the Windy City-filmed Empire over the coming few weeks as Smollett returns to the show and the law enforcement investigation into the two men who attacked the actor unfolds.
Key principals on the show were informed early Tuesday of the racist and homophobic slurs, beating and chemical substance-drenching Smollett endured despite attempting to defend himself. Also, the overall Empire set was told collectively by a producer about what had happened to the actor who plays Jamal Lyon on the show.
Having just returned from New York City late last night after a long-delayed flight, Smollett was supposed to be on set for filming on the Empire‘s fifth season this week. Recovering after a short stint in Northwestern Hospital, Smollett is said now to be in relatively good shape after the harsh assault. His planned February 2 concert at The Troubadour in West Hollywood was removed from the legendary club’s schedule at one point today but is now back on.
— Sean Healy Presents. (@WeBookBands) January 29, 2019
Depending on his recovery and the frigid weather conditions in Chicago, the actor could be back filming the Brett Mahoney-showrun Empire by early next week, I’m told.
It looks very unlikely that Smollett or anyone on Empire will be working much this week.
Empire will be going dark Wednesday — along with the upcoming Strong-EP’d Proven Innocent, which also films in Chicago — as the Midwest metropolis takes a subzero blast from the polar vortex. Shutting down almost the whole town, temperatures are below minus-22 tonight and expected to fall far further on what could be a record-breaking Wednesday.
It is unclear at this point if Empire and other Chicago filmed shows on multiple networks will be off as well.
Stating that they consider what happened to Smollett on the icy streets of Chicago to be a “possible hate crime,” city detectives are working closely with the FBI in the hunt for those responsible for the attack.
While very little official information has been made public, police and agents have been scouring the area where the assault took place for witnesses and video footage. Again, while nothing has been said publicly yet, we hear that the substance poured over Smollett appears to have been determined to be bleach.
Or as Lee Daniels said in his deeply sorrowful reaction to what happened to the actor whose character is based in no small part on the Empire co-creator’s life: “It’s just another f*cking day in America.”