Lee Daniels sat down for an interview Wednesday morning with Good Day New York. But what was supposed to be a conversation with the Empire co-creator and Jordan E. Cooper about their new play “Ain’t No Mo,” quickly shifted to Jussie Smollett.
“It’s so painful that, our souls are cracked,” Daniels said after being asked about the embattled actor.
He then tried to bring the conversation back to the play, but reluctantly agreed to comment on the Smollett case while being prodded by the news anchors.
“It’s almost too painful to even talk about,” Daniels said, adding, “but since you guys are drilling me.”
The media mogul said Fox will definitely renew Empire for a sixth season. However, when asked if the city of Chicago’s $130,000 lawsuit filed against Smollett and the increased cost to insure him would affect his return, Daniels said the actor’s future with the series remains undecided.
“It’s causing a dilemma,” he admitted. “We are in discussions about that right now.”
Daniels refused to discuss his personal views on the case, or whether he believes Smollett told the truth about what happened during his alleged January attack.
“There are only two judges. God and that man that wears the robe,” he said. “And I cannot judge. I can only have compassion.”
Daniels then said Smollett is suffering.
“I have had conversations with him and he is in a lot of pain,” he noted, before being asked if he had concerns about the actor’s well-being.
“If he is guilty, then I am worried about his mental health,” Daniels stated.
In another development Wednesday, the cast of Empire wrote an open letter in support of Smollett. The letter obtained by The Hollywood Reporter stated: “Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire.”
[Full Letter Below]
Smollett has been in the news since Jan. 29, when he told Chicago police officers he was assaulted by two masked men as they shouted racist and homophobic slurs.
Police later said the actor paid brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo to stage the attack, and Smollett was arrested. Cook County prosecutors charged him with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report.
The actor maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty. Yet in a surprise move on March 26, the state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges after he agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bail and perform community service.
The city is now suing him in civil court to recover more than $130,000 it allegedly spent in police overtime hours investigating the case.
Meanwhile, the Osundairo brothers on Tuesday filed a defamation lawsuit against Smollett’s lawyers.
Below is the cast letter in support of Smollett.
Dear Charlie, Dana, Michael, Lee, Danny, Francie, Brian, Sanaa, Dennis, and Brett,
Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire.
We understand the past months have been difficult to process—sometimes the headlines brought more confusion than clarity, yet we now have a conclusion to this ordeal. Throughout Empire’s five seasons working with Jussie and watching how he has conducted himself throughout this traumatic event, we have come to know not just the character Jussie portrays, but also truly come to know Jussie’s personal character. He is kind. He is compassionate. He is honest and above all he is filled with integrity. He is also innocent and no longer subject to legal uncertainty with the criminal charges against him having been dropped. We are confident in his lawyer’s assurance that the case was dismissed because it would not have prevailed.
Jussie has shown us on and off the set who he really is as a leader. In addition to being a caring friend and cast member who treats every crew member with love and respect, he has spent time with our families and individually supported each of us. These recent and detailed letters from The Black AIDS Institute, the Rainbow Push Coalition and the City Lights Orchestra shine a light on his commitment to true community service. Just a few months ago, Jussie partnered with the Trevor Project to provide support to their volunteer program that allows LGBTQ youth in crisis access to vital counseling services. Prior to that, he gave every cent from his sold out world tour to numerous charities. He has adopted a school in Chicago, taught songwriting to incarcerated youth at the Cook County Jail last year and bought the family of Kayden Kinckle, a six-year-old, double amputee, a wheelchair accessible van due to his school district not having a wheelchair accessible school bus. He has traveled to South Africa for service as well as to Jamaica to quietly meet about the safety of LGBTQ youth. This was all done without posturing, the need for attention or even discussion. This is the Jussie we know.
It’s clearer every day that the extreme political climate in our country has only made our system of justice and the court of public opinion more unjust.
It is why now, more than ever, we must stand together as a family. A family is there for us in good times and bad. It can cut through the noise and confusion to understand that there is a person in the center of all this who deserves nothing more than to move forward with his life. We understand that this show is a business. And that business matters to us as well. We are confident our fans will welcome our “Jamal” back into the Empire family as enthusiastically as we will.
That is why we write today to ask you to keep Jussie on the cast so that we can all put this behind us and move forward. Thank you for taking time to hear us. It’s our hope that together we will move into our sixth season as the entire Empire family should.
Taraji P Henson
Bryshere Y. Gray
Nicole Ari Parker