Until he has his day in court, the showrunners at Empire aren’t ready to fire Jussie Smollett just yet, saying it’s “too early,” to make that decision.
“It’s a matter of trusting the process and allowing the legal process to play out and see where it goes from there,” Executive producer and showrunner Brett Mahoney told Entertainment Weekly.
“And it’s too early to think about what we would have to do if we didn’t have Jussie,” he told EW. “We have such a strong ensemble and we have so many stories to tell for all of these fascinating characters that it’s bigger than one character, but it’s too early to think about the show without him.”
While the Empire brass hasn’t decided whether to cancel Smollett’s character altogether, earlier this month, they did clip his scenes. The show co-created by film industry giant Lee Daniels already announced that Smollett was cut from the final two episodes of the current season.
Even cutting those scenes was tough Mahoney said, as rumors swirled that there was turmoil on set.
“It was a very difficult decision, but I think in terms of allowing the cast and the crew to really get the work done without a great deal of disruption in terms of the day-to-day and the stress of the day-to-day, and, in addition, allowing Jussie the time to really deal with what he’s been confronted with and allow him the time to focus and prepare his case, this seems like the logical decision to make,” Mahoney told Entertainment Weekly.
It was a collective decision made by executive producers Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo, Dennis Hammer and Mahoney to change the final episodes to “avoid further disruption on set.”
“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our ‘Empire’ family for the past five years and we care about him deeply. While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out,” the producers said in a statement at the time. “We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”
Smollett was indicted on 16 counts of filing a false police report in connection with an assault he alleges took place in the early morning hours of Jan. 29 in Chicago.
The actor said he was attacked by two men who beat him, shouted homophobic slurs at him and poured bleach on him. He said they used the phrase “MAGA country” during the alleged assault — an apparent reference to “Make America Great Again,” the campaign slogan of President Donald Trump.
The show returned Wednesday night after a three-month break.
Rumors have also swirled that the show is facing cancellation because of the Smollett ordeal. Mahoney said don’t count them out just yet.
“I’m not surprised that we don’t necessarily have a pick up at this point as I think last season we waited until May,” he said. “All the indications I have are that we will be. And we do have so many of these stories to tell, so I can’t imagine we won’t be able to tell them.”