Empire co-creator Lee Daniels is breaking his relative silence about accusations that actor Jussie Smollett allegedly faked being jumped on earlier this year, and Daniels says he was “beyond embarrassed” about the whole ordeal.
In an interview with Vulture, the Oscar-nominated and openly gay director said of now-dropped charges that Smollett faked a homophobic, racist attack, “I’m beyond embarrassed. I think when it happened, I had a flash of me running from bullies. I had a flash of my whole life, of my childhood, my youth, getting beaten.”
The director catapulted to national fame by his work on 2009’s Precious said the Smollett situation came out of the blue for him. He said did not keep up with local coverage in Chicago because he was tied up “putting out fires,” but if Smollett did lie, it would feel like a major betrayal.
Smollett did not appear in this season’s final episodes of Empire, a series about a family that runs a record company. Smollett played Jamal Lyon, son to Taraji P. Henson‘s Cookie Lyon, in the show that will end after its next season. Daniels confirmed last week that the actor would not appear in the final season.
“Of course, there’s some doubt,” Daniels said. “I’m telling you that because I love him so much. That’s the torture that I’m in right now, because it’s literally if it were to happen to your son and your child, how would you feel? You would feel, ‘Please God, please let there be that glimmer of hope that there is some truth in this story.’ That’s why it’s so painful. It was a flood of pain.”
Daniels told Vulture that he has had to detach himself from the scandal, which attracted attention across the country and beyond.
“We weren’t there,” Daniels said. “I can’t judge him. That’s only for the … lady or man with that black robe and God. I had to detach myself and stop calling him because it was taking away the time I have for my kids, the time I have for my partner. It was affecting my spirit and other shows, everything.”
In March, Smollett, 36, had all 16 felony counts against him dropped by the office of Cook County, Ill., prosecutor Kim Foxx. Despite police finding no evidence of an attack against him, and their belief that he faked being attacked by two suspects, he has maintained that he was the victim of the Jan. 29 assault.