Ever since the microscope has focused on Jussie Smollett as a potential criminal in his previously reported hate crime, rather than the victim he was initially perceived to be, the fate of his Empire character Jamal Lyon has been up in the air. That issue recently escalated when Smollett was indicted by an Illinois grand jury on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct.
Showrunner Brett Mahoney talked with Entertainment Weekly about how the legal matters surrounding the show’s co-star have affected production, as well as the “difficult” decision to snatch Smollett from the last two episodes of the fifth season.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster,” Mahoney said. “You have someone in your family who’s going through this, while at the same time, we’re shooting the final episodes of the season, which are also just heightened emotionally. So it was a lot to deal with and a lot to go through, but we’re really just focused on finishing strong. We’re in our last week of production and I’m really proud of the work we’ve done this season, and hopefully, the fans will really engage with these back nine episodes.”
Mahoney knows rumors exist, but insists he really isn’t privy to it all in his “day-to-day” schedule. He also confirmed the cast is really focused on continuing to provide their fans with a good show.
“I think the cast and crew is really just focused on working and everyone feels good about the work we’re doing, and we’re hoping that we can be judged on that work. Everyone is really focused on getting these episodes done, despite everything that is going on around us,” he noted. “Also, I don’t really see it as something that is dividing people, more like bringing people together, bringing the cast and crew together in terms of let’s get this done.”
Mahoney also touched on the team’s decision to remove Smollett from the final two episodes of the current season, which recently returned from its mid-season break on Wednesday night.
“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,” said Mahoney.
As for Jamal’s fate, there have been a lot of rumors circulating on whether or not we’ll be seeing him in the future. A recent Variety report stated, there’s a possibility Jamal’s character could either be killed off or recast. The show, which is still doing well in ratings for the network, landing in the number 2 spot behind 9-1-1, is expected to be renewed for a sixth season. Some have speculated that the show could (or should) be canceled. As IndieWire noted, abrupt cancelation may be “overkill,” and the cases in which that has happened with television shows are “extreme.”
Mahoney isn’t giving a definitive answer on Jamal’s fate at this point, though, saying it’s “too early.” Plus, Jamal’s character had a major development in the first half of Season 5, having gotten engaged to Kai Givens (Toby Onwumere).
“It’s a matter of trusting the process and allowing the legal process to play out and see where it goes from there,” confirmed Mahoney. “And it’s too early to think about what we would have to do if we didn’t have Jussie. 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.”
We shall see…