Empire dropped the mother of all twists last week.
Raven-Symone made her Empire debut as Olivia, a woman from Jamal’s (Jussie Smollett) past who claims that he is the father of her young daughter. But the Fox soap opera will one-up this Maury-worthy moment during on Wednesday by revealing that Olivia is also Jamal’s ex-wife!
“They were indeed married,” Smollett tells TVGuide.com. “It was all just a sham of a wedding. It certainly wasn’t something that Jamal’s heart was completely in, but it was what he felt that he needed to do and another way that Lucious handled the puppeteering of Jamal early on in his life.”
But while Jamal and Olivia were married, the burgeoning singer had no idea he had fathered a child with her – or did he?
The timing of Olivia’s reappearance – immediately after Jamal’s first hit song and major radio interview – is more than a little suspicious and the Lyons are hesitant before welcoming Olivia and her daughter into their multi-million dollar pride. However, Smollett warns Olivia might not be the standard gold-digger you assume her to be. “All I can say is that whatever you think it is on the surface, it’s even deeper than that,” Smollett teases.
Unfortunately, Olivia’s reveal is the last thing Jamal needs in his life right now. Before she showed up, he was already struggling to juggle his responsibilities, something that usually resulted in his boyfriend Michael getting the short end of the stick. Now, the appearance Jamal’s possible daughter is like a twist of the knife Jamal had already stuck in Michael’s back when he said that there was no one special in his life during an interview.
“I think it definitely hurts Michael to hear that, but I also think it hurts Jamal to say that,” Smollett says, defending Jamal’s decision to hide his relationship. “He could have said, ‘There’s no girl’ or ‘No, I’m not dating a girl right now.’ He could have said anything. … I think it was just this cluster-beep of emotion that goes through when asked a question like that — that’s so personal even when you’re expecting for that question to be asked.”
Last Wednesday’s episode was the second time Jamal backed away from an opportunity to publicly come out – and it might not be his last this season. Smollett says that while “there’s a moment where Jamal accepts who he is” this year, he won’t come out until he’s ready. “I think the main reason holding Jamal back from coming out is that none of the ways that people have offered for him to come out have been his way. It’s been what other people wanted, not what he needs,” Smollett explains. “He’s a quiet storm, so he’ll come around when he’s ready. It’s his journey, no one else’s.”
And while Jamal’s journey is his own, in many ways it’s also co-creator Lee Daniels’. The executive producer drew a lot of inspiration from his own life in crafting the character – including the horrific scene in the pilot where Lucious puts Jamal in a trash can after catching him wearing high heels. But Smollett says the fact Jamal is partially based on Daniels hasn’t added any pressure to playing the role. “We’ve shared so much of our own lives in discussion that I do feel comfortable because more than anything, he trusted me to play Jamal. So for that I respect him so, so, so much,” Smollett says.
During a panel at the Television Critics Association winter previews last month, Daniels had said that he hoped to use the character of Jamal as a vehicle to “blow the lid off” homophobia in the black community. And though Empire has only been on a little more than a month, Smollett says he’s already seen encouraging signs it’s working.
“I definitely do. I see older black men coming up to me on the regular and saying, ‘Brother, keep doing what you’re doing. I love Jamal. I respect Jamal.'” Smollett says.
“Furthermore, we’re dealing with homophobia in the black community, yes. But we’re dealing with homophobia in the black community because we’re telling the story of a family that is black. That’s not to let off any other community and to act as if homophobia doesn’t exist in those communities,” Smollett continues.
“Homophobia is an earthling epidemic. So I’ve seen older black men, older white men — a whole bunch of different people have come up and shown love for the character, because I feel like what we’re doing is showing a story that’s universal. It’s not even about sexuality. There’s not one human being in the world that at one time in their life has not feel unaccepted or judged or something like that. So what we’re doing is holding up a mirror to viewers and just being like, ‘Is this you?'”
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