Multiple production sources for the Fox drama told Variety Tuesday that writers were generating ideas for the ultimate set of episodes in anticipation of Smollett showing up in the second half of the season, which is set to be comprised of 18 episodes.
“This is not factual. Jussie will NOT be returning to Empire,” Daniels tweeted in response to Variety’s story.
Daniels’ tweet, the first direct mention of Smollett’s current status on the show, comes more than a month after he was asked about the actor being axed from “Empire” on “The Breakfast Club” radio show.
“We’re in talks to figure out what we’re going to do with the show,” Daniels said. “It’s real. It’s traumatic. It has traumatized the show. It has traumatized the actors. It is very painful to talk about even now. And I think that we’re still living it, trying to figure it out. And regardless I’m standing by him because regardless of the outcome I can’t discard someone. It’s like discarding my son.”
In April, “Empire” production company 20th Century Fox TV said that despite Smollett’s contract being extended, there were no plans for his character, Jamal, to be included in the final season.
“By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season six, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to ‘Empire,’” the statement said.
Smollett’s involvement in the hit series was reduced after he was accused of faking a January hate crime in which he claimed two white masked men wearing “Make America Great Again” hats shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him. He also claimed they poured an unknown substance on him and tied a noose around his neck.
The same sources who alleged the writers were readying for Smollett’s return also claimed the supposed hate crime incident, which resulted in now-dropped charges against the actor, has resulted in tensions on the set. The predominantly Black cast reportedly believes their former co-star is innocent, while the mostly white crew feels the star is guilty.
After the charges were dropped, Smollett’s attorneys said his record “has been wiped clean.”