*The cast and producers of “Empire” hosted a panel at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for PaleyFest’s opening-night, where they dished on the off-screen drama as well as “growing pains” they’ve experienced in the show’s sophomore season. They also teased what’s ahead when the series returns March 30.
Taraji P. Henson was not at the event Friday, she was out-of-town shooting a movie, but her co-stars Terrence Howard, Jussie Smollett, Gabourey Sidibe and series co-creator Lee Daniels, treated the enthused crowd to a screening of the upcoming premiere episode, “Death Will Have His Day.” Daniels kicked off the Q&A by responding to host Kevin Frazier’s assertion that the show had turned “a little left” early in Season 2.
“It was growing pains,” Daniels insisted. “I think it would have happened to any show. Though we remain No. 1, we were learning. Sometimes you don’t feel like it’s enough, and so you bring in this person or that person to bring in some more eyes, but at the end of the day it’s a process, and it’s trial and error. We came back.”
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Daniels also reflected on the evolution of the young cast and their command over the red carpet press line. “I’m like, ‘Y’all was nobodies last year. Now look at you.’ It’s an honor to see people of color that are not only in the homes of America, but into Brazil and Spain and Italy and London,” Lee said. “They’re getting a sneak peek into what it’s like to be in our world. Not only is the show a part of the African-American experience, but I have as my partners white people that are able to tell the story in a universal way.”
Diversity on “Empire” and in Hollywood was a recurring theme for the panel, with an audience member asking Daniels to respond to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
“I’ve avoided this question for quite a while,” he said. “I don’t have time to deal with racism. Am I delusional to think there’s no racism in America? Look at f**king Donald Trump. But here’s the bottom line: The minute I embrace it, it becomes real to me. I don’t have time to blame Paramount or Sony or Fox. I get my own money, I get my own actors, I write my own script. I don’t want to hear, ‘Woe is me, they don’t treat me right.’ Get off your ass and do it. You’ll always be an outsider because of the color of your skin. This is the way of the world. So kick the door open and don’t take no for an answer.”
Deadline notes that the panel also discussed who would make great guess stars next season. Gabourey kicked things off, whispering, “Beyonce, Beyonce, Beyonce…” into her microphone.
“Empire” returns Wednesday, March 30 at 9/8c on Fox.