Empire stars Jussie Smollett and Yazz discussed their roles as Jamal Lyon and Hakeem Lyon on Empire, tonight’s season finale, and so much more during a recent press call. I’m looking forward to the finale and hopefully, a longer season two. This season was way too short. Don’t miss the two-hour season finale airing at 8/7c tonight on FOX.
Q: The two of you have this wonderful on-screen chemistry together and, of course, we know that the relationship between Jamal and Hakeem has kind of evolved over the season. I’d like to hear from you both about how it moves forward throughout the finale. At the end of the last episode, you guys were, of course, together with Lola but since it’s been so heated this season, can you talk about what we’ll see towards the finale?
Yazz: As you’ve seen throughout the season, the brothers, they’re clashing. There is a lot of success going on. They’re making a lot of money and it’s about if they’re going to stick together through the new adventures that are going on in their lives. The season finale is where you get to see that. It’s going to be crazy.
Jussie: Yea, and as far as the relationship and the chemistry between both Hakeem and Jamal and, obviously, essentially, myself and Yazz, the thing about Hakeem and Jamal is that they compete and there are other people that really have their hands in the pot of their brotherhood, but at the same time they always find themselves back to each other. They always find their way back to each other somehow. I think that’s the beautiful thing about them is that families fight; families have issues. Not exactly as many issues as the Lyons family, but, families fight and they have issues and then they come back together at the end of the day and they’re a family. I think that it speaks volumes about brotherhood, the fact that Hakeem is so supportive of Jamal. Jamal is so supportive of Hakeem, but then it leads into our friendship and our brotherhood outside of the work. I feel like I watch the show sometimes, like when Yazz was performing “Nothing but a Number,” my character was excited, but my character was excited because I was genuinely excited because that was the first time I heard the song and I loved it and he was killing it. There’s that brotherhood and camaraderie that we share. I think that’s what you see.
Q: Last time we saw Ryan, he wasn’t too sure he wanted to stick around because of Lola. What do we see in the next two episodes? Because I think in the preview, we see things getting a little hot and heavy.
Jussie: On top of Daddy’s desk. Yea, I mean, shortly put, Jamal is not done with Ryan yet. He ain’t done with him. There’s a desk involved. There’s some loving involved and they’re not done. We’ll have to see, where – it’s not necessarily a huge storyline in the finale. There’s just a huge moment in the finale. But, yea, I mean he – Lola, my baby is no longer living with me, or living with the family, so I guess they can at least have sex.
Q: Yazz, Jussie has dealt with a lot since the show premiered. I’m curious how many times you’ve been asked about the sexuality question. Has it come up for you at all, because, obviously, it has for Jussie? Have you heard it at all?
Yazz: It was some comedic-type of blogs out and stuff like that but when you see me out with a beautiful young lady then you know what it is.
Q: Yazz, what do you make of all the brouhaha about that Jussie had to kind of deal with over the last few months?
Yazz: From my perspective. You know, it’s 2015. Like if you haven’t – if you’re that insecure about yourself that you can’t love somebody for who they are, then you just need to just stay in the house and lock the door. I’m that type of person that doesn’t care who you are. I love everybody and I feel like that’s how the world should be.
Jussie: And this is why we love Yazz the greatest.
Q: Are you happy and satisfied with where your character ends up by the end of the season finale?
Jussie: I am.
Yazz: I mean. I am. I’m definitely happy about where my character is.
Jussie: I’m excited. I’m excited because there’s so much more to come. The dope thing about Season 1 is that there are still questions to be answered –
Jussie: – in Season 2. You know what I’m saying? I feel like Season 1 was the set up and then Season 2 will be, okay, let’s go back and let’s clean up all of the Lyons’ stuff, if you will. I’m very happy. I’m very excited where Jamal, where his journey has taken him, from beginning to now, and where it’s going to end up going. I’m very excited.
Yazz: And we’re excited about Andre. Where he goes, he gets better and better. I feel like his story is real important and it grows and people can learn from his experiences [indiscernible].
Yazz: On the finale, what do you think?
Jussie: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you got to love Trai Byers period. Point blank period.
Q: Who is your dream guest star in Season 2?
Jussie: For me, it’s Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson and Brandy. I really want them just because I want to sing with them.
Yazz: Mariah Carey, he said Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson?
Jussie: Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, and Brandy.
Yazz: Alright. For me it’s Madonna, Queen Latifah, and Rihanna.
Jussie: Oh, good one, Yazz.
Q: What kind of a reaction have you gotten from your friends, your family, and fans, people you know online, or you meet in the street, about the show, in general, and also the characters, especially the relationship between Jamal and his dad and the story there?
Yazz: Yea, I mean, the fans are amazing. Me and Juss, when we were in Chicago and everything started building up, we used to go to the gym and stuff, like regular gym, and work out and people would go bananas. We can’t go grocery shopping no more. It’s just pandemonium, but it’s a dream come true. We’re working with the greatest, Oscar-nominated, actors and directors, so it’s great. I’m in a great place. Jussie’s in a great place and we’re blessed.
Jussie: Absolutely. For me, it’s been a really wonderful experience thus far. Everybody has been really supportive and loving. I just get the most beautiful letters from kids, both homosexual children and heterosexual children, telling me that somehow they relate to Jamal in so many ways and I feel like that’s the – as an artist, we don’t always get these types of roles to come along, that really say something about what you care about, but when they do, you jump at the chance. I feel like that’s what we all did. I feel like we all, in our own individual ways, fought so hard for these roles because of what it meant and what it said. It’s so entertaining and it’s so glamorous and fantastic, but it also is saying something about where our society is today and that means so much. When I get those letters, I’m a crying fool anyway, because I’m a Cancer, but it’s just really, really emotional and I love it. It’s been wonderful.
Q: Can you talk about what it’s like to work with Snoop Dogg in the finale?
Yazz: It was great to work with Snoop. I can’t tell you what we’re doing, but we had to prepare for our scene for like an hour in his trailer. It was good to vibe out with the legend Snoop Dogg and to get some jewels I can take into life and use and to apply them to my everyday life.
Q: Yazz, did you get to hang out at all with Patti during her portion?
Yazz: Yea. I thought Patti was going to bring me some chicken, man, but she didn’t. But I actually got the chance to talk to her behind stage before she performed with Jussie and she’s phenomenal. She’s a great person. It was an honor to meet Miss Patti LaBelle.
Q: What’s the timing on both of your albums and any chance that the two of you might go out on a tour together?
Jussie: As far as the albums, we are in the thick of promoting the album that is the most important right now, and that is the Empire soundtrack. It’s available for download and purchase in all great [indiscernible]. But, the album will have to be sometime next year because we do this promotional tour and then we go straight to – and I’m going to be writing and recording, just, but we go straight to filming Season 2 come early summer, so there’s not necessarily a lot of time. We’ll be in the thick of recording new music for Season 2. As far as a tour, that’ll probably also have to be next year as far as that goes but there will be little spot dates here and there that everybody can fit in. It’s just our schedules are madness right now.
Yazz: Our schedule’s crazy. To be honest, I’m not focused on dropping an album. I’m not focused on that right now. If it’s in demand, it will happen.
Q: On TV shows like this one, you only get a little snippet of a song. Most of the time, you hardly ever get to hear the whole song. Is that a cause of frustration for you guys and do you think they’re picking the right 15 seconds or 30 seconds of the song to throw up there? Or do you ever like grind your teeth and say, oh, they missed the best, they missed the real hook?
Yazz: They give you enough. They keep your mouth watering. They give you enough. What do you think, Juss, because –
Jussie: You have to realize, too, that the song is played, it’s the TV version of the song and then that’s why they’re available for download the day before the episode airs. Yes, I’d be lying if I wasn’t like, oh my God, I really wanted that part to be in there but, at the same time, it makes sense. It’s television and then that’s what the download is for, so you can hear the whole song in its entirety. It’s a shortened music video, basically. It’s a great way to get the music out there, so yea.
Q: What’s the biggest thing that each of you, personally, have taken from this experience? What have you come out of this that’s just really made you feel like positive and looking at the world differently?
Jussie: There were many elements – oh, I’m sorry – Yazz, go ahead.
Yazz: There were many elements, darling, but no, it’s family, family, family. You got to talk to your family. You got to stay grounded. You need to pray a lot. You need to eat healthy. There are a lot of things that tie into it but definitely staying prayed up [ph], and keeping the family involved.
Jussie: Yea, yea. For me, it’s been like to piggyback on what Yazz was saying, it is, what we took away from it is I think that Yazz and I, separately, in our own ways, are so, so, so dedicated to our families and then what we came away with it, it was another – more additions to our family, if you will, with this cast and the crew. Such incredible people but, also, I feel like what I’ve seen is the stereotypes that society tries to push down our throats actually are not real. That what we’re seeing is we’re seeing the very people that society wants us to believe would not accept someone like a Jamal, those are the very people that are coming up to me being like, brother, I love you. I respect you. Keep doing what you’re doing. So for that, it’s really – I don’t know if it’s opened my eyes because I feel like my eyes saw that already, but I feel like what it did is that it killed that cycle that started to feed itself of, that there are really, really genuine and good, honest, respectful, and loving people in the world. So, I really love it. That’s why I love the viewers so much, because that’s what they show every single day.
Q: What is one thing that you hope that this show conveys or that people take away from this show?
Jussie: Love. Just love.
Yazz: Family. It’s love and family conflict in situations. It’s a family show, so you get to experience family situations that you can learn from in your household. Stuff that Hakeem does, idiotic stuff he does, you would teach your son, like, that’s going to happen you if you keep going that route. It’s great. The fans keep watching each week and it’s loving. It’s loving. Nobody’s perfect and you’ll get that on the season finale. Everybody is an enemy. Everybody is a villain. Nobody is safe in Empire.
Q: What was, in your opinion, your most turned up moment on the series and if there is any story behind it?
Yazz: My most turned up moment is coming up actually. Yea, on the finale. Yes.
Q: Well since you can’t tell us what that consists of, can you say how you felt about getting to do whatever it is that we’re going to see you doing?
Yazz: It’s very sexual. It’s about a rivalry; to really get back at somebody I can’t tell you but, throughout the season, Hakeem, he’s very explosive and he just does a lot. He does a lot. He tries to prove himself, so you’ll get to see coming up. It’s very intense.
Jussie: I feel like with Jamal, Jamal has had a turn-up moment like every other episode from leaving his apartment and saying, I’m going after Empire and I’m going to take it, to being held up in the studio to switching Daddy’s lines to man loves a man and coming out to having a baby. Lord, come on now. But Jamal is a complete hybrid of Lucious and Cookie together. He kind of has those moments often, but this season finale you’ll kind of see a moment between Lucious and Jamal where they come together somehow through song and I feel like that’s the moment that a lot of us have been waiting for all season long and I shot it and it was one of my most favorite scenes I’ve done in the entire series. I feel like that’s a major turn-up moment.
Q: Jussie, how has it influenced your focus now as a gay rights activist? Has it influenced you to do something different? Do you work with kids more?
Jussie: I’ve already, you have to realize that I’m 31 years old, so this isn’t – life isn’t new for me. It’s very much so been something that I’m being an activist, a human rights activist, has been something that I’m passionate about since day one. One of my godmothers is Angela Davis, so it’s like –I wasn’t really even – my mom didn’t even really give us a choice growing up. Look, we had a choice what sports we played. We had a choice in what music we listened to. We had a choice in the careers that we chose. We did not have a choice in being activists because that was the one thing that she said, if you do nothing in your life, you’ve got to give back. So, what you do is you’ve got to collect your own stuff so that you can properly give back. But it’s just who we are. It’s literally like, it’s the thing that feeds me the most. If I didn’t do it, then I would feel empty. But I talk to the young youth in the city, I talk to young LGBT youth. I talk to young women with babies that have been raped or have suffered through domestic violence and have gotten out of it. That’s what I do, you know what I’m saying? So, as far as, has it changed me? No. It’s just further cemented who I am in my own life and the work that I know that I’m here, put on this earth, to do.
Yazz: And to piggyback a little bit off what he said, I had a close friend get killed from violence in the streets and, from 16 years old, I went out talking to the kids, because that really touched me internally, that somebody that got killed was that close to me. I went out, at 16 years old, me and my mom would pack up a Camry and drive to Michigan, use our own money, and we weren’t really that fortunate, and we would go out to these schools and I would perform. I would talk to the kids and give them a little bit of inspiration because I was really hurt from that situation and from there, I kind of built a fan base through talking to the kids and letting them know, this is possible. You’ve just got to follow your dreams. If I’m here on stage from Philadelphia, you can be just like me. So I did –I did that since I was 16 years old and from there it just – I got Empire.
Jussie: Yazz has been working with the inner city schools for, like I’m sitting here right now with his mom is chilling with me in my hotel room. That’s how close we all really are. Yazz isn’t here, but Yazz’s mama is here with me chilling. That’s the thing, like we’ve been talking and she was telling me about how they would go to the schools and everything like that. That’s the thing, like Yazz said, he didn’t have a lot, but you know what I’m saying? Like he – because of who he is and the person that he is, that’s why he does have what he has now because, you know what I’m saying? Karma works so well. You know what I’m saying? For the good and the bad. I think that’s what we are here to do.
Q: What has been, for both of you, I guess, most nerve-wracking, or the toughest scene, that you had to do this particular season?
Jussie: For me, what was the toughest scene? Honestly, you know what? Odd enough, the toughest scene for me was a scene that I was not in. It was – I was on set. Genis Wooten, who plays baby Jamal, is my godson, so –Yea, so I was there on set with his mom, Jennia, and with Lee when they shot the trash can scene. Because I just wanted to make sure that he was okay and he’s so unaffected by it all. He understands all of it, but he’s so unaffected. But to be there, in that moment, and see all of us, adults, we were so affected by it that this baby was so unaffected by it. Just to watch Lee go through it, and knowing that that really happened to him in real life, that was probably the toughest scene that we shot, for me. But, again, that was also a scene that I wasn’t even in, but I feel like it’s because of me seeing that scene that’s why I was able to understand the scene where I perform “Good Enough.”
Yazz: For me, it would have to be the elevator scene. It would have to be the elevator scene. Each take – I’m going to be honest, each take, I felt like I was going to pass out. I’m looking at Andre. I’m looking at Juss and it’s like, wow, like the energy in the room was so like through the roof. My hands were shaking and it was just crazy. That was like the most nerve-wracking scene for me.
The two-hour season finale of Empire airs tonight at 8/7c on FOX.