The talented cast and creatives of Fox’s hit show Empire were recently on hand for the opening of The Paley Center for Media’s 33rd Annual PaleyFest Los Angeles 2016. The long-awaited opening episode of the mid-second season was shown for the first time to the audience of Paley Center members and fans alike (the rest of the world will see it when the show returns on Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST), which was then followed by a Q&A hosted by Entertainment Tonight’s Kevin Frazier. This is clearly a team who enjoys being around each other as they joyfully spent the evening revealing several juicy details about this season’s most drip drop drip drip drippity drop moments.
Here are 10 things we’re excited to learn about Empire.
1. Lee Daniels confesses the the show went left during the first half of season 2.
“We were going through growing pains and I think it would have happened to any show,” said show director and producer, Daniels. “Though we remained #1 we were [still] learning. Sometimes you don’t feel like it’s enough, like these wonderfully talented actors are enough and so you bring in this person to get some more eyes, then you bring in this person …it’s just a process. It’s trial and error and at the end of the day, we came back. It’s really about learning and trying things out. Otherwise, how do you make greatness without testing it?”
2. Jussie Smollett reveals there are miles of rocky roads ahead for Lucious and Jamal.
“There’s some scenes that are coming up this season between Lucious and Jamal that are so intense that you’re almost like ‘Can they ever come back from that?’ But in the end, we just hug it out.”
3. Keeping the music relevant on Empire can be a struggle.
“It’s tough. We gotta outdo ourselves and it’s hard,” said Daniels. “And that means pushing the actors harder to do better work as well as finding better music all the time all while trying not to be corny, cave into what we think is commercial or what is in the streets and yet trying to bring you into the streets, so that has been a struggle. We try to make sure that the truth of the streets is out into the world and that we don’t commercialize it or sanitize it. It’s a constant struggle, but I think that we try our best.”
4. The moment Lee Daniels knew Empire was a hit.
“When I picked up Page Six of the New York Post and saw news that Trai Byers was leaving the show. I said, ‘We are a hit!’ Because they’re talking about us and there’s rumors and that’s great. And I felt like this is when you know that the haters gonna hate!”
5. Trai Byers confirms that Andre is here to stay.
“There’s not a stitch of truth to the rumor that I’m trying to leave,” said Byers. “But it shows the level of popularity of the show. A lot of people have been rocked with rumors. Again, it’s not true but it opens the ground to really talk about how the media uses their power to perpetuate negativity built on lies versus positivity, which is built on truth.”
6. There’s a growing wish list of stars some of the cast would love to see as guests on the show.
“Beyoncé. Beyoncé. Beyoncé,” exclaimed Gabourey Sidibe. While Terrence Howard shouted “Adele! Kendrick Lamar!”
7. And yet, that’s not exactly the route Lee Daniels wishes to take anymore.
“We have a few more guest stars that are coming onto the show, but here’s the thing…I’ve learned something in this journey of television because I’ve never done television before and that is we’re good enough.”
8. Jussie Smollett has a different kind of wish list.
“What I love about this season is that we have a lot of indie artists that are coming on and actors who you may not have seen before, but I think it’s so dope because this time last year you ain’t seen our faces before. Maybe you saw Trai on 90210, but other than that you didn’t really see us and we’ve had such an amazing opportunity through this show. And it’s dope that we’re able to now bring on indie artists…for the people who already have a name, that’s dope, but for the artists who have a name that we just don’t know [yet], they’re able to come on and get some shine.”
9. And when it comes to Hollywood’s latest hot topic, Lee Daniels isn’t trying to hear it.
“I’ve avoided this question for quite a while,” admits Daniels. “I don’t have time to deal with racism. I would be delusional to say there’s no racism in America. Look at f*cking Donald Trump, [but] the minute that I embrace this, it becomes real to me. I don’t have time to blame Paramount or Fox or whomever all the time. I get my own money. I get my own actors. I write my own sh*t. I make my own way and I don’t want to hear ‘Woe is me. They ain’t treatin’ me right.’ You know what if that happens then get off your asses and do it yourself!”
10. Terrence Howard has moments when even he questions what’s really going on.
“We try and keep it grounded. These are well trained actors that are able to take something that seems so impossible to accomplish and turn it into the realest thing,” said Howard. “By the time you guys see it and by the time I experience it on set, I’m so proud to be working with them. Every week we hit a hurdle that most people would trip over, but we’re able to manage it because we have Sanaa [Hamri] (Empire director and producer) who keeps us in the storyline so that we don’t flip out. But yes we do have moments where we’re ‘like what in the f*ck is this?’”
Don’t forget to check out the return of Empire on FOX, March 30 at 9 p.m. EST