Things You Might Not Know About EmpirePublished on January 19, 2016. Updated March 2, 2020
The show Empire has a vast audience and for good reason! The storyline is full of twists and turns with wonderfully complex and fascinating characters. The series has received 51 award nominations and has inspired iTunes subscribers to dish out their dough to purchase some of the shows epic hip-hop tunes. This list takes a look at some of the behind the scene details that may just surprise you about this all-star production!
10. Terrence and Taraji Have History
Back in the 2005 flick Hustle & Flow, these two developed their on-screen chemistry. Terrence playing a middle-aged pimp trying to pursue a record career, and Taraji playing the love interest. Terrence’s portrayal was much revered and earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, but it was really the complexity of his character that was generated by his relationship with Taraji that elevated his performance. These two had created so much of a bond that when Taraji received the part of Cookie Lyon in Empire, she refused to take the part unless Terrence Howard received the lead role!
9. Record Breaking
It’s very unusual for a show to increase in viewership after the pilot premiere, but such is the case with Empire. The pilot was viewed by 9.9 million people (and was Fox’s highest rated debut show in over three years), but had culminated an audience of 17.6 million by the season finale! The record for the most consecutive weeks of increased viewership for a show was previously held by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with five episodes in 1999. Empire broke the record with 12 episodes and went onto much success with 3 Prime Time Emmy Award Nominations in its first year.
8. Lee Daniels’ Kids Suggested Timbaland
While preparing for the show, Lee Daniels asked his kids who the best hip-hop producer was. They unanimously stated “Timbaland” and Daniels swooped in with laser-like precision to secure Timbaland’s involvement in Empire. While Timbaland has never been involved with a television production before, his role has added to the authenticity of the show and kept the hip-hop at the cutting edge. Music has been described as “the foundation of the show” and the tunes have been so successful due to Timbaland and his collaboration with songwriter and lyricist Jim Beanz that the first season earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
7. Jamal is Largely Based on Lee Daniels Himself
Jamal is one of the most complicated yet level-headed figures in the family. He is constantly battling with his father while simultaneously desiring his acceptance, but he is full of heart and loyalty. When MTV sat down with Jussie Smollett they inquired about the idea that Jamal’s character was based on Lee Daniels and his own experiences as a gay man. “Lee Daniels’ life is all up in ’Empire,’” Smollett stated in the interview. “This show is Lee’s life set in a higher-stakes environment. I met Lee’s sister, and she is Cookie Lyons. Straight up! He grew up just like Lucious in Philadelphia, and the things that Lee has seen and been through are all present in the series. Lee has talked to me about it, and we’ve gotten so close. He started working with me when I was still auditioning. He had me come in seven different times. It was a tough audition process, but there has never been a project that I’ve done that has been more rewarding. My goal is to show the silent strength that Jamal has in himself — the same strength I see in Lee.”
6. Columbia Released the Show’s First Single before Airing
In order to generate interest in Fox’s hip-hop show, Columbia Records released the show’s first single “No Apologies” to iTunes to help gain fans. “We wanted to give people an idea of what’s coming,” says Shawn Holiday, Columbia Records’ senior VP of A & R. And it seemed to have worked! Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon on the show, has been signed by Columbia to release his own record. Smollett told Entertainment Weekly, “There will be a Jussie Smollett album. I signed to Columbia. So darling, I’m label mates with Beyoncé and Adele and Barbra Streisand!” Yeah, that’s gotta feel good!
5. Based on Shakespeare’s King Lear
For those of you are familiar with the Shakespearean tragedy, you’re probably drawing the lines between the dots as we speak, but for those of you who slept through high school English class, let me catch you up to speed. The aging king of Britain, King Lear (Lucious Lyon), decides to divide his kingdom up between his three daughters (or in this case, sons: Andre, Jamal, Hakeem), but not before putting them through a test, asking them to explain how much they love him. The eldest two daughters provide flattering answers, but when his favorite and youngest daughter (Lucious’ favorite child is also the youngest most talented son, Hakeem) is unable to express her love for her father, Lear goes into a rage and disowns her. He quickly realizes the mistake he made as his two daughters try and manipulate him and undermine his authority, and this drives him to a state of madness (Lucious also suffers from a debilitating disease, ALS). Enough said?
4. Cookie’s Wardrobe is Timbaland’s Wife’s
Timbaland’s wife, Monique Mosley, has been involved with the Empire project along with her hubby. She’s served as a script consultant and actually lends much of her amazingly luxurious wardrobe to Taraji for her role as Cookie. We’ve all seen the amazing designer gear and luscious furs Cookie dawns! Who knew someone was actually able to dress like that? And, what better inspiration for the wife of a successful music mogul than the real-life wife of an epic hip-hop producer! According to The New York Post, Lee Daniels was so struck by Monique’s grace and authoritative personality, he proclaimed her the real-life Cookie. “When Lee saw me, he would say, ‘Oh my God, you are Cookie!'” Monique told The Post. “’Your fashion sense and business savvy, it’s all Cookie.’ In his head, I was exactly how he had envisioned her character.” Must have been destiny.
3. Trai Byers Got His Way
In one of the most powerful scenes in any episode of Empire, Andre Lyon, played by Trai Byers, has a mental breakdown, puts a gun to his head, and pulls the trigger. That insanely intense moment wouldn’t have happened without prodding of Byers, who convinced co-creator, Danny Strong, that the trigger had to be pulled. In an interview with MTV News, Byers revealed, “I asked Danny [Strong] — because they don’t let you do this kind of stuff on primetime television — if Andre could pull the trigger. I needed to pull that trigger; we needed to show that Andre was way past his limits. And given what was happening with his disorder and his family and feeling left out, he needed to not be a coward about this and pull that trigger. And Danny went with it with me, and thank god Fox allowed it, because it really helped set up Andre’s breakdown.”
2. “You’re So Beautiful” was Inspired by Gabourey Sidibe
When Jussie Smollett and esteemed songwriter Jim Beanz sat down to write a hit they didn’t need to look much further to their fellow Empire star Gabourey Sidibe for some inspiration. In an interview with MTV News, Smollett stated, “I was texting her [Sidibe] back and forth, and she said something funny. [Jim and I] were just talking about how dope she is and how she’s confident and sexy and beautiful, but every once in a while, you need to hear the words you’re so beautiful.” The song is featured in the episode “The Lyon’s Roar” and is rated by Billboard as the #1 best song from the Empire series.
1. Wesley Snipes Almost Played Lucious Lyon
This turn of events reveals that everything happens for a reason! Originally, the creator of the show, Lee Daniels, had interest in casting Blade star, Wesley Snipes, in the role of Lucious Lyon, which he declared at the 2015 Winter TCA Press Tour. Oops! Once Taraji Henson nailed the part of Cookie, she gave Daniels the condition that she’d only accept the role if the main character would be played by Terrence Howard. Taraji revealed, “I was like, ‘Lee, this is an incredible project. I think Cookie is amazing. I would love to play her. If you can get Terrence, I’m all about it. If not, good luck with the project!’” And the rest is, as they say, history! Daniels is lucky to have conceded to Taraji’s demands as her wonderful performance on the show earned her a Golden Globe, and Terrence’s garnered him a BET Award!