As Empire returns to Fox, Jussie Smollett's character has been removed from the final two episodes of season 5
The actor has been indicted with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report claiming two men attacked him in an apparent hate crime in January. He has maintained his innocence and is due in court on Thursday. In the meantime, though, his character on the show has been removed from the final two episodes of season 5 to “avoid further disruption on set,” the Fox show’s executive producers previously said in a statement.
Ahead of the show’s midseason premiere on Wednesday, showrunner Brett Mahoney admitted that while it had to be done, it was a “very difficult decision.”
“I think in terms of allowing the cast and the crew to really get the work done without a great deal of disruption in terms of the day-to-day and the stress of the day-to-day, and, in addition, allowing Jussie the time to really deal with what he’s been confronted with and allow him the time to focus and prepare his case, this seems like the logical decision to make,” Mahoney told Entertainment Weekly.
In terms of rewriting the show, Mahoney said while removing Smollett’s Jamal Lyon from the final two episodes wasn’t easy, it gave room for other storylines.
“It definitely was an unexpected wrench to have to take the character Jamal out of those final two episodes, just because he is an important part of the show,” he said. “But, luckily, we have such a strong ensemble and so many stories to tell. So often when you get towards the end of the season, I have so much story to tell that sometimes having to take something out means having room for something else that I’m just as passionate about, so we were able to make that work.”
As for how the cast and crew has reacted to the scandal, Mahoney admitted it has been an “emotional roller coaster.”
“You have someone in your family who’s going through this, while at the same time, we’re shooting the final episodes of the season, which are also just heightened emotionally,” he said. “So it was a lot to deal with and a lot to go through, but we’re really just focused on finishing strong.”
Mahoney also said they haven’t made any decisions regarding Smollett’s future on the show as they await the legal process to play out.
“It’s too early to think about what we would have to do if we didn’t have Jussie,” he said. “We have such a strong ensemble and we have so many stories to tell for all of these fascinating characters that it’s bigger than one character, but it’s too early to think about the show without him.”
Empire returns Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.