"I'm honored to be able to tell this story," Jussie Smollett told PEOPLE of his Empire role in 2015

By Amanda Michelle Steiner
February 22, 2019 03:56 PM

Though he’s been in the business since before he was 10 years old, Jussie Smollett‘s starring role in Empire pushed the actor and recording artist into stardom.

Smollett portrays Jamal Lyon on the Fox series. Sensitive middle son to Lucious (Terrence Howard), his musical talent far outscores that of his younger brother, Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), though his sexual orientation gives his father pause on giving Jamal a visible role within Empire Entertainment.

But now, his role on Empire remains unclear in the wake of his apparent hate crime at the end of January.

Jussie Smollett
Leon Bennett/Getty

In a new statement obtained by PEOPLE on Friday, the Fox show’s executive producers announced that the actor’s character Jamal Lyon will be removed from the final two episodes of season 5.

The announcement comes after Smollett, 36, was accused of filing a false report claiming two men attacked him in an apparent hate crime last month.

RELATED: Jussie Smollett Allegedly Instructed Men to Yell Slurs and ‘This is MAGA Country’ in Staged Attack

On Thursday, Chicago police held a press conference in which they alleged Smollett paid $3,500 to stage a “bogus” attack against him to draw attention to himself because he was dissatisfied with his salary. A source denied to PEOPLE that Smollett had any sort of issue with his pay, saying, “There’s never been a dissatisfaction with his salary.”

Smollett, who is black and gay, is facing a felony charge of disorderly conduct. If convicted, he could serve up to three years in prison.

Jussie Smollett
Chicago Police Department/AP/REX/Shutterstock

He was arrested on Thursday morning after turning himself in to police, one day after he was charged. He presented in bond court on Thursday afternoon, where a judge set his bond at $100,000; he was released after posting $10,000 bond. He has also been asked to surrender his passport. His next hearing is scheduled for March 14.

RELATED: Jussie Smollett Returns to Empire Set Hours After Being Released From Jail

In a previous chat with PEOPLE — originally published March 9, 2015 — Smollett exclusively revealed that he was “honored” by his role in Empire and that rehearsing to Patti LaBelle’s recordings as a child enabled him to continue hitting his high notes so many years later. Read on for five things to know about Smollett.

“As an artist, you want to do roles that challenge you and say something,” Smollett tells PEOPLE. “You don’t always get to do those roles, but when a role like Jamal comes along, you fight for it. It meant something to me, and I’m honored to be able to tell this story.”

Empire
FOX/Getty

Mighty Ducks was a great experience, and I don’t shy away from that,” says Smollett. “The proof is in the pudding – I’ll stop and I’ll watch it for a second. There are projects I’ve done, such as Queen, where I played Halle Berry and Danny Glover’s son, where I’m so extremely proud of the work that I did that I will sit down and watch that any time.”

When asked by Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen DeGeneres Show how he’s been dealing with his character coming out on Empire, he said that “you cannot allow people to spew hate and be okay.”

While he didn’t confirm his sexual orientation during Monday’s taping, Smollett decided to open up to DeGeneres in a special segment afterward. “There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,” he said, adding that deciding not to talk about his personal life is not an attempt to “hide or deny who God made me. There is, without a doubt, no closet that I’ve ever been in,” he reiterated, “and I just wanted to make that clear.”

Jussie Smollet
David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty

4. Like Jamal, He’s a Recording Artist

“Less than a year ago, I was an independent artist, doing it like anybody else,” he tells PEOPLE. “I’m a singer-songwriter. I was recording my album in a home studio and then, within four weeks, I was recording in Miami at the Hit Factory with Timbaland and Jim BEANZ [who composes the music in Empire]. So, it really has been a whirlwind.”

Smollett adds that he feels “blessed” because Lee Daniels, co-creator of Empire, heard the songs Smollett had already recorded and wanted them in the show. “I had no preconceived notions about being able to write [for the show]. I didn’t pitch anything. I waited until the time was right and then it was.”

Being able to feature his own music has been “incredible,” he says. “My absolute idols growing up were Michael Jackson and Prince and so to get the stamp of approval from someone like Timbaland whom I know that these artists respect, that is a huge feat.”

“Family and the knowledge that you don’t do this for the money and the fame” is what kept Smollett going during the tougher times of his career. “You do it because you genuinely love it. I’m well aware that this ride is going to have peaks and valleys. There is nothing else I can do other than keep my feet on the ground.”

Besides that, his mother is how Smollett is still able to hit his high notes — he used to rehearse to Patti LaBelle songs when his voice was changing as a teen. Lucky thing, too – he recorded a duet with LaBelle which will air during Empire‘s finale.

Empire airs Wednesdays (9 p.m. ET) on Fox.

Reporting by PATRICK GOMEZ

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