Life's a little different for Jussie Smollett now. The actor, known as Jamal Lyon to Empire fans, has been acting since 1991. But since the Fox series exploded on screens this winter, Smollett has become a household name. And given that he's part of a compelling storyline about a musician coming out as gay to the world (despite his homophobic father's wishes), and in real life, Smollett himself also recently told Ellen DeGeneres that for him "there is no closet," the 31-year-old is also inspiring countless fans to be more hopeful.
"I get really incredible people," Smollet tells E! News. "This girl came to a signing and she showed me she had cuts on her arm and she said, I swear to god, she said she was about to commit suicide and just happened to see me on Ellen and it changed her life. And she cried to me and I literally started bawling, 'cause I am a little sucker for emotion…But that stuff right there is crazy to think that you can have such a affect on someone's life. It touches me in a really, really deep way."
During the interview with Ellen, Smollet spoke about his sexuality as an openly gay man, saying, "There's never been a closet that I've been in. I don't own a closet, I got a dresser, but I don't have a closet…I have a home and that is my responsibility to protect that home."
Some of Smollett's encounters are also sweet, and his refusal to be rude can get him in trouble when it comes to hitting set on time...
"A church van full of very old women stopped me at Whole Foods and could not figure out how to take a picture on their camera phone. I was late to work because I couldn't be like, 'Move your ass and take a picture!' I mean you can't say that," Smollett told E! News. "I was sitting there and I am like, they are so sweet and they know exactly who I am and they know the show and storyline and they were saying [in an old voice] ‘I hope you take the empire, Jamal!' It was so unbelievable, but it's pretty spectacular!"
Season one of Empire ended with Smollett's Jamal at the head of the company, his father, Lucious (Terrence Howard) locked up and his brothers plotting to overthrow him from the top of spot. Smollett admitted he knows some of the plans for season two—but not if rumored guest stars Oprah Winfrey, Common and Denzel Washington have signed on—but he can't reveal any story details. However, he did dish his hopes and dreams for Jamal.
"I want to see him continue to grow. I want to see him become the man the universe intended for him to be and that's what you will see in season 2," he told us at the launch of Summer Sizzle BVI 2015. "I feel like what we were able to accomplish in a really good way—from episode one to the season finale—you really saw the growth and journey of a young man becoming a full-grown man. I am excited where Jamal is going. I love Jamal so much I feel like he is such a dope person and I talk about him like he is a real person, but to me he is. I know, call me psycho, whatever. He is a very, very real person in my heart and I am excited about his growth. I kind of feel I am watching myself through him."
Empire takes up a good chunk of Smollett's time, but should the opportunity arise, he's ready to get his guest star on. "I would love to be on Scandal or House of Cards. I love those shows and I love Shonda [Rhimes], whatever she puts her little fingers on," he told us. "I mean, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright—you don't get better then them. That's prime, grade-A acting."
Empire has already welcomed many famous faces during its first season, including Patti LaBelle, Jennifer Hudson, Courtney Love and Rita Ora. For season two, Smollet's has his sights on some big names. "Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Brandy and [screams] Beyoncé!"
—Reporting by Jennifer Cooper