We've got a Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) addiction, and the only cure is more Empire!
Fox's groundbreaking, record-smashing hit series just bowed with its season one finale last night, but we're already looking ahead to season two!
Now that Empire's patriarch Lucious (Terrence Howard) is behind bars for the murder he committed in the pilot, will he stay there? Or will he get released since the star witness was just murdered by Andre's (Trai Byers) wife? Jamal's (Jussie Smollett) in charge of the Empire, but will he hold onto his seat now that his brothers are planning a hostile takeover? And can please we get more Porsha (Ta'Rhonda Jones)?!
E! News couldn't wait for the long hiatus before season two premieres, so we got executive producer Ilene Chaiken on the line to get the skinny on everything that's coming up on our newest obsession. Check out our full Q&A below!
E! News: Congratulations on finishing your first season with a bang! Those ratings were bananas.
Ilene Chaiken: It's been quite the ride. It's thrilling and really gratifying [to see the ratings climb every week]. It's one measure of success in our business that we're pretty focused on. I've always tried not to pay much attention to those numbers, but with this kind of success it would be disingenuous to claim you weren't noticing it.
When you first aired the pilot, did you expect to a certain degree this kind of success?
We certainly didn't expect it. I don't think anyone would dare to expect this kind of success. We hoped the show would find an audience. I really believed in it even before I became involved, when I saw the pilot. I felt like it was really special and there was something real happening here. It felt like a gamechanger to me.
Have you begun planning season two yet?
No, we haven't started at all. [Executive producers] Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and I have talked very casually about it and we have some ideas, and there were some markers that were thrown down at the end of our first season and our finale last night that clearly we're going to pick up and run with. But beyond that, we haven't even begun to break stories for season two.
What storyline are you most excited to explore in season two?
I'm excited to continue to explore character, and to learn more about the past as we go into the future. I'm excited to see what Cookie does with her new status, especially in the absence of Lucious, however long he's absent. One of her main drives has been to bring her family back together, and she suffered a bit of a setback. She lost her relationship with her most beloved son, and I want to see how Cookie resolves that or regains her relationship with Jamal. I want to see what Jamal does with his new position and his gangster status. Has he really fully assumed the mantle of his father's heir? Is he the most deserving son? Or is there still a lot for him to overcome before he can truly be the leader? And in the end, will he be the leader? None of those stories are over. We took them to the edge of one precipice only to jump towards another.
How long should we expect to see Lucious behind bars?
I can't answer that question. I'm not avoiding it, I just don't know the answers yet.
Hypothetically, could the show still thrive if Lucious stayed in jail for a long time?
Lucious will always be central to the story no matter where he is. Beyond that, we're not there yet. We'll figure out whether Lucious is in or out of prison or in and out of prison, and how he will be integral to these storylines.
Let's talk about his misdiagnosis. Was that always the plan, or did you ever consider killing him off in like season four and continuing without Terrence?
The plan was never to have Lucious die and to continue on without him. Terrence Howard is really important to all of us and to the show. The plan was never to do Empire with Terrence for just a year or two. We discussed the possibility of telling that story, to keep him alive for a long time and deal with the struggles of his illness, but the truth is the creators always had in mind that it was a misdiagnosis.
Andre's about to become a father...all while covering up the murder of his uncle, who's the star witness in Lucious' arrest. How is he going to be dealing with all this new stress, especially given his bipolar disorder?
You'll have to tune in to season two to see, but that is certainly all in the mix.
Now let's talk about my favorite character: Porsha. Are we going to see more of her in season two? Please say yes...
Porsha is certainly coming back in season two. We love her as much as you do. I would bet you that there's a good chance we'll do more with her in the second season.
The finale had a stacked list of celebrity guest stars. For season two, the cast recently told us they'd love to see Oprah come on the show. Is that in the cards?
I know that [Oprah] and Lee Daniels have been in conversations and that's all I know for now. I know everyone would be thrilled for it to happen.
If she did come on the show, would she play herself or a fictional character?
We haven't even begun to have those conversations so I'd best not comment on it and we'll see what happens.
When it comes to having celebrity guest stars, how do you decide who gets to play themselves vs. who gets to play a character?
It goes both ways. Sometimes we create characters and cast those characters with celebrities in storylines that are generated by the writers, and sometimes we get offered an opportunity and we marry a celebrity or an actor that wants to come on the show to something we have in the works and sometimes we'll create something specifically for someone. It's a very fluid process and the guiding principle is it's always driven by story. We won't do something if it doesn't work organically with stories and fit into the world of our show.
Looking back on all the amazing celebrity guest stars you had this season, which one surprised you the most?
I had a lot of fun with Naomi Campbell. I loved her character. It got bigger than we originally thought it would and it paid off for us in a delicious way.
For fans who can't wait for season two, what do you want to say to them?
All I can say is come back because you ain't seen nothing yet!