Empire is the greatest thing to ever happen to television.
Over-dramatic? Sure. Accurate? Hell yes.
Fox's breakout hip-hop family drama is one-part Dynasty, one-part Glee, adding up to the most irresistible new show of the year. Which is why we've rounded up a bunch of epic facts you probably don't know about the show, created by The Butler's Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, like which cast member was almost homeless before landing their role and which A-list star could've played Lucious instead of Howard...
While Lee Daniels originally had Snipes in mind for the role, star Taraji P. Henson asked him to approach her Hustle & Flow co-star Terrence Howard, whom he worked with on The Butler. "Taraji says, 'I really want to do this role with Terrence Howard,''" Daniels said. "I didn't think he was going to do it." The rest, as they say, is history.
"She'll improv stuff and it'll be hysterical," co-creator Danny Strong told us, citing the infamous "goat ass" line as something he borrowed from his leading lady.
"When I'm in the moment, those lines just come!" Henson said. "I love it! [Terrence Howard] loves to come to me for one-liners, too, ‘cause he knows I'm really good at it."
Joan Collins on Dynasty! And actual people in his life, telling us he drew inspiration from "my sister and other women that I know."
"My dad was like Cookie," the star revealed, admitting that "goat ass" was actually something he said to her once when they were riding a bus and he thought her hair smelled.
"That line came from my dad," Henson said. "That was an actual line that was real."
That harrowing scene in the first episode, which saw Lucious shoving his son Jamal, then 5, in a trash can for wearing his mother's heels? That happened to Daniels.
"When I was 5, my earliest memory was walking down the stairs in my mother's red high heel shoes, and my dad—he's a cop—is down playing cards with the boys and it was not pretty—at all," Daniels told EBONY. "He put me in a trash can and he said that I would never be nothing. He said, ‘You already have it bad, boy, cause you're Black—now you're a f–got too.'"
"So now I am all about Empire. ALL ABOUT #EMPIRE, tweeples," the Grey's Anatomy/Scandal/How to Get Away With Murder mastermind tweeted. "I mean did you see @TherealTaraji stomp out of that prison like it was a runway? #EmpireFOX On TOP of giving an amazing performance?! #fan." The most powerful woman working in TV #hashtagging fan about your show?! NBD!
Empire notched 11.3 million viewers and a 4.3 demo rating with its fourth episode, meaning it has managed to go up in the ratings in each of its first four broadcasts. It's been 10 years since any show has managed to do the same. The last one? Grey's Anatomy in 2005.
Remember Jonathan, Buffy's classmate who presented her with the Class Protector Award (Sniffle!), who then became a villain? He co-created Empire with Lee Daniels, after they collaborated on The Butler. He's also written the screenplays for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and HBO's Game Ghange, which earned him an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
Jussie Smollett, who plays the middle son Jamal, is the real-life brother of Jurnee Smollett, who starred on Friday Night Lights. So. Much. TV. Royalty!
Lee Daniels was not pleased when his leading man showed up with a poufed-up hairstyle when they filmed the pilot, telling E! News, "He was like, ‘Oh well, you know, it's like Prince. He's sort of stuck in Prince-land and he's sort of like James Brown, that sort of thing.' And just for a quick second, he got me." Daniels quickly changed his mind, making Howard change his hair for the second episode.
"I'm from West Philadelphia. Before I got the Empire gig, I was broke and I was about to get evicted and I got this job and I got this audition with Terrence and Taraji at the same time and it changed my life," Gray, who plays youngest son, Hakeem, revealed to us.
The executive producers over at Idol are hoping to stage a crossover, with Trish Kinane saying, "The music connection would be silly to ignore." While Terrence Howard said "it would be stupid not to" team up.
Bryshere Gray had to rap...on his iPhone to get the role of Hakeem!
"In order to sign off, I said I want to see him on Facetime," executive producer Brian Grazer revealed. "So we Facetimed. And of all things, I had a black eye because I had done some stupid martial arts thing!"
Yes, really! King Lear served as a source of inspiration, as well as the Broadway play, The Lion in the Winter. But Danny Strong said it was just taking the concept of each and using them as building blocks to create "a modern day soap opera."
Jamal's song from the pilot? It hit number two on iTunes. And another song from the premiere found its way on the Hot 100 list.
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