Following the arrest of two men in the alleged assault of Jussie Smollett, the actor’s career hangs in the balance.
Smollett has starred in the TV show “Empire” for the past four seasons, making headlines in April when Fox abruptly canceled the hit drama on the eve of its 100th episode, leaving the actor in limbo about what the future held for his on-screen role.
Given that Smollett has a deal with Fox that requires him to appear on “Empire” until the show ends its fourth season in May 2021, the 31-year-old from Chicago has fallen into a limelight from which there is no safe landing. The response to Smollett’s arrest in some quarters has been skeptical, according to Jim Moret, managing editor of Variety.
Here are the questions surrounding Smollett’s TV career, as well as others about race, celebrity and police work.
Where is Smollett professionally?
Smollett’s return to “Empire” is unclear.
“Every actor deals with a number of special circumstances when dealing with disputes with other talent,” said one TV producer. “I don’t know why Smollett would be under any circumstances a part of ‘Empire’; his character’s storylines have already ended. I suppose they could bring Smollett back from the dead, but that’s being a little cute.”
Fox has yet to address Smollett’s future on the show, or his fate as a star.
What role does Smollett have in the show’s ongoing storyline?
Sources told the New York Times that Smollett will remain a cast member for now, though the identity of his character remains to be seen. On Thursday, the show’s Twitter account displayed a tease for an upcoming episode: “The darkness of the past meets the light of the present, as the current state of forces work their magic on the Lyons.” Smollett himself did not appear in any of the videos promoting the season 4 premiere, and there was no hint that his role would be taken away.
In the past, the character of Jamal, who has a gay black identity, has taken on a bigger role in the storylines, particularly in more recent seasons. But it is unclear whether Smollett would be written out of the show altogether, or simply removed from Jamal’s storyline. Another actor could take on the role.
Meanwhile, as the New York Post noted, Empire creator Lee Daniels has directed Smollett in a number of episodes, including last year’s Halloween episode in which Smollett’s character and his stepmother (played by Phylicia Rashad) get into a physical altercation.
When will Smollett be arraigned?
Smollett will appear in court Tuesday morning. It is not yet clear if he will enter a plea.
How will Smollett’s arrest affect his character’s future?
While it remains unclear if Smollett will be taken off the show, character actor Christian Stolte’s smarmy gay drug dealer Abel has been a constant presence on Season 4. And with Jamal still being written off the show as an independent artist on the brink of a musical comeback, the loss of Abel may impede any scene involving Smollett as the drug dealer — which may be the second biggest addition to the plot in the season.
“Something had to be lost,” the Variety executive said. “I guess we’ll find out which one.”
Could Smollett’s arrest and the negative response against him have led to any of his other prospective film or TV projects to go forward with one or more delays?
Several directors and producers who spoke to Variety said that Smollett’s role on the show came with strings attached and was not ideal for film or TV. “The most you can hope for is that you come to the conclusion that he’s perfect as a character,” said one producer, who did not want to be named. “If he can be a great performer onscreen but we can’t get him to engage as an actor, that’s a difficult choice for me to make.”
But another producer said that while the Smollett role may have had its downside, it “was good for us.”