Taraji P. Henson Says ‘Empire’ Cast Is Staying ‘Strong’ Amid Jussie Smollett Scandal

Three days after Jussie Smollet pleaded not guilty to all 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct, Taraji P. Henson revealed how she and her ‘Empire’ castmates are holding up.

Taraji P. Henson, 48, broke her silence on how Jussie Smollett’s legal woes have affected his Empire castmates, just days after the actor, 36, pleaded not guilty to accusations that he allegedly filed a false police report and orchestrated a hate crime against himself on March 14. “You have to stay strong, stay positive, full of hope,” said Taraji, who plays Cookie Lyon on Empire, while speaking to Extra at the premiere of her new film, The Best of Enemies, in New York City on March 17. She then assured that her castmates are also staying “strong” after the Cook County grand jury handed Jussie 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct on March 7. You can watch the interview below.

Taraji voiced her horror on Instagram when news first broke that Jussie had allegedly been attacked by two men on Jan. 29. They also reportedly yelled racist and homophobic slurs at the actor who identifies as gay, according to the alleged police report. “I wish what happened to my baby was just one big bad joke but it wasn’t and we all feel his pain right now. @jussiesmollett is pure love to the bone AND THAT IS WHY SO MANY ARE FEELING HIS PAIN BECAUSE IT IS OUR PAIN!!!” Jussie’s co-star wrote on Instagram on Jan. 30, before the Chicago police had accused Jussie of staging his attack.

However, Terrence Howard was the first to come forward from the Empire cast to speak on Jussie’s arrest. Terrence even defended his on-screen son in the Instagram post shared on Feb. 23. “All your lil homies got you…We love the hell outta you,” Terrence wrote, alongside a video of Jussie holding his television dad’s real life son, Qirin Love Howard.

It remains unclear whether or not Jussie will get more screen time with his Empire castmates. The show’s executive producers — Lee Daniels, Danny StrongBrett Mahoney, Brian GrazerSanaa HamriFrancie Calfo and Dennis Hammer — revealed that Jussie’s character, Jamal, was cut from the final two episodes of Season 5. However, they did say if Jussie would be cut from the Fox show altogether in the official statement, issued on Feb. 22.

Showrunner Brett Mahoney gave fans an update on Jussie’s future with the show on March 13. “It’s too early to think about what we would have to do if we didn’t have Jussie,” he told Entertainment Weekly in an interview published on March 13, and also repeated Taraji’s sentiments about staying “strong” in the wake of the scandal. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. You have someone in your family who’s going through this, while at the same time, we’re shooting the final episodes of the season, which are also just heightened emotionally,” he admitted to the outlet. “So it was a lot to deal with and a lot to go through, but we’re really just focused on finishing strong.”

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