Empire Burning Questions: EP Ilene Chaiken Sounds Off!
How Early in the Season Did You Realize Jamal Would Wind Up as Lucious’ Successor?
“We knew that we were heading in that direction pretty early on in our story-breaking process. Lee [Daniels] had said to me during one of our very first meetings, ‘I see Jamal as sort of a Michael Corleone character,’ and immediately, that painted a picture for me. Not too much later, we all settled on the way it would happen — Jamal hanging Billy Beretti over the balcony.”
How Did That Epic Brawl Between Cookie and Anika Come Together?
“Danny [Strong] and I wrote the finale script together, then sent the script to Lee [Daniels] for him to weigh in and collaborate. And he said, ‘There’s got to be a catfight.’ I’m loath to call it a catfight, but he loves those conventions, and then I realized that that moment was just sitting right there in front of us, and so, of course, we’re going to take it. I wrote the next draft, and Taraji said to me, ‘Yeah, but I’m Cookie, if I hit her, she’s going to be out. She’s not going to get back up.’ [Laughs] So we played it that way… Some of the dialogue was ADR. I wrote a menu up of some things that they might say, but we asked both actresses to just go for it. ‘Take this as a template. If this is all you want to say, that’s fine.’ But I heard Grace improv that line, ‘Who’s Boo Boo Kitty now, bitch?’ And I was just so happy.”
Lucious Thinks Cookie Revealed His Role in Bunkie’s Murder. FBI Agent Carter Was Overheard Saying Vernon Was Her Star Witness? But Is It Safe to Assume That Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Vernon Was the Rat?
“It appears as if Vernon talked to the Feds — and the fact is that he no longer [alive] is liable to present a problem for them in pursuing their case. But I hope that you come out of the finale not knowing who else might’ve betrayed Lucious.”
Hakeem and Boo-Boo Kitty’s Shocking Hookup Seemed to Be a Calculated Way to Hurt Lucious — But Will the Romance Continue in Season 2?
“That remains to be seen. My sense of it is that they both were a little sorry… it’s called ‘retaliatory f—ing,’ right? [Laughs] It’s not really a great thing to do, and usually you feel bad afterwards, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to go somewhere.”
How Does Cookie Wind Up in Lucious’ Mansion Following His Arrest?
“We didn’t say specifically what Cookie was doing in the mansion. I know it appears that she’s living there, and maybe indeed she is, but those moments at the end of the episodes — the flash forwards — I think of as being out of time. So, we go back to Lucious in prison, and that’s pretty much in a linear time frame, but the scenes with Jamal, and Hakeem, and Andre and Rhonda looking at the ultrasound, and Cookie in Lucious’ mansion, those are just little peeks into the future, and we may find out exactly what’s happening in those moments.”
How Could Jamal Forgive Lucious’ Brutal Treatment So Quickly?
“I’ve seen that in real life. I’ve seen it between parents and children, and Jamal says it in the finale: ‘All I ever wanted was for that man to love me.’ No matter how vile Lucious has been to him, he’s his father, and it’s amazing how quickly a child can forgive that parent if he feels the love. Sometimes it’s a mistake to forgive in that way. We’ll find out whether it was a mistake for Jamal, but I’ve seen it, and there’s just a profound truth in that.”
Is There a Specific Significance of Lucious’ Birth Name — Dwight Walker — and Was There a Deliberate Parallel With Game of Thrones ‘White Walkers’?
“That remains to be seen. I don’t want to give too much away, other than that we all are very interested in Lucious’ past. Learning that name — opening up that particular box — is something that we did intentionally. As for White Walkers, I’ve now heard that from various people. Danny Strong conceived that moment, and he came up with the name — but [I’m not sure] Danny actually watches Game of Thrones. Maybe some kind of cosmic event took us there?”
Did Cookie Get Away With Murder — Seeing How No One Mentioned the Hit She Ordered in Episode 5?
“Well, we are doing a second season. So anything could happen, and no story is finished. There are story points in Season 1 that we thought we had finished, and then later on, as we were breaking further story, we’d say, ‘Well, wait a minute. Doesn’t this arc relate to that, or couldn’t it?’ We’ve learned that, as in life, our actions come back to haunt us.”
Was the Misdiagnosis of Lucious’ ALS the Plan All Along — or Did the Show’s Ratings Necessitate You Having to Ensure Terrence Howard’s Central Character Could Live Longer?
“In my very first meeting with Lee and Danny before I got the job, Danny said, ‘Well, I think it was a misdiagnosis. That’s my intention.’ And then they turned to me and said, ‘If you have a better idea or you really disagree, we can talk about it, but this is how we see it.’ Going forward, we researched it to make sure that this was a credible, supportable story choice, that it wasn’t ludicrous, and we found that with this particular illness, there are a fair number of scientific facts that support this as a possibility. The illness for which ALS is most often misdiagnosed is Myasthenia Gravis, and although, obviously, we’re doing the soap opera treatment of not delving into too many medical details, it’s legitimate, and we intend to play it going forward.”
Given the Show’s Huge Success — Is There Any Fear of a Sophomore Slump? And What Are You Focused on: Modulating Cookie, Not Overdoing Guest Stars, Focusing on Music?
“As Danny Strong said to me, ‘Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing.’ I’m not going to pretend that I’m not aware that the show’s a big success — and of course we want to honor that success. We know what the tropes of the show are. We’ve established some conventions that we want to continue, and we want to keep it as breathtaking and fun and gritty as it is — and then we also want to be really true to the stories that we set up and the characters that were created. If we do that and we do it rigorously, I’m hopeful that it’s got great, great longevity. I feel that there’s very, very deep font of story available to these characters in this world.”