Jussie Smollett is setting the record straight in his first interview since his physical attack in Chicago in January.
The Empire actor, who is openly gay, spoke with Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts about how he was attacked by two individuals who yelled racial and homophobic slurs. The attackers hit the actor with their hands and poured what the Chicago Police Department deemed an “unknown chemical substance” which Smollett says was bleach on him; one of the assailants also placed a rope around his neck.
“I will never be the man that this did not happen to,” Smollett said. “I am forever changed.”
During the interview, Smollett gave a detailed account of the attack, saying that someone calling him “Empire” and using racist and homophobic language jumped him, then another person joined the attacker. The actor also said that the perpetrators referenced President Trump’s rallying cry, “Make America Great Again,” during the attack, but dismissed reports that the assailants were wearing “MAGA” hats at the time.
Smollett pointed out that the men’s language was abusive and offensive, and said “I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.” He added that he believes the attack was motivated by his public dislike for President Donald Trump, whom he referred to as “45.”
“I come really, really hard against 45. I come really hard against his administration. I don’t hold my tongue,” he said. (When asked, Trump called what Smollett endured “horrible.” In response, Smollett said: “I don’t know what to say to that, you know? I appreciate him not brushing over it.”)
The actor also clarified the depth of his injuries, stressing that he was not as damaged as initial reports made it seem. “I was just in a lot of pain. My clavicle was messed up, my rib was bruised, but nothing was broken,” he said. “I walked into the hospital, I walked out of the hospital.”
Days after the attack, Smollett went ahead with a scheduled performance at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, Calif.
“The most important thing I can say is thank you so much, and I’m OK,” Smollett reportedly said at the time. “I’m not fully healed yet, but I’m going to [be], and I’m gonna stand strong with y’all.” He added: “I couldn’t let those motherf–kers win. I will always stand for love.”
Roberts questioned why Smollett, who says he was on the phone with his manager at the time of the attack, refused to hand the device over to police and took 13 days to provide authorities with a redacted list of his phone activity.
“They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three to four hours. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to do that,” he said, citing that the device held personal photos, videos and the phone numbers of his loved ones and castmates. Per the Chicago Police, Smollett’s team eventually turned over heavily redacted phone records.
Watch interview excerpts above and below, then hit the comments with your thoughts.