The producers of Empire are speaking out again in the wake of reports that it is cutting back on Jussie Smollett‘s Season 5 shooting schedule as the investigation into an alleged attack of the actor — including the possibility that it may have been staged by Smollett himself — continues to unfold.
In a statement released Wednesday, 20th Century Fox said, “Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show.”
When unconfirmed reports surfaced last week that Smollett engineered the attack after learning he was being written off Empire, Fox promptly shot down the speculation, maintaining, “The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
Smollett currently is facing further questioning by the Chicago Police Department after two persons of interest (brothers from Nigeria, one of whom worked as a personal trainer on a music video of Smollett’s) were released on Friday after additional interviews, and without being charged. Chicago PD communications director Anthony Guglielmi said on Saturday, “We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police … has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation.” Our sister site Deadline in turn quoted a source as saying “the new direction of the investigation is now based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident.”
Smollett’s lawyers issued a statement late Saturday, saying, “As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
As for reports that Smollett knew one or both of the Nigerian brothers, his lawyers said, “It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.”
Smollett sought treatment at a hospital in Chicago, where Empire is filmed, following his alleged late-January attack, in which two men supposedly approached the actor/singer and began hurling racist and homophobic slurs at him. He performed at an L.A. concert days after the attack, and appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America last week to give his account of the incident, saying that he’s been “forever changed” by it.