Set to return for a longer second run in the Fall, the show drew in nearly 17 million viewers for its March season one finale, becoming the most-watched new series season-ender since Grey’s Anatomy in 2005.
Created by Danny Strong and Lee Daniels, Empire centers on Lucious Lyon (Terrance), a former drug dealer turned music mogul who, when diagnosed with ALS, must choose who will head his musical empire when he dies.
Vying for their place at the top are his three sons: Andre (played by Trai Byers), the company’s Ivy League-educated CFO who struggles with bipolar disorder; Jamal (Jussie Smollett), a singer-songwriter who comes out publicly as gay; and Hakeem (Bryshere “Yazz” Gray), a cocky, budding rapper with mommy-abandonment issues.
“I didn’t know that the American public was really ready to tackle some of these issues that we’re tackling, especially the African-American population,” says Terrance. “With the homophobia that runs through there, I didn’t think a lot of the scenes that we’ve had would be welcome. I thought 20 minutes in[to the first episode], by the time they had the first [same-sex] kiss, it would be a wrap. Everybody would change the channel.”
Taraji portrays Cookie Lyon, Lucious’ saucy, fresh-out-of-prison ex-wife who seeks to reconnect with her sons and collect her half of the Lyon fortune.
“She’s based on many women I know,” Taraji reveals about her character. “She’s based on my father… he was just one of those guys who just didn’t have a buffer, and people respected him for that.”
Though she’s been a star for a while, now, because of Empire, she can’t go anywhere unrecognized.
“People are calling me Cookie,” she says. “Cookie’s on a hiatus right now. And Cookie is not Taraji. But I get it. It’s fan love…”
Check out a preview of Terrance and Taraji’s stunning Mike Ruiz-lensed Emmy editorial, titled “All the Right Moves,” below.
Empire returns for Season 2 on Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 9pm on FOX.
Hosted by Andy Samberg, the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards will air live on Sunday, September 20 at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT from the Nokia Theatre in L.A.