'Empire' cast and crew still emotional about Jussie Smollett's absence: 'It is disappointing not having him here'

Jussie Smollett leaves the Leighton Criminal Court building, after all charges were dropped in his disorderly conduct case on March 26, 2019. (Photo: Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

With the popular Fox series Empire heading into its final season viewers can most likely expect the tying up of many loose ends. But one thing that will probably never be resolved is the hole left by the absence of Jussie Smollett, who played Jamal Lyon. Though the court of public opinion has deemed the actor “cancelled,” many of his Empire co-stars and crew members still feel an emotional connection to the now disgraced star, who was cleared of charges in his disorderly conduct case in March.

“I think emotionally, it’s tough on everyone,” Danny Strong, co-creator of Empire, admitted in an interview with The Wrap. “I think it’s really disappointing for the writing staff in particular, they love Jussie and they wish he was on the show. And I think the cast feel the same way. I think there is a great deal of affection for him and it is disappointing not having him there.”

Smollett went down in infamy earlier this year when he claimed that he was on the receiving end of a racist and homophobic attack while walking alone at night in Chicago, Ill. The Chicago Police Department later announced during a press conference that they had reason to believe that the attack was staged and Smollett was indicted. The charges were later dropped.

Though the showrunners and cast members, including creator Lee Daniels and Taraji P. Henson were supportive of Smollett, he was written off the show. According to Vulture, Brett Mahoney confirmed that Smollett’s character would be removed and framed as “taking a sabbatical from the family.”

“He was a key component to the success and warmth of the show,” Strong continued. “To only mention in passing someone beloved by the family and audience is a difficult hurdle. Yet loss is half of the life principle and we have to keep moving forward or we cease to exist. I know that the show would never have had the success that we enjoyed without his character.” Although it has been confirmed that Jamal Lyon will not return, showrunners have not confirmed nor denied whether or not Smollett will make an appearance on the show.

Despite the controversy, the show did indeed move forward and the final season is promising to deliver. Mahoney told Entertainment Weekly that viewers can not only expect to see the return of Lucious Lyon, but also some old favorites.

“You’ll see very quickly that we have a new device this season, different than the ‘Who’s in the coffin,’ but there’s a new question that’s going to be asked in the first episode that is going to allow questions to be raised and the audience to see some old faces,” Mahoney teased. “It’s going to be big. We’re really excited by a lot of the stuff we’re doing. The one thing about it being the final season and it being Empire, we want it to feel big and dynamic, and so that is what we’re trying to achieve.

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