BREAKING: Just a couple of hours before Jussie Smollett faces a Chicago judge on the criminal charges he was indicted for Wednesday related to the alleged racist and homophobic attack of late last month, Fox has started walking back its once-firm support of the actor.
“We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process,” 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment said of the Empire star this morning. “We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”
With those potentially ominous last three words, production on the final episodes of the current season of Empire continues Thursday in the Windy City wihtout the actor who plays the openly gay Jamal Lyon on the Fox show.
Although Fox and Smollett’s agency UTA are sticking by the actor for now, there has been talk, as Deadline reported on February 20, of suspending him from Empire as the felony case goes to the courts. That talk could be turning to a more permanent conclusion as the broadcaster evaluates the fallout from what is a PR disaster, to put it mildly.
Fox’s tempered statement comes after the actor surrendered to authorities in the pre-dawn hours. The remarks from Fox TV and Fox Entertainment also follow a scathing press conference by CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson that accused Smollett of staging the January 29 attack with brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo to take “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”
Openly “pissed off” police also believe that Smollett falsified the police report to get an increase in his salary on Empire.
Smollett makes more than $100,000 an episode for Empire after a big boost following the blockbuster first cycle of the series. Like Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard and the other leads on the show, Smollett inked a seven-season deal for Empire back in 2014.
On Wednesday, following Smollett’s remaining scenes in the last couple of episodes of Empire’s fifth season being cut or significantly trimmed back, Fox said that the performer “continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show.”
That was a step back from the strong words of being “deeply saddened and outraged” when the supposed assault occurred in the early morning of January 29 on the street near Smollett’s Chicago apartment.
The incident was originally described as an “potential hate crime” that left the openly gay Smollett beaten, drenched in bleach and with a rope slung around his neck.
Speaking on Good Morning America on February 14 in his first interview since the incident at the end of last month, Smollett said he thought the attack occurred because of his high profile criticism of Donald Trump. “I come really, really hard against 45,” the actor told GMA co-host Robin Roberts at the time. “I come really, really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue,” Smollett added of the President who called the attack on him “horrible” a couple of days after it occurred.
Previously identified as “persons of interest” in the case, the Osundairo siblings are now said to be “fully” cooperating with authorities. The duo testified for over two hours yesterday before a recently convened Grand Jury in downtown Chicago.
After Smollett was charged last night, his lawyers vowed to “conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense,” as lawyers do in these situations.