Jussie Smollett: Empire producer says it's 'too early' to talk about actor's future on show
“It’s a matter of trusting the process and allowing the legal process to play out and see where it goes from there,” Brett Mahoney told Entertainment Weekly.
“And it’s too early to think about what we would have to do if we didn’t have Jussie. We have such a strong ensemble and we have so many stories to tell for all of these fascinating characters that it’s bigger than one character, but it’s too early to think about the show without him.”
Smollett has pleaded his innocence after facing 16 charges for allegedly falsely reporting a hate crime assault. He told police in late January that he was physically attacked by two men in downtown Chicago while out getting food from a Subway restaurant at 2am.
The actor said the men shouted racist and homophobic abuse at him, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured an “unknown substance” on him.
Following an investigation,Chicago Police superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett recruited two men to stage the attack because he was upset with his pay on Empire.
Smollett’s lawyer has called the charges “redundant and vindictive” and a “desperate attempt to make headlines”. He added: “Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption.
Empire returned for its midseason premiere on Wednesday, 13 March, airing the first of season five’s final nine episodes.
Smollett has been written out of the season’s final two episodes, although he will appear in the seven that were filmed before the incident occurred.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster,” Mahoney said of the allegations. “You have someone in your family who’s going through this, while at the same time, we’re shooting the final episodes of the season, which are also just heightened emotionally.
“So it was a lot to deal with and a lot to go through, but we’re really just focused on finishing strong. We’re in our last week of production and I’m really proud of the work we’ve done this season, and hopefully the fans will really engage with these back nine episodes.”