As the Chicago police investigation into what really happened to Jussie Smollett in the alleged assault last month intensifies its focus on the Empire actor, the Fox drama is cutting the performer out of the action.
Deadline has confirmed with well-placed sources that Smollett’s scenes in episodes of the Lee Daniels and Danny Strong co-created series are being slashed for production on Empire this week.
While the show is back at work today in the Windy City after the long weekend, Smollett will be a rare presence on the set of the Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard led show.
The actor has also been absent as Chicago PD request another interview with him. As Smollett himself has become the subject of deeper inquiry into the supposed assault that occurred in the early hours of January 29, detectives want to know more about the actor’s version of what happened that day on the streets of Chicago and any possible knowledge he may have to indicate the incident could have been preplanned.
The widely condemned attack was previously described as a racist and homophobic barrage that left Smollett beaten, drenched in bleach and with a rope slung around his neck. Openly gay, Smollett portrays the openly gay Jamal Lyon on Empire.
Now the reality appears to be more complex or at least convoluted.
There are no plans right now to make any changes to the remaining episodes of the fifth season of Empire that are already in the can, I hear.
Yet, despite the strongly expressed renewed support by Empire showrunner Brett Mahoney on February 17, upcoming episodes have seen serious rewrites in recent days to reduce the increasingly besieged Smollett’s role both in dramatic stints and musical performances.
Empire returns for the remainder of its fifth season on March 13.
Fox had no comment on Smollett’s scenes being cut, nor would the network confirm any such reports, as first noted by TMZ earlier Tuesday. Reps for the lawyered-up Smollett did not return request for comment by Deadline.
While Smollett is not considered a formal suspect at present, prosecutors and law enforcement authorities are seeking to be enlightened by him about his private relationship with Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo.
The brothers were previously described by Chicago police as “potential suspects” in the attack and arrested last week. Identified as the individuals in the photos of “persons of interest” in the Smollett case, the two were held without charge for 48 hours and then let go on the night of February 15.
Formerly Empire extras, the Osundario siblings, at least one of whom had been Smollett’s personal trainer, are now “fully” cooperating with authorities. They have sat for a number of interviews with police in recent days.