'Empire' Guest Vivica A. Fox on Cookie's "Bougie" Sister, How 'Celebrity Apprentice' Got Her the Gig

The actress also talks about her role in the upcoming 'Independence Day' sequel.
Courtesy of Chuck Hodes/FOX

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's episode of Empire, "My Bad Parts."]

It was another eventful hour for the Lyon family on Empire. Jamal (Jussie Smollett) landed a huge Pepsi campaign. Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) beat Lucious' protégé in an epic rap battle. However, there wasn't quite as much for Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) to celebrate when she learned that her sister Carol (Tasha Smith) had gone missing thanks to a surprise visit from her eldest sister, Candace (Vivica A. Fox). The episode ended with the two estranged siblings agreeing to go to Philadelphia to find Carol. Ahead of their road trip, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Fox about what to expect from Cookie's "bougie" sister, how Celebrity Apprentice helped get her on Empire and the upcoming Independence Day sequel.

How did you first hear about the role?

Lee Daniels was watching me on Celebrity Apprentice and after I had that epic boardroom showdown, he gave me a call. He was like, "Baby, I'm going to figure out some kind of way to get you on Empire." So, of course I was thrilled because doing Celebrity Apprentice was such a heck of a sacrifice for myself – five-and-a-half weeks of my life that I'll never be able to get back – and putting myself out there, to reintroduce myself to my audience and to everyone, and it worked effectively. So when I got the call from him saying that he wanted me to be on Empire, I was like, "Yes."

What was it like establishing that familial bond with Taraji?

There was one day, because I'm the oldest sister and Cookie's the middle sister and Carol is the baby sister. We were all in the makeup trailer and Taraji leaned over and she was like, "You guys, this is so crazy. I'm so glad that you guys are playing my sisters." And we all had a sister moment, and it was very sweet.

How would you describe Candace and Cookie's dynamic?

My character Candace is totally different than Cookie. She's the bougie stuck-up sister that lives a totally different life. She's married to a wealthy man, she's doing well, she has children and she's in the suburbs and very happy so we're very different. … We've definitely lost our sisterly connection but the crisis with Carol happens and we have to go looking for Carol and that's why we have to deal with each other. In us looking for Carol, and caring about Carol because she's our sister, that's why we have to deal with each other and boy, do we butt heads.

Next week's episode sees you two go to Philly to find Carol. How does that trip impact their estranged relationship?

It makes us have to deal with one another. Because of Cookie's actions, Carol just drops off her kids and checks out. And so we go looking for Carol together so I learn a lot more about Cookie than what I knew, like I just thought, 'Oh, you went to jail and you're living this rock'n'roll existence in the music industry.' You're going to see that Rosie O'Donnell plays one of Cookie's homies that helps us find Carol. So Candace learns how [Cookie] lived in [jail]. They learn a lot about each other, and there's a secret that Candace has in her vault that Carol doesn't want Cookie to know.

Everyone in this family has something it seems.

What I love about the storyline is that it's how families are. We can all be raised in the same house, but we don't get to choose our family. People sometimes take different directions and when we come together, especially during holidays or during a crisis, you get to see people's true colors come out. And that's how everyone is going to be able to relate. People will say, "I'm Team Cookie. I'm Team Candace." They're going to be able to relate to the differences of this family dynamic.

What was it like working with Rosie?

I've known Rosie for a very long time. I went on her talk show a couple times. I didn’t know that she was going to be in the show until I climbed in the van going to work that morning and she goes, "Hey girl!" … She was really excited about it because her kids love the show. She said, "This is the first job I've done that my kids are like, 'Mom, you've got to be great for Empire.'" So it was surreal and crazy because we were all fans of each other.

Cookie is so well known for her fashion. What can say about Candace's wardrobe?

Candace is a cross between Michelle Obama and Diahann Carroll. It's very like Park Avenue, ladies who lunch with the Hermes purse and the scarves. She's very upper-class. Cookie's wardrobe is a little Jerseylicious to me. She's got patterns and heels and glitter and all of that. They're very different from one another.

From what you've said about Candace, it sounds like meeting someone Cookie was in prison with will be very eye-opening for her.

Cookie definitely takes her on an adventure. It was wonderful for me to play someone who's so different because ever since Set It Off, I got that street 'cred. So to rewind myself as an actress and play this upper-class chick was challenging and very rewarding. I'm actually headed back in December to do another episode. I'm excited. I'm in the Empire family now.

You said this all stems back to your being on Celebrity Apprentice. As an actress, is there ever a hesitation about doing reality shows like that and how they might impact your career?

That was my second reality show because back in the day I did Dancing With the Stars. The kind of reality shows that I'm interested in, that I feel don't hurt careers are when it's a competition. When you really get to show the real you: how you operate, are you good under pressure, are you smart, are you a good businesswoman? Reality has changed so much now. The bad behavior reality shows are dwindling away as far as chicks getting drunk and fighting with each other – enough with that. I don’t like seeing shows where bad behavior is rewarded. However, if you can have a reality show where they dive into your world and how you really live and they get to meet your family and see the mechanics of what you makes work – those kinds of reality shows I'm OK with.

You never know when you do decide to do that kind of reality show, people are like, "Oh, is it because your career is over?" Or will there be a backlash? There wasn't. it was a career resurgence for me.

Celebrity Apprentice is undergoing a big transition because Donald Trump is running for president and now Arnold Schwarzenegger is coming on to host. What are your thoughts on that?

I hate that Donald had to leave Celebrity Apprentice after such a stellar year that they had. The ratings were huge; everyone was talking about it. But I do understand that he just had this huge desire to run for President of the United States. Is he getting my vote? Hell to the no. I think he's a better businessman than he could be a political leader, in my honest opinion. But I thought it was really interesting that then they went and got a movie star who went into politics to help take his place. It will be interesting to watch. I'm definitely going to check it out.  

Another big project you have coming up is the Independence Day sequel next summer. What was it like revisiting that character and that franchise 20 years later?

I was over the moon when I heard that I was going to be in the sequel. The fans have been eagerly anticipating this sequel for the last 15 years and there's been talk about it really happening for the last five years. Then I was bummed because I heard Will [Smith] wasn't coming back. Sorry to be the selfish actress, but damn, there goes my storyline! So when I got the call from my agent said that you're going to be in the sequel, they're bringing Jasmine back, I was just so thrilled. I had a chance to work with Jessie T. Usher who's playing my grown up son, who's basically stepping into shoes of Steven Miller, that was played by Will Smith, by becoming a fighter pilot so I was happy to see that he let my character mature. She's a hospital administrator. She's no longer working the poll. So it was good to see that that character got to evolve as well.

Working with all of the OGs like Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, and then working with the young whippersnappers like Jessie and Liam Hemsworth – it was just surreal and wonderful. I thought the director, Roland Emmerich, because he's just done so many blockbusters, that he would have changed and he didn't. Everyone checked their egos at the door and we all just wanted to make this be bigger, badder and bolder than ever and not to leave our fans disappointed who have been waiting on this sequel.

Empire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Independence Day: Resurgence hits theaters June 24, 2016.

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