February 26, 2014 10:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
Taraji P. Henson Nabs Female Lead in Fox's Lee Daniels Hip-Hop Drama 'Empire'
Fox's hip-hop drama Empire is staging a Hustle & Flow reunion.
Person of Interest alum Taraji P. Henson has landed the female lead in Fox's Lee Daniels and Danny Strong drama Empire, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. On Our Own alum Jussie Smollett is also attached to star.
In the family drama set in the world of a hip-hop empire, Henson will play Cookie Lyon, the ex-wife of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), the head of a record label at the center of the drama. The character is described as a total badass who has just been released from prison after serving 17 years for dealing drugs -- money she funneled into Lucious' then-fledgling music empire. Released for good behavior, she now wants what's hers. She's the real force behind his rise to superstardom and champions her son Jamal's (Smollett) career, but that puts her at odds with her ex, who has an issue with their son's homosexuality.
The casting marks Henson's follow-up role after her character on CBS' procedural Person of Interest was shockingly killed off earlier this season. Empire serves as a reunion between Henson and Howard, who played one another's love interests in John Singleton's 2005 rap drama Hustle & Flow. Henson, whose credits also include Boston Legal and The Division, earned an Oscar nomination for her supporting role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She is repped by Vincent Cirrincione Associates, Independent Artists and Stone Meyer.
Smollett's Jamal Lyon, the middle of the couple's three sons, is a sensitive soul and musical prodigy who could easily rise to superstardom if he desires. As a gay man, he’s been rejected and judged by his father since childhood -- which may explain why he steers clear of fame and prefers to keep his music “pure.”
Smollett is the sibling of Friday Night Lights/Parenthood alum Jurnee Smollett, who with their other five siblings starred on ABC's On Our Own. His credits include The Mighty Ducks, The Mindy Project and indie films Undiscovered Gyrl and Born to Race: Fast Track. He is with Vincent Cirrincione Associates and JKA Talent Agency.
Strong, who penned the script for The Butler, which was produced and directed by Daniels, will pen the script for Empire, while Daniels will make his TV directing debut with the project. From 20th Century Fox Television and Imagine, Brian Grazer will exec produce alongside Daniels, Strong and Francie Calfo.