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Embattled actor Jussie Smollett is already back on the set of Empire — with added security, shortly after leaving Chicago’s Cook County jail. After posting $100,000 bail, the 36-year-old headed back to the set of the Fox drama on Thursday, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.
Empire is currently shooting the penultimate episode of season five. As the legal process has unfolded over what local authorities are calling a hoax attack, the writers of the Lee Daniels and Danny Strong drama have multiple options they are considering for the season finale. Those options include keeping Smollett’s character, fan-favorite Jamal Lyon, in the script or writing the embattled actor out of the episode.
Empire is currently awaiting word on a potential sixth season. The series, which ranks as Fox’s No. 2 drama (behind Ryan Murphy’s 911), is owned by 20th Century Fox Television. The studio is poised to become a Disney-owned company as part of Fox’s $71.3 billion asset sale, which is an extra layer of complication to renewal talks for several series — including Empire.
After publicly backing Smollett prior to his arrest, the network and studio on Thursday said in a statement that they are “evaluating” the actor’s situation and “considering our options.” The show is set to return March 13.
In a detailed bond proffer that outlines the case, the prosecutors allege that the actor wrote a $3,500 personal check to U.S.-born Nigerian brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo in order to stage a Jan. 29 attack where the duo would yell, “This is MAGA country!” along with shouting racist slurs at Smollett.
The actor, the prosecutors claim, had met Abel Osundario on the set of Fox’s Empire, where Osundario had been working as a stand-in for the character Kai. Smollett allegedly also gave a $100 bill to the brothers in order to buy “rope, gasoline, ski masks, gloves and red baseball caps” to be used in the staged attack. (Bleach was then later swapped in for gasoline as part of the plan, prosecutors say.)
Police arrived at Smollett’s Chicago apartment around 2:42 a.m. on Jan. 29. “Chicago Police Officers observed that Smollett had a rope draped around his neck. This was captured on police worn body camera. Seconds later, Smollett asked the Police to shut off the cameras,” the bond proffer reads. The investigation into what was described as a hate crime later became a probe into disorderly conduct over filing a false police report.
Prosecutors noted Smollett’s Feb. 13 interview on ABC’s Good Morning America with anchor Robin Roberts, mentioning that when the actor described his attackers as white he “further misled the police and the public.”
During the nearly 17-minute GMA interview, Smollett extensively detailed the alleged attack and said he fought his assailants, adding, “I just want young people, young members of the LGBTQ community, young, black children to know how strong that they are, to know the power that they hold in their little pinky.” (On Thursday, LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD and nonprofit Color of Change issued a new statement that read, “FBI data shows that hate crimes are on the rise nationwide and that fact cannot get lost in the discussion around Jussie’s arrest.”)
Chicago prosecutors also referenced a letter that was sent to Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, where Empire is filmed, that stated “Smollett Jessie you will die black f—–” and “MAGA.” Police have alleged that Smollett also faked the letter. In the GMA interview, Smollett had expressed hope that his attackers would be held to account, saying, “I was talking to a friend and I said, ‘I just want them to find them.'”
On Thursday night, Smollett’s legal team said in a statement, “Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system. The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election.” The statement continued, “Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”
Feb. 21, 7:40 p.m. Updated to reflect statement from Smollett’s legal team.