[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the 10th episode of Empire‘s first season, “Sins of the Father.”]
After a few weeks of talking about and around Olivia (Raven-Symone) and whether or not Jamal (Jussie Smollett) was actually the father of her adorable little girl, Empire finally delivered the answers for which so many — including the cast themselves — were waiting.
The verdict is in — no DNA test required — and Jamal is not Lola’s (Leah Jeffries) father.
“I was the first one also to be like, ‘Jamal! Get a DNA test!’ [But] I think that there is a part of Jamal that is kind of living in this world of, ‘Could I do this?’ He and the family do bond with this beautiful little baby girl. I think there’s a part of Jamal that, deep down inside, he wants to believe that she is his. He’s got such a big heart,” Smollett told The Hollywood Reporter.
Unfortunately, Jamal’s heart was broken in the 10th episode of the season, “Sins of the Father,” when Olivia returned to the Lyon’s Den to claim her child, gruff, abusive boyfriend in tow. Things got heated between the two men when Jamal realized Reg (Jerod Haynes) wasn’t just hurting Olivia but Lola, too, and Reg pulled a gun on him — only for Lucious (Terrence Howard) to step up and claim Lola as his.
While it was the first truly compassionate move anyone has seen from Lucious — asking Reg to kill him and spare his son — it must be said that it wasn’t completely unselfish, as Lucious probably figured a death by gunshot would at least be quicker than death by ALS. But regardless, the admission left everyone with a sour taste in their mouths as they realized just how much Lucious had manipulated and used Olivia over the years.
THR talked with Raven-Symone about her arc as Olivia in season one, the bigger meaning behind her early years as Jamal’s beard, and if she is in talks to return for season two.
When Olivia was first introduced there were some questions about her timing of returning to the Lyons’ lives and if she was just there to get hers. Were you concerned about audience response?
I think with Empire the more drama the better! So I was hoping that people would start saying, “Oh my goodness, is this real? Who is she?” I think people need to talk about the characters, and people need to talk about these issues.
The back story of Jamal and Olivia’s marriage was originally in the pilot but cut for time. Were you approached back then to play the role?
Oh, no. It was, like, the day before filming needed to start [for episode six]! This was definitely a last-minute thing that has turned into an amazing opportunity for me and my career. I was actually already in Chicago visiting. Jussie and Lee [Daniels] and Taraji [P. Henson] and Terrence and I, we all know each other, and the day before, Jussie popped into the room I was in and was like, “Girl!” and told me about the part. And I was like, “What!?” And it went from there. I did a hair and makeup test, and the next morning I was on the stage.
You and Jussie have been friends for a long time, so what was the process like of creating the history for these characters?
We never had a romantic relationship, but we definitely, living in method-acting worlds, acted how we normally would. (Laughs.) It was very natural and easy. I’m happy that he was as excited to work with me as I was excited to work with him. We had never really worked together. We did a little music together prior to him being on the show, but as my best friend, normally we act like that when we’re out in a club having fun. “Let’s do a Grease rendition; let’s pretend we’re a couple and have fun on the dance floor!” He’s my bro.
What kind of artist was Olivia back in the day that made Lucious think she was the perfect one to pair up with Jamal?
We haven’t talked about it yet. I’m kind of over the stage in my career [where I want to pitch who she has to be]. I used to do that a lot when I was coming up and trying to make sure that my quote-unquote brand was solidified, but now I leave it to Lee and Danny Strong and [showrunner] Ilene Chaiken. I trust where they want this character to go. They know me as a person, and I’ll go there. There are some limitations [to what I would do], but I don’t think they’d push me to a point where I’d feel uncomfortable. I want them to bring it on!
The story of a fake relationship to hide someone’s true sexuality is one that happens more than we probably know, especially in Hollywood, but is not shown onscreen often. How did you feel about exploring something so deep but little talked about?
I think that’s what Lee Daniels does best: shining a light on stories and situations that society sweeps under the rug. People can live a long time in heterosexual relationships on the outside when they’re actually homosexual on the inside. They may come out later in their years because they were afraid or they had no one to look up to to help them, and I think having this show helps. It helps show the fluidity of sex. Nowadays I don’t really want to be labeled either way, but I want people to understand what I’m talking about. Sex is fluid, and Jamal and Olivia did have sex once!
But it really was Lucious who manipulated them into a public marriage. Jamal was young and not ready to come out and trying to please his father. What was Olivia’s motivation in going along with it?
Fame and fortune and being a part of a family like the Lyons!
Yet when she returned, it wasn’t for a payday. She first left Lola with Jamal to keep her safe, and then even in “Sins of the Father,” things were much more complicated with her being controlled by Reg.
Olivia came back to save her daughter. She wouldn’t have come back if her boyfriend didn’t find her. You know, I hear a lot of different stories of doing the unthinkable to save their offspring, and I don’t have a child, so I can’t fully embrace it, but I can certainly act as if I had one. And that’s what I went through: “Let me think about how I would be in this situation.” And it also helps with the writing and the people around me; it just slipped off the tongue. She was such a well-rounded character that I didn’t have to do much because it was right there. This is what she was doing, and she was doing it to save her daughter. And many people might not be able to get out of certain situations, but I was treating her like a strong person.
And let’s just put it out there: calling the character Olivia has to be a nod to The Cosby Show. Can we pretend it’s the same character, all grown up?
I think that’s a little bad! (Laughs.) But hey, maybe the industry just really likes that name for me, and it’s jump-started my career, so I’ll take it!
What has the discussion been for Olivia to return in season two?
Lee has said there will be opportunity for Olivia to pop in and out, and for more of the story to be revealed and more great tension [to arise].
It certainly seems like Olivia and Jamal may have some things to work through after learning who Lola’s father actually is!
I hope they do! Otherwise we’d just be perpetuating what we don’t want people to do, which is keeping their mouths shut about crazy stuff! I think we definitely have to show why Olivia and Jamal have a connection anyway that would make Lucious want them to marry each other, and I would love to be able to perform [musically] with my best friend [too]. I don’t think it would be Empire if they didn’t talk about it, but there is nothing set in concrete yet.
Empire airs on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. What do you think of Olivia’s story? Sound off in the comments below, and be sure to bookmark The Live Feed for lots of Empire pre-finale coverage, and of course, the weekly postmortem.