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The Lyons’ den is welcoming a few new, but very familiar faces when Empire returns for the second half of its third season Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox.
Among several recurring guest stars set to enter the fray are Eva Longoria, Nia Long, Rumer Willis and her mom, Demi Moore. Although the names make for an impressive group, the list of new additions join an already crowded ensemble that counts 12 series regulars. And that doesn’t even factor in the returning recurring players from the first half of the season, namely Taye Diggs and Phylicia Rashad. However, showrunner Ilene Chaiken tells The Hollywood Reporter that all four actresses will become “completely integral to the fabric of the show” going forward.
“Every one of those very major actors is joining this show because we were telling a story and wrote a character and then cast those roles with these great actors. Not a single one of them is going to pop out as a stunt,” she says.
“I’m the first to admit that in the second season of the show, some of the guest stars that were on the show — we were just so excited by all the fabulous people that showed interest in being on the show that maybe we went a little overboard, and we weren’t as much driven by story. I think that that’s the touchstone for us. It’s always driven by story and support of this story of the Lyon family, and of Empire, and of the world of our show.”
To prepare for the show’s midseason return, THR talked with Chaiken, co-creator and exec producer Danny Strong and exec producer and director Sanaa Hamri to get the down-low on Empire‘s newest players.
Rumer Willis (Tory Ash)
Willis pops up first, making her debut in the midseason premiere as Tory, a brilliant but volatile singer-songwriter whose talent becomes invaluable to Jamal (Jussie Smollett) as he creates his most important musical work yet. Her own attempt to make a crossover comeback and her unwillingness to shy away from controversy will have ripple effects throughout Empire.
“She meets Jamal in rehab and they have a music kindredship,” says Strong. “She has some amazing songs on the show.” Hamri also praises Willis’ “beautiful voice.” “We have some great songs coming up with her that we’re very excited about. She’s going to have a comradery thing with Jamal. We’ve got to see what Lucious is about to do with that.”
Nia Long (Giuliana Green)
Long first appears in the April 5 episode of the hip-hop drama, but “she and Lucious have a past that comes as a surprise,” says Chaiken. “It’s a deep and twisted relationship and, of course, she becomes a threat to certain other members of the Lyon family.” Adds Hamri: “[She] is going toe-to-toe with Cookie. She’s from Lucious‘ past, and we find quite a bit of dirt about her and obviously, she’s going to have her own motives. It’s a very fun threesome so to speak.”
Long’s character is connected to Longoria’s, as both have ties to Vegas. In her official character breakdown, Giuliana is described as a queenpin who runs a club in Las Vegas and makes bold moves in the underworld of New York to land a deal with Empire. “She definitely has a gangster vibe, and that’s going to be causing a lot of problems for a lot of people,” says Strong.
Eva Longoria (Charlotte Frost)
The Desperate Housewives alum will play the formidable director of the all-powerful state gaming commission who has the power to make-or-break Lucious‘ dreams of expanding Empire to Las Vegas.
“Eva’s character makes her debut in episode 14, the very end of the episode in a kind of surprise moment. You were expecting somebody, but I think that she’s the last person we would be expecting,” says Chaiken. “Lucious and Andre and Cookie and Giuliana all have a lot at stake, and she controls their fate to some extent.”
However, her character description noted that beneath her alluring façade is a force of darkness and corruption. “She’s in a dicey world. She kind of plays ball with Lyons, but we don’t know what her motives are,” says Hamri. “I just think it was so fun for Eva to come along and play something a little different.”
Demi Moore (Character Name Unknown)
Little is known about Moore’s character, who is described as a take-charge nurse with a mysterious past who becomes ever more treacherously entangled with the Lyon family. Moore will make her debut in the finale in “the very best turn at the end of the season,” says Chaiken. “In in the finale, there’s this total reset towards the end of the episode that really poises us for the next season and she just makes her entrance onto the scene. You’ll know when you see it that this is going to be unlike anything you’ve seen on Empire before.”
When asked about the reset specifically, Chaiken says it’s “given every one of main characters a new path to go down that’s going to be really unexpected and fresh.”
Subsequently, Moore’s character will play a big role in season four. “She is playing this character that’s going to get very close to Lucious,” says Hamri. “She has many layers. I’m so excited about her character. I can’t say too much, but its pretty intricate.”
Empire returns Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox.
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