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[Warning: This post contains spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of Empire, “Fires of Heaven.”]
It was the most talked about twerk since Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke performed at the MTV VMAs. In the season two opener of Empire, Anika (Grace Gealey) showed Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) she was willing to do whatever it takes to fight for a piece of Empire, including answer to the name ‘Anita’ and shake her groove thing on the dance floor with interested investor Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei).
“That was so much fun. I was expecting that it would shock people; whether or not they responded positively or negatively was totally up to them,” Gealey tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I loved it because it was a dimension of Anika that you hadn’t seen before. She has a sense of humor.”
Anika proved she’s full of surprises on Wednesday’s episode when she met with a newly free Lucious (Terrence Howard) only to use the information he gave her against him — betraying her ex-fiance and keeping her shaky alliance with Cookie and her ties to Lyon Dynasty intact. So what’s next?
Gealey spoke with THR about Anika and Cookie’s “similar goals,” her complicated feelings for Lucious and her “need to be needed.”
It really seemed like Anika was going to align with Lucious. Why do you think she sides with Cookie instead?
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. As much as she dislikes Cookie and dislikes the way that Cookie came into the mix, her and Cookie have very similar goals and it’s to get what it is that you feel like you deserve, and then, to put Lucious in a down place. They both know what it’s like to be a woman scorned by Lucious. I love how in the first season, Cookie says, “Nothing good can come from loving you.” … They both know what it’s like to love this man and be fiercely hurt by this man and so it’s enough for Anika to swallow her pride and say, “OK, we got off on the wrong foot. I understand that we may not see a lot of things eye to eye, but on this, we see eye to eye. Be with me in this moment and let’s get what it is we want to get out of this.”
A lot of people loved the fighting and the one-liners between Cookie and Anika in season one, but it must be refreshing to explore such a different side of their dynamic.
Especially now with the depiction of, what I think is, a much better and [more] accurate representation of people of color being on TV. Then if you put two very powerful, smart, talented women of color together [in executive positions] working together — when have you ever seen that dynamic? It’s such an interesting one to explore. Plus, Taraji is such a powerhouse that, as fun as it was to play back and forth opposites with her, it’s even more fun to be like, “Let’s work together, let’s take Lucious down.” For me, it was easy to find that commonplace with the Cookie character because that’s always fun when you go, “You know what? He is an asshole. Let’s take him down.”
After Anika helped Cookie crash that party, what can you say about their working relationship going forward?
What makes it such a great dynamic is it’s not black and white. It’s not like all of a sudden they’re friends and everything that happened in season one went away. Although we do want to work towards a common cause and sometimes we’ll swallow our pride, that element of distrust is still there. … Anika was working for Baretti, so I’m sure there’s a part of Cookie that’s like, “I don’t know if I really trust you.” And then Anika is like, “You kind of slept with my man twice.” They’re not sure if they can fully trust each other, but are they honest in the moment? Are they not manipulative in the moment? Yes. These are very, very real moments. They’re not trying to pull a fast one over the other, that’s for sure.
In season one, she was with Lucious and her ties to Empire were clear-cut. Now there’s also this family feuding within Empire, and she could easily just pick up and leave for another company. What keeps her fighting for Empire?
She’s not married, she doesn’t have any kids, she’s an only child in my mind, she doesn’t have any friends. So I think, especially being the head of A&R — I did a lot of research as to what that looks like — and, really, you just work all day, you work all night. You invest into this business and it’s difficult for her having this business that would be her baby and Lucious who would be her husband and developing a life around that and then all of a sudden being asked to just walk away. In her mind, there’s not anything or anyone that can come along that can be worth the things that she put into this company. So it’s not just a company. She’s put her life into it and I think it would be difficult for anybody to just be like, “Oh, OK, this is your ex-wife? OK, no problem,” and then leave. … She’s not going to back off. She’s going to do whatever it takes in order to not make the last years of her life worthless.
Her and Lucious had been together, what, five, six years? It takes a certain kind of woman to be with Lucious that long so that’s something interesting that we might explore. What kind of woman would stay with Lucious knowing the man that he is? Cookie was with the man he was. Now he’s a different kind of guy that has evolved into some different amalgamation of so many things. Did [Anika] really not see that side of him? Or did she feel like there was some element of him that was dangerous and decided to stick with it? What does it say about her staying with a guy like that?
In your mind, does she still have feelings for him after the way he’s treated her?
She still loves Lucious. That’s the only way that any of this would mean anything if she didn’t love Lucious or she stopped loving him or any of that, then all of this would be irrelevant, to a certain extent. But I feel like her deep desire to hurt Lucious which is why she slept with Hakeem. … There’s still a big part of her that loves him, that still cares for him but understands that, at this point, he has gone too far, and that’s the way I see it. A lot of people will be like, “Oh, she betrayed Lucious and she went to Baretti,” and I’m like, “But no, because if she really wanted to screw Lucious up, she would tell Baretti, “Yeah, you know there is something that we could use against him: he has ALS.” And she never did. So there is that part of her that was loyal and is loyal, but the only reason why she did that was for leverage.
What do you think keeps Anika and Hakeem together and what will we see in future episodes from them?
It’s a difficult connection to navigate, for sure, but I feel like there are many instances where you see Anika gravitate towards the need to be needed. … That need to be needed is so imperative for her right now and everyone can really relate to that and understand. Even when you do feel alone and you do feel nobody wants you or loves you or you’re not useful, coming from a situation where you were very useful and very needed by everyone around you, that leads her to connections like Hakeem and like other people that you may see. That’s the No. 1 thing that we’re trying to dig out. Because she’s not in love with him. She’s in love with Lucious, but I feel like that desire to be desired is overpowering her in a lot of moments and it causes her to do things that normally she wouldn’t do.
Coming into the second season, Anika was one of the biggest question marks because a lot of season one revolved around her relationship with Lucious. What kind of conversations did you have with the writers about where this character was headed? What hopes did you have for Anika this season?
During the summertime, each of us will go to the writer’s room and we’ll have a conversation with them. My first question was, “What is going to happen?” I had no idea where she could be going with this because at the end of season one, I’m in the studio with Hakeem, but I’m not the head of A&R anymore. It was just a weird moment. I feel like she was kind of displaced so I was really interested to see where they were going to go with it. They basically started off by saying, “The theme of this season is going to be warring kingdoms,” and then they started to break [it] down. … We start with the idea of this group begrudgingly working together and trying to take down the empire and take it for themselves but it doesn’t happen. When it started out like that, I thought it was great, because then she can find her niche and, at least, as we start off, she can find her niche in saying, “Alright, well you make not like me but I am an asset to this operation, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Let’s work together because we both have the common cause of getting this empire.”
She’s still remains a bit of mystery. Will we get to see more of her backstory and maybe more of how she came to be at Empire this season? What will we learn about her?
I really hope so. She’s the only person in the show that doesn’t have an ally; she doesn’t have a friend. You rarely get to see her alone, and so those things were exciting for me to bring up and ask them to explore. Because most of the time, she’s at work or she’s facing off with Cookie. Even in the moments where she’s at home with Lucious or whatever, she’s still with somebody else, but is there ever a moment where she’s by herself and you get to see what she really thinks, how she really feels, how she really deals with things. I hope we get to see a little bit of her backstory, but if not, then that could be something to explore in season three if that works out.
I like what you said about Anika not having an ally because it feels like in every episode, you don’t know which way she’s going to go. It really makes her a wild card.
That’s really exciting about season two as well. Because I feel like a lot of people, they get caught up in the entertainment factor and they forget that she’s human, she’s a person and she wasn’t born the spawn of Satan. She’s human and there are a lot of people who have a certain way of doing things and they surprise themselves when they find themselves in states of desperation and they do things that they’re not proud of. “Am I that person that, all of a sudden, I’m insecure and I’m searching through your phone to find who you’re talking to?”
People are flawed, and what’s really wonderful is that you get to see in season two as we move on. She has great moments of honesty and great moments of not being manipulative and really trying to prove herself and say, “Listen, I may have messed up in the past but can we look past that?” And she has that conversation with quite a few people and how that turns out, we don’t know, but I feel like it’s wonderful to see that part of her and to see her in a very rare, very honest state. There are levels of humanity we have yet to explore.
Empire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. What did you think of Wednesday’s episode?
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