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Fox, which airs the series, and Empire producer 20th Century Fox TV said they stand by the actor’s on-set conduct. Smollett is at the center of questions about an attack he reported in the early hours of Jan. 29 in Chicago.
“Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” the network and studio said in a statement Tuesday.
The statement comes after rumors that the 36-year-old Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon on the Fox drama, was having his workload cut. A TMZ story stated that was set to appear in a few scenes with other members of the show’s ensemble this week, but others featuring him more heavily had reportedly been cut from the schedule.
Fox, 20th and Smollett’s reps all declined to comment on whether his workload had been reduced. A source told The Hollywood Reporter that the plan for Smollett’s character is in flux while the investigation continues.
The network and studio have been steadfastly behind Smollett during the investigation. When rumors that Smollett might be written out of Empire first surfaced, Fox and 20th called the idea “patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
Smollett said two men assaulted him, used racial and homophobic slurs and put a rope around his neck early on Jan. 29. Chicago police investigating the case say the course of their probe has shifted and that two people they questioned were released without charges after “new evidence” came to light.
Reports that Smollett and the two men questioned by police may have staged the attack surfaced soon after, supposedly because he was being written off of Empire. Through his lawyers, the actor vehemently denied the reports: “He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack,” attorneys Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson said in a statement. “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
Smollett’s lawyers said Monday they are “keep[ing] an active dialogue going with Chicago police” but have not commented further since then. The two men questioned by police, brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, told CBS2 in Chicago they “are not racist. We are not homophobic and we are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens.”
Smollett himself has also countered doubts about the story of the attack, telling Good Morning America on Feb. 13 that he’s “pissed off” about the speculation.
“At first it was the thing of like, ‘Listen, if I tell the truth then that’s because it’s the truth,'” he said. “Then it became a thing of, like, ‘How can you doubt that? How can you not believe that? It’s the truth.'”
Empire is scheduled to return to Fox on March 13 for the second half of its fifth season.
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