Despite having two music dramas on the same network, Lee Daniels said he never originally intended for Empire and Star to cross over and exist in the same universe.
“It wasn’t the intent initially because they were two separate shows,” he told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “I never saw Star as part of Empire ever. It’s its own entity and another part of my life that I was trying to explore as an artist, but then Fox suggested it and then it sort of seemed logical so I just went with the flow.”
The result is a two-hour crossover event that will kick off Empire‘s fourth season and Star‘s second season. The leading lady of Star, Queen Latifah’s Carlotta, will play a central role as she comes face-to-face with three members of the Lyon family: Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett).
Queen Latifah said she had been hopeful about a crossover from the get-go. “I always saw us crossing over,” the Oscar-nominated actress said. “That was in my brain from day one: ‘One day that could happen.'”
While Empire follows a rich family at the top of their musical game in Chicago, Star is set in Atlanta and tells the tale of a girl group desperate for their big break. However, Queen Latifah pointed out parallels between the two dramas, which will also air back-to-back this season for the first time.
“We both deal in the music industry. Most of our characters have checkered pasts,” she said. “I love the fact that we come from different worlds and these shows can maintain autonomy yet cross over.”
Added Benjamin Bratt: “What ties them together is that everyone comes from a struggle. Everyone knows what it is to start from nothing.”
Latifah pointed specifically to similarities between her character and Henson’s Cookie. “The strength that they have is equal. Both are strong, powerful women who have been through some things, who wear those scars but have overcome a lot. … They’re the same in a lot of ways,” she said. “I’m excited to see where it goes. It’s juicy for me.”
However, she made sure to stress that the crossover won’t be too heavily serialized for those watching one program and not the other. “To me, it makes sense, but it doesn’t require us to really intertwine these stories if we don’t want to,” she said. “It’s their choice to keep them as connected or disconnected as they want.”
Despite their differences, Daniels was confident the two shows will make a strong pair come fall. “At eight, you’re going to see glamour, you’re going to see the height of success,” he said of Empire kicking off the night. “And what we see at 9 o’clock is the grounded-ness of what the struggle is.”
Empire and Star’s crossover event airs Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. on Fox.