“Empire” is at a new time on Wednesdays, on FOX.
This season Academy Award- and Golden Globe-winning actor, director and producer Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Arrival, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) will guest-star in a multi-episode arc on Empire, beginning this fall on FOX. Whitaker will play “Uncle Eddie,” a charismatic music icon and bonafide hitmaker, who gave an unknown Lucious (Terrence Howard) his first radio airplay. Decades later, Eddie steps up for Lucious at a critical moment during his rehabilitation, and a grateful Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) invites him to produce a song in celebration of Empire Entertainment’s 20th anniversary.
We caught up with Grace Byers who stars at the always ambitious Anika Calhoun and Andre Royo who plays Thirsty Rawlings, a shifty defense attorney.Catch our interview after the jump.
The Knockturnal: Last we left off at the big explosion, so where do we pick up?
Grace Byers: Yes. So Anika is in jail for a crime she did not commit at this point. So this is where we find her, for sure. We know at this point that Lucious has survived the accident, but not without a small price to pay if you will. And he has lost his memory, this is what we know so far, and now it’s about the after-effects of who is this new nurse that he’s working with, how much of his memory has he actually lost, and how is the family coping with that? You know? So I think that’s kind of where we meet everybody.
Andre Royo: Thirsty’s happy to have a job, since last I got fired. Lucious got rid of me. So, you know, I come back and, you know, if your boss has no memory or I [may or may not] still be fired. But I get to really establish my work with the other characters. I work with Cookie, I help Yaz out a little here and there, and I think that the family really gets a chance to see what Thirsty brings to the table as a character.
The Knockturnal: Can you talk a little about the format of the series, the process.
Andre Royo: Wow. It feels a bit of the theater, a little theatrical, the way I think. As a machine, everybody does their job, for lack of a better word. The writers go in and they come with a format in time to tell a story that involves suspense, action, drama, all at once and then we get the script and then we kinda just play. We kinda get together and sit there and try to tell the truth with our characters.
The Knockturnal: So, if your characters could edit the past, what do you think they would change?
Grace Byers: I think that Anika wouldn’t have pushed Rhonda. I think she still would have tossed her off the top of that building because Rhonda attacked her. So when someone attacks you like that, you know, even though it’s not your intention to toss them off a balcony cause that was a big thing, people were like “Why’d you kill Rhonda?” I said “the real big problem is that she pushed Rhonda. That’s a problem. But Rhonda came for her at the top of that building, and was pregnant! So if she didn’t want it, she shouldn’t have come and get it!” Okay? I can’t say nothing about that. But you know what I’m saying, she gotta do what she has to do for her and her baby. But what she should not have done and I think she does absolutely regret is the attempted murder. The attempted murder of Rhonda and the successful murder of her child. I think that she feels terrible about that.
The Knockturnal: Obviously we are in a very interesting time in our country. I would say that TV, more than ever, needs to be like a really great escape for people who need a moment off. So if you could kind of put into words what you hope people are taking away from this show, even in this crazy time, cause you guys are never afraid to have the protests on television, and have to do all that, so as actors what do you hope people are taking away from this season?
Grace Byers: For me, whether it’s this TV show, another project, art in general, any art that I created, that I’m a part of, I hope people can take an experience that they can relate to from that. That’s it. That’s all I want to say. I want to speak the truth the best I can, and to me it’s really wonderful art when someone can say “Oh my gosh, I’ve felt that, I understood that, that is me. I’ve seen me in that.” So if there’s any kind of relatability there, then that’s what’s important to me. So it doesn’t matter the topic, but it matters the experience, that’s for me.
Andre Royo: I just feel like when you come in this field, you just want to entertain. I mean, that’s the bottom line. You want to entertain. If I could educate, if I can inspire, at the same time, I don’t know. That’s not for me to want, it’s for me to do. And once I put it or get in front of that camera, I just hope that people will find the truth and the humor and the inspiration and the education in whatever I do, they see that person. I think for me and my journey as an actor, the humanity … I love this show first and foremost because it’s about family. And the scene when they get together, when the Lyon family gets together, no matter what the script or what the episode is going through, it all comes together when they get together and you see that they’re gonna live and die for each other. And I think everybody wants to feel that with their family, or with their friends, with their crew, just that community that helps each other out.
The Knockturnal: People see Empire as a symbol of a good representation of diversity, acceptance, many topics. How important is that considering the country is in a very interesting time right now politically.
Grace Byers: Yeah, I feel like what we’re experiencing now isn’t new. I feel like it’s just been exposed even more. And so I feel like the concept and the idea of what this country is supposed to be is one of complete diversity and complete inclusivity. And so for me personally it breaks my heart when that doesn’t happen, you know what I mean? When you talk about intersectionality, I was raised by a single black deaf woman who was born and raised in the Caribbean. Okay? So we’re talking about multiple cultures, multiple races, you know, disability, so for me it’s important if we’re living in this country to do whatever we can through art, through our connections with individuals on and off set, in and out of work, to continue to show love, to continue to perpetuate love, to continue to stand against and speak out against anything that tries to threaten that or bring that down.