Empire has quickly captured the hearts of millions of viewers. The plot had us gripped from the get-go, we can’t stop playing the show’s soundtrack and we’ve even grown attached to the hip-hopera’s awesome characters.
We know most of Lucious Lyon’s dirty little secrets and we know that Cookie isn’t afraid to speak her mind, heck we even know what Cookie names her lady-parts (nookie). But do you know where the name “Cookie” comes from? Or who Jamal Lyon’s character is based on? Check out these 15 epic Empire facts that all fans of the show need to know…
1. Terrence and Taraji Worked Together Before
Wondering how Lucious and Cookie achieve their onscreen chemistry? Empire isn’t the first project they’ve worked together on! In 2005, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson both starred as a couple again, in the Oscar-winning film, Hustle & Flow. They also worked together on Four Brothers. It seems Cookie and Lucious really do go back…
2. Wesley Snipes Almost Played Lucious Lyon
That’s right, folks! Lucious Lyon wouldn’t be the man we know him as today if the producers of Empire had acted differently! Believe it or not, Wesley Snipes was almost cast as the record company boss. Thanks to Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard landed the legendary role!
Apparently, Taraji told the creator of the show, Lee Daniels that she would only play Cookie Lyon, if Terrence was cast as Lucious.
3. Timbaland’s The Man Behind the Music
We all know Timbaland for his awesome music whether it be his work with Justin Timberlake or Jay-Z. Timbaland’s talent in the music department grabbed Lee Daniel’s attention which led him to hire him as Empire’s music producer. You can thank the Way I Are rapper for infectious beats like No Apologies and Good Enough.
4. Terrence Howard Was Forced to Change His Perm
Remember that awful perm Lucious Lyon had on the pilot episode? Ever wondered what happened to it? Lee Daniels forced him to get rid of it – thank God coz that ish was bad!
At first Lee thought, “Oh well, you know, it’s like Prince. He’s sort of stuck in Prince-land and he’s sort of like James Brown, that sort of thing.” But then the creator quickly changed his mind and told Terrence to change his hairstyle for the second episode.
5. Bryshere Y. Gray Got The Role Through FaceTime
Apparently, Bryshere Y. Gray had to audition for Empire through FaceTime. Executive producer, Brian Grazer asked the Hakeem actor to rap for him on the videotelephony application before going ahead and casting him!
6. Taraji Improvises Her Lines
One of the reasons why we tune into Empire every week is to hear Cookie Lyon’s fierce and feisty one-liners. Zingers like “You want Cookie’s nookie?” and “You need to stop rappin’ like you from the streets, ’cause you not about that life!” aren’t planned, ladies and gentlemen! Taraji apparently improvises these legendary lines while she’s filming! “When I’m in the moment, those lines just come!” Taraji said.
7. Jussie Smollett Landed a Record Deal
It looks like starring in a television show is the new promo tool for artists! Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon landed himself a record deal in February 2015. After watching the 32-year-old perform, sing and contribute in writing songs for the show (I Wanna Love You, You’re So Beautiful), Columbia Records took interest.
8. Cookie’s Outfits Belong to Timbaland’s Wife!
Cookie Lyon’s love for animal prints and outlandish outfits are one of the many reasons why we adore her. Did you know that her funky garments are pulled straight out of Timbaland’s wife’s closet? Monique Mosley, who’s also the show’s script consultant, lends her outfits to Taraji because according to Lee Daniels, she is like the real-life Cookie!
9. Gabourey Sidibe Inspired An Empire Song
You’re So Beautiful was inspired by Gabourey! Jussie Smollett told MTV News, “When we sat down, [music producer] Jim Beanz and I had Gabby on the brain. I was texting her back and forth, and she said something funny. [Jim and I] were just talking about how dope she is and how she’s confident and sexy and beautiful, but every once in a while, you need to hear the words you’re so beautiful.”
10. Trai Byers Wanted to Be a Pastor
After graduating from the Yale School of Drama, Trai Byers almost became a pastor before adopting the role of Andre. Before landing a gig on Empire, the passionate Christian couldn’t manage to get work as an actor anywhere. He revealed to Meredith Vieira that he was ready to quit acting and take up his career as a pastor.
11. Hakeem is a Rapper in Real Life
Onscreen, Bryshere Y. Gray raps as Hakeem Lyon, offscreen, he raps as Yaaz the Greatest. Bryshere doesn’t just showcase his rhyming skills on Empire, he’s a rapper in real life, too and has a record deal with Columbia Records, along with Jussie Smollett. He’s also opened for 2 Chainz and performed at Jay-Z’s Made in America festival.
12. Taraji’s Nickname Was Cookie in College
Yep, that’s right, folks! Taraji’s Empire name was inspired from her college days. She told US Weekly that her nickname back in the day was Cookie, something only her friends would call her.
13. The Entire Empire Cast Can Sing
Think it’s just Lucious and Jamal who can sing? WRONG! The majority of Empire’s cast are singers and that includes Gabourey Sidibe (Becky), Grace Gealey (Anika), Kaitlin Doubleday (Rhonda) and Taraji P. Henson (Cookie)! Can somebody please hand them the mic this season?!
14. Jamal’s Character Is Based on Lee Daniels’ Life
Jamal’s journey on Empire has been one of the greatest, but do you know where his story came from? Apparently Jamal’s characterization is based on Lee’s life. Remember when Lucious shoved 5-year-old Jamal in a trash can for wearing his mother’s heels? That happened to Lee Daniels.
“When I was 5, my earliest memory was walking down the stairs in my mother’s red high heel shoes, and my dad—he’s a cop—is down playing cards with the boys and it was not pretty—at all,” Daniels told EBONY. “He put me in a trash can and he said that I would never be nothing. He said, ‘You already have it bad, boy, cause you’re Black—now you’re a f–got too.”
15. Trai Byers and Grace Gealey Are a Couple in Real Life!
Andre Lyon and Boo Boo Kitty are a couple in real life! In fact, they got married in April 2016. We can’t imagine these two characters hooking up on the show, but they sure as heck make a cute duo in real life!
Long live the Empire!