Fox studios issued a second statement in support of Empire actor Jussie Smollett Wednesday, reaffirming that his show’s character will remain a series regular amid reports he staged a racist and homophobic attack against himself last month.
“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,” said 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment.
The statement comes as Chicago police seek to re-question Smollett after two brothers believed to have helped carry out the attack provided “new evidence” to detectives. The two men — Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo — were released from custody without charges after being picked up by police at O’Hare Internation airport upon returning from Nigeria.
Responding to reports that Smollett’s allegedly staged the attack after learning he was being written off Empire, Fox studios last Thursday issued a statement saying that idea he would no longer appear on the program was “patently ridiculous.”
“He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him,” 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment stated.
However, TMZ reported Tuesday that the number of scenes Smollett was slated to appear in have been slashed. “Jussie was supposed to have 9 scenes and a big musical number in the second to the last episode — which is being shot now — but, 5 of his scenes have been cut, and his musical number has been 86’d,” the Hollywood-focused outlet reported.
Smollett told police he was attacked in downtown Chicago while walking from a Subway sandwich shop at around 2 a.m on January 29. He said in addition to the bigoted slurs, his attackers also shouted, “This is MAGA country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” He also said they poured some kind of chemical on him.
Police looked through hours of video surveillance from the area but found no footage of an attack.
Smollett’s lawyers have said the actor was angered and “victimized” by reports that he may have played a role in staging the attack. “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,” attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson said in a statement Saturday.
Anne Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for Smollett’s lawyers, said they would “keep an active dialogue with Chicago police on his behalf.”
A California misdemeanor complaint against Smollett in 2007 shows that he pleaded no contest to giving false information to police when he was pulled over for driving while under the influence. Smollett was accused of identifying himself as his younger brother and signing a false name on the promise to appear in court, records show. He later was charged with false impersonation, driving under the influence and driving without a valid license. He pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.
The details of the complaint were first reported by NBC News.
Further, Chicago’s local CBS affiliate, WBBM Channel 2, reported Tuesday evening that Smollett allegedly “orchestrated” the assault on himself after the letter failed to garner a large enough reaction. According to ABC News, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating whether the actor was involved in the letter’s January 22 delivery. The letter, which contained powered aspirin and the phrase “Die black fag,” is currently undergoing tests at an FBI crime lab.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.