Jussie Smollett is set on becoming a powerhouse in Hollywood, not only as an actor and musician, but also as a director. “I always joked that I wanted to be the black, male Barbra Streisand–because she does it all and she does it well,” he told Variety in an interview about his Empire character Jamal and Smollett’s time behind the scenes in the director’s chair.
Smollett said he and his siblings would always make home videos as kids, but this year, he’s concentrated his efforts to hone his directorial craft. He started picking up the techniques of episodic directors by observing them and even shadwoing a few of them before directing the music videos for his songs, “F.U.W.,” “Hurt People” and “Catch Your Eye.” He was able to use his work on “F.U.W.” to successfully lobby for his turn in the director’s chair for the 16th episode of Empire‘s fourth season, “Fair Terms.”
His process for directing “Fair Terms” involved slightly challenging the now-established flow of the series.
“I’ve been on Empire for so long that I know the things I love seeing on Empire, and I know the things I would like to see on Empire. I know what’s expected of me with the formula that we run with, just as far as certain shots, but I was allowed to bring my own flavor–a kind of voyeuristic flavor. Maybe the camera isn’t moving so much, wide shots[.]”
Some of those things included having a train go by as Thirsty (Andre Royo) throws Shyne’s (Xzibit) body into a butcher truck and an overhead shot of Andre (Trai Byers) and his reverend in order to make it feel like “the eye of God.”
Not only was Smollett directing his Empire family–which includes Byers along with Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Bryshere Y. Gray and Grace Byers, but also Forest Whitaker, who reprises his role as Uncle Eddie, and actress (and Smollett’s family friend) Alfre Woodard, who plays Cookie Lyon’s (Henson) mom, Renee.
“I’ve said this before, but she was with me on the morning I went on my first audition for Empire–she sat with me and she prayed with me and we had breakfast. And then four years to the day I booked Empire, I’m directing her on Empire! It certainly wasn’t easy, but directing professionals is so amazing. People show up–they know their stuff, they have a point of view of what they believe the characters would be.”
Empire airs at 8 p.m. ET each Wednesday on Fox.