On Fox’s smash musical drama “Empire,” Jussie Smollett plays Jamal Lyons, a gay R&B singer who has struggled all his life with his homophobic father. It’s one of the show’s most dramatic plot lines – and it’s inevitably led to viewers’ speculating about Smollett’s real-life sexuality. Until now, Smollett would not comment.
As fans wondered whether life would imitate art, Jamal came out in a recent episode. One of Smollett’s co-stars, Malik Yoba, was forced to issue a statement that he was “misquoted” in an interview where he said Smollett was gay.
To put an end to the speculation, Smollett appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ daytime talk show Monday. He confirmed he’s gay and said he doesn’t want to talk about his personal life.
The way it all came out was quite unusual, though. Seems that Smollett initially went on the show without any intention of making any big personal announcement. During their interview, DeGeneres brought up Smollett’s character’s coming out, and Smollett gave a vague response about how he’s received some ignorant tweets. “We can’t just sit around and let people spew nasty things and just think that that’s OK,” he said.
After the taping, Smollett knocked on DeGeneres’ door and asked to talk again. Producers brought in the cameras, and Smollett announced he had more to say. He said he wanted to be transparent with DeGeneres, since he was inspired by all she has done in the LGBT community. The show posted the extra clip online.
“It was really important to me to make sure that it got across that there is no closet, there’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,” Smollett said. “I don’t have a closet. But I have a home, and that is my responsibility to protect that home. So that’s why I choose not to talk about my personal life. But there is, without a doubt, no closet I’ve ever been in. And I just wanted to make that clear.”
DeGeneres thanked him, and clarified why she brought up the topic in the first place.
“I think when I brought up the fact that your character came out and we talked about it and you were expressing yourself, I think a lot of people are still questioning,” she explained. “And when we finished the show, they’re like, ‘Well, you know, is he? Isn’t he?’
“And listen, I think the most important thing is talent, the most important thing is what we do,” she continued. “And we don’t want anything to get in the way of that. But there are questions out there, and I think that’s why it was my responsibility to at least just give you the opportunity. And I’m so proud of you that you say there is no closet, there never has been a closet, you’ve never pretended to be anything that you aren’t.”
Smollett added that he doesn’t want to discuss his personal life in interviews at all.
“So let’s not read into it in the wrong way when I say I don’t talk about my personal life. I’m saying that, but it is in no way to hide or deny who God made me. You know?” he said. “My mama knows. My mama likes me a lot.”
DeGeneres wrapped up by reiterating she was proud of Smollett for everything he was doing on the series, which is shattering ratings records for Fox.
“First of all, I think the show is a huge platform for a lot of people, and I think there are so many stereotypes and judgments,” she said. “And the fact that you’re shattering that by the role you’re playing and the strength you have to come out and talk about it and represent, I’m proud of you.”