As Empire continues to break TV records, much of the media attention has turned to the hit series’ youngest cast members, Trai Byers (Andre), Bryshere Gray (Hakeem), and most notably Jussie Smollett, who plays budding gay R&B star Jamal Lyon.
In a new interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Smollett opens up about his personal life and addresses ongoing rumors surrounding his sexuality. “There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,” the 31-year-old actor tells the talk show host backstage.
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“So that’s why I choose not to talk ‘bout my personal life,” he continues. “But there is without a doubt, no closet that I’ve ever been in, and I just wanted to make that clear, but it was most important for me to make that clear to you on your show at this time in the world. And that’s where I’m at.”
The conversation follows a discussion the two had about Smollett’s on-screen character, who recently came out on the show.
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“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 and when we finished the show they were like, 'Is he, isn’t he?'” DeGeneres says, adding that she felt it was her responsibility to give the actor a chance to open up.
“There are questions out there so I think that’s why it was my responsibility to at least give you the opportunity. And I am so proud of you that you say there is no closet. There never has been a closet.”
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Smollett’s admission comes less than a week after his co-star Malik Yoba reportedly outted him in an interview with Black Film.
“Obviously, Lee [Daniels, producer] is gay. That was an important storyline for him. I think it’s important for people to see themselves,” Yoba said at the time. “Even within the black community. But if you aren’t really, really taking it off of screen and making it live in the community in a significant way … like I know Jussie, he is gay, and he’s very committed to issues around the LGBT community. He and I have a very close relationship.”
The actor later followed up with a statement saying he was misquoted by the publication: “I was misquoted in the article. My reference to Jussie was only about his character and story line on Empire.”
And now, Smollett has the final word telling DeGeneres, "Boom. Now you don’t even gotta ask no more."