Thanks to the success of Empire, it's safe to say actor Jussie Smollett is enjoying a meteoric rise in the spotlight. But all the extra attention has led to a few awkward moments in his budding career, including coming out in the green room on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
"I was, like, two months deep into this fame thing," Smollett tells ETonline Editor in Chief Shana Krochmal in an interview for Out magazine, adding: "I was ready to talk about it, [but] she told me, 'You don't have to.' I will be forever grateful to Ellen for the kindness she showed me. And that made me want to talk about it."
Ultimately, the actor revealed to DeGeneres that "there's never been a closet that [he's] been in." "It was a much bigger deal for other people than it was for me," Smollett says of the moment, which was largely celebrated by the LGBT community.
"I am a gay man with an extremely open heart," he now tells Out. "God, I've never had to talk about this, so I'm trying to find the words. If I had to label myself, I would label myself as a gay man."
While he may have stumbled out of the closet, the actor was confident enough with his fame to speak up for the Black Lives Matter movement. However, he says some in the industry around him weren't so keen on him taking a stance.
"I was told by two executives, 'You know, maybe just wait,'" Smollett says, revealing that he was planning to participate in the March 2 Justice event in Washington, D.C. Ultimately, he paid his own way to the event, marching the last six miles from Howard University to the U.S. Capitol. "People were telling me, 'Don't do it.' But I felt like, If I lose my career based on this, then I don't need that career."
Some people ask why March? What does it accomplish anymore? Yesterday I was blessed to take part in the #March2Justice. We marched, did a die-in on the steps of the Supreme Court and rallied at the capital. Today the real work starts as we are bringing the #JusticePackage to #congress: 1. Stop militarization of Law Enforcement Act. 2. Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act 3. End Racial Profiling Act(ERPA) thank you @sankofadotorg @nyjusticeleague @msladyjustice1 @tamikadmallory @lsarsour @peacegina and @raoulroach and all the beautiful soldiers who marched 250 miles from Staten Island to DC. #WhyWeMarch #EndToPoliceBrutality #blacklivesmatter #BrownLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter
"You mean to tell me just because I make movies and TV and music that I can't talk about what's going on in the world I live in?" Smollett asks, unconcerned about the FOX series' ratings or the success of his own music.
And Smollett was not alone in his conviction. Empire creator and director Lee Daniels tells Out: "Many people don't like that I'm blunt about it. I get in trouble a lot, but I don't care."
That mentality seems to have rubbed off on the young star. "At some point, I was going to say what I believe anyway," Smollett adds.
Watch the actor's moving speech during the 2015 BET Awards when he stopped mid-performance to speak out on marriage equality and the Black Lives Matter movement: