The ratings for Fox's new hit drama, Empire
, have been rising every week and ET sat down with two men who have a major hand in the show's success: star Terrence Howard and executive producer Lee Daniels
Howard stars as hip-hop king Lucious Lyon, former street hustler turned CEO of Empire Entertainment. After being diagnosed with a disease that will render him incapacitated in three years, Lucious must groom one of his three sons to take over Empire. His plans are thrown when his scorned ex-wife Cookie (2009 Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson) returns to town after a 17-year jail stint to claim her own stake in the entertainment company.
"It's climbing out of the grave that we dig for ourselves -- the resurrection from the dirt that we've thrown upon ourselves that really color our character," Howard told ET.
Like his character, Howard has also faced personal struggles. The 2006 Oscar nominee has bounced back from rough patches in his career to now headline one of TV's most buzzed about shows, and on Saturday, Howard was given The Spotlight Award by the Savannah College of Art and Design at aTVfest. The award was presented to him by his boss, Daniels.
"[Daniels] has changed my sense of work. I dig so much deeper," Howard said. "Like when I did The Butler
for him I took a tooth out. I had a false tooth that I took out that I never would have done and I found a new freedom. For 23 years I hid behind this veneer."
Along with the main cast, which includes newcomers Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Gray, Empire has also featured notable guest stars like Cuba Gooding Jr., Naomi Campbell and Gabourey Sidibe.
airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. Check out ET's sit down with Taraji P. Henson below.