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When it comes to appearing on Empire, there seems to be one common thread: Lee Daniels. The director, who helped creator FOX’s hit new series with writer/actor Danny Strong, comes from a critically acclaimed film background. Both Terrence Howard (Lucious Lyon) and Gabourey Sidibe (Becky Williams) earned Oscar recognition thanks to Daniels work behind the camera.
Daniels has worked with an impressive pool of actors, which includes everyone from Dame Helen Mirren to Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. While we’d never expect to see Mirren on the show -- though it would be delightful if she made a voice cameo like she did on Glee -- we do love the idea of Combs getting back into acting, Nicole Kidman returning to her camp days, or even Zac Efron revisiting the musical world that first made him a star.
Lee Daniels connection: The Woodsman
It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from Eve. But knowing that she can act (see: Barbershop, Glee), it may be time for a resurgence on Empire. And given how Daniels has the ability to restore faith in people’s careers -- we're looking at you, Mariah Carey -- it wouldn’t be a bad move for this rapper-turned-actress to reunite with the director.
2. Jane Fonda
Lee Daniels connection: Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Now that Fonda is enjoying a career resurgence, it makes sense to have her also do a guest arc on the Fox series. While she could certainly play any role written for her, it would be great to see a HBO crossover with her reprising her Newsroom role as Leona Lansing, CEO of AWN. Her spritely media prowess would great opposite Cookie (Taraji P. Henson).
3. Macy Gray
Lee Daniels connection: The Paperboy, Shadowboxer
Originally rumored to be playing an older woman who seduces Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), it would be great to find a place for Gray on the series. She was a standout in Paperboy and it would be great to play off that role befriending a younger man (in that case, Zac Efron). But you see where I’m going with this?
Not much to say here outside the obvious. Daniels was the one who helped resurrect Carey’s career with a stripped-down role in Precious. And she could easily play a camped-up version of herself if nothing else.
Lee Daniels connection: Precious, Shadowboxer
All blackball allegations aside, ever since Mo’Nique claimed she was supposed to play Cookie, we can stop thinking about her on the show -- in any role really. Give her an aggressive, meaty part and let her square off with Cookie.
6. Mos Def
Lee Daniels connection: Monster’s Ball, The Woodsman
The rapper has proved to be more than a capable actor with number of steady performances on the big screen. While Empire certainly needs a few rappers to fill out the growing hip-hop roster on the company’s label, we’d love to see Mos Def as a law official that does some digging into Lucious Lyon’s past.
Sure, Kidman has gone highbrow but she can’t escape those camp days of Batman Forever, or even later in The Paperboy. There’d be nothing better than to see her let loose and maybe add a wrinkle or two to that forehead of hers.
8. Paula Patton
Lee Daniels connection: Precious
Patton needs a win, especially now that Robin Thicke is even further in the dumps. Give her a showy role on Empire and let her enjoy a moment or two in the spotlight sans Thicke’s name.
9. Sean Combs
Lee Daniels connection: Monster’s Ball
Remember when everyone realized that Combs could act? Remember when Combs showed everyone just what kind of crazy record label tycoon he could be? OK, is it us or would Combs not be perfect as an owner of a competing record label? Or even some sort of drug lord from Lucious’ past?
OK, this one is just purely for camp purposes. We love Queen of Jordan so much that it’s hard not to imagine a similar character existing in the Lyon world. And if she opted for a more serious route, then hey, make like Courtney Love and make it happen.
11. Yaya DaCosta
Lee Daniels connection: Lee Daniels’ The Butler
After a small part in The Butler, DaCosta enjoyed more attention for her turn as Whitney Houston in the Lifetime biopic. While the reviews were mixed, we’re confident the former ANTM contestant can have some fun here. Besides, Andre (Trai Byers) needs a few extra women in his life.
12. Zac Efron
Lee Daniels connection: The Paperboy
It’s been too long since Efron has re-visited his musical days. Not since Hairspray has he offered much in the way of a musical performance on screen and Empire is the perfect place to revisit that. And if he doesn’t want to sing he can appear shirtless as an Abercrombie door model on the streets of Fifth Ave.