Empireis doubling down on the Lyon family and focusing less on stunt casting for its guest stars in the upcoming fourth season.
The Fox family drama wrapped its third season with Lyon patriarch, Lucious (Terrence Howard), losing his memory after being caught in an explosion that his own family had set him up for. When he woke up in the hospital, Lucious found himself at the care of his nurse, played by guest star Demi Moore, and without his memory.
Though the new season will see the return of Moore, along with recurring players Taye Diggs and Phylicia Rashad, and Forest Whitaker’s entrance, co-creator and executive producer Lee Daniels revealed that they’re avoiding casting A-listers for the sake of luring them in for a cameo or one-episode stint. In the past three seasons, special guest stars included Mariah Carey, Eva Longoria, Rumer Willis, Alicia Keys, Marisa Tomei, Ludacris, Chris Rock, Rosie O’Donnell, Cuba Gooding Jr., Raven-Symone and Mary J. Blige.
“When we start to focus too much on guest stars, we lose who it is that the fans want to watch,” Daniels admitted. “They’re obsessed with the Lyons. They’re obsessed with family. They’re obsessed with the story of Lucious and Cookie and Jamal and Andre and Hakeem.”
Daniels noted that he pays attention to fan criticism of the show, using their social media reactions as one measure to gauge future storylines.
“They tell us if they don’t like something. They’re very clear and they’re very loud. When they’re unhappy we know,” Daniels reiterated.
Of the new guest stars they are bringing into the seductive world of Empire, Jussie Smollett emphasized that they’re getting talent “not just for the glow.” (Smollett will also step behind the camera, directing an episode this season.)
Speaking more specifically to Whitaker, who will play Uncle Eddie, a successful music producer who gave Lucious his first radio hit, for a multi-episode arc, Daniels said that the Oscar winner -- who will sing -- “adds a credibility to our show and a new dimension.”
“Forest has been a mentor to me in my personal life,” Howard said, sharing that Whitaker was initially attached to play his role in Crash and recommended Howard once he departed the project. “For Forest to play a mentor for Lucious [is special]. We haven’t seen a lot of Lucious’ past collaborators.”
Empire premieres Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.