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Taking the Reign

Empire has launched Jussie Smollett into the spotlight, and the actor-musician is making the most of it.

HEATING UP
Jussie Smollett, star of smash-hit Empire, is loving Chicago—despite the winter weather.

“Going to work has never been so good,” says Jussie Smollett, and it is easy to imagine why: Smollett is one of the breakout stars of Fox’s wildly popular hit Empire. But it is more than the show’s widespread acclaim that has the actor so elated—his fellow cast members are part of the reason as well. “I am so blessed to say this, because I would say it in an interview whether it was true or not,” Smollett says, laughing. “But I am so blessed that I’m not lying when I say we love each other truly like family.”

And that family keeps the California native going during Chicago’s notorious winters. “You all confuse me so much because when I first came to Chicago, it was June, and it is literally the most beautiful place in the nation. It is so freaking perfect. It is the perfect hybrid of L.A. and New York to me. And then December’s punk ass comes,” Smollett says. “Other than the weather, Chicago is one of the most perfect places that I have ever lived. But it is so damn cold.”

Luckily, Smollett has plenty to keep him busy, which is just the way he likes it. Like his Empire character, Jamal, he’s also a musician, and he has an album in the works. “That is another thing I share with Jamal: When I’m not allowed to create, then I feel stifled,” he says. “I’m just trying to create content. I don’t want to just be a person who sits back and collects a check when I could be creating.”

So Smollett is continuing to branch out—he’s also guest starring on his sister Jurnee’s show Underground and producing Sacred Heart, a series of 30-minute films that have shown at Cannes—but is clear Empire and Jamal will stay his priority. “I feel about Jamal the way Stallone feels about Rocky, let’s put it that way.”

SMOLLETT'S HOTS
Love, humility, Janet Jackson (“still hot!”), being a couple as dedicated to each other as the Obamas

SMOLLETT'S NOTS
Prejudice, racism, hate, battling on social media