Inside the September issue of InStyle, on newsstands now, actor Jussie Smollett speaks out about his life on-screen and at home. Below is an excerpt of his interview. To read the full feature, pick up the September issue of InStyle, now available on newsstands and for digital download.
Jussie Smollett needs change. He has parked his car at a Baton Rouge, La., shopping mall designed to look like a sleepy Southern village, complete with a three-tiered water fountain featuring peeing cherubs and, unfortunately, some parking meters. It turns out the parking meters are just for show. (Parking tickets, the waiter at the local faux—French bistro explains, can be paid at the movie theater.) But Smollett, 32, dutifully feeds quarters into the meter anyway. Like Jamal Lyons, the ruthless record producer's gay son who he plays on Fox's Empire (Season 2 begins Sept. 23), Smollett is a gentle soul who takes his responsibility as a role model, as one of the few out African-American actors on television, and as a meter feeder, seriously. Clad in a baseball cap, a black silky Life/After/Denim shirt, dark blue Baldwin jeans, and crisp white Calvin Klein high-tops, Smollett finally settles down. "I just bought us some time!" he says, grinning.
First of all, Baton Rouge. What a lovely town. But what on earth are you doing here?
My younger sister, Jurnee, is shooting a show about the Underground Railroad for WGN called, appropriately, Underground. They wanted me to play her older brother, which would have been legendary, but I couldn't because of Empire. So it's a smaller role, as an escaped slave looking for his wife and child. I get to hang out with Jurnee—and I think being able to play someone so different from Jamal on Empire is going to make me stronger.