It’s not often that a network drama can be compared to Shakespeare, but Fox’s “Empire” quickly drew comparisons to the plot of “King Lear.” In fact, one of the characters even mentions it. The story of hip-hop magnate Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) has some obvious parallels to “Lear,” given Lucious’ concerns about his mortality and which of his three sons is most qualified to inherit the kingdom. But one way the show strays from Shakespeare is in the character of Cookie, Lucious’ ex-wife. Played with verve and powerful presence by Taraji P. Henson, Cookie shakes up the established order of the world she rejoins by managing the career of her talented son Jamal (JussieSmollett), whose gayness is a constant issue for his father.
Cookie really seems to own the room when she comes in. How do you play that?
Who doesn’t want to walk in a room and own it? There are moments when I feel like I can’t and then I punk out. I’m like, everybody’s going to look at me. That’s Taraji. Cookie doesn’t care. She doesn’t have anything to lose. She was a prisoner for 17 years, living with some of the most horrible humans on the planet. So she knows how to walk in and own a room. You don’t get many second chances in life.
She and Lucious seem to still have some chemistry. Will we see them get closer?
There’s a history between them that you cannot deny. Also, there’s unfinished business. You can’t leave a relationship of that many years and three sons unresolved. And when it’s unresolved, there’s always going to be “are they/aren’t they.” There’s going to be that chemistry. Because that doesn’t just die. That doesn’t just go away.
Why does she ally with Jamal?
I think she feels closer to Jamal. She feels like she knows him more than she knows the others because he was the only one that visited her while she was in prison. But it’s not necessarily, I love him more. The urgency to protect him because of his sexual orientation, sometimes it overshadows her love for the other boys. It’s urgent. His father hates him.
Will we see Cookie forming alliances with people besides Jamal?
You will definitely see her with other alliances with talent. She came not to just get a check from Lucious. That is her company. She wants to be very much a part of it. Don’t take Cookie for a joke. She’s not just some woman flailing, loud and sassy. She has a plan, and she’s very smart.