The day Cookie Lyons fans have been longing for is finally upon us — the spring premiere of “Empire” is Mar. 22 on Fox — and it promises to jump right back into all the drama, heat, music, and family shenanigans that the show left off with back in December.
To celebrate the premiere, some of the cast and producers gathered at an LA theatre with a select group of fans for a screening of the first episode and a special Q&A afterward.
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Naturally, we made sure we were there to get in on all the action. Here are some of the key takeaways from the night…
1. There will be more Cookie/Lucious flashbacks…
with a big payoff
The first half of Season 3 gave us great flashbacks to a young Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and Lucious (Terrance Howard) and their courtship on the streets of Philadelphia, set to a throwback soundtrack of early hip hop hits like Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend.” According to Executive Producer Ilene Chaiken, there will be more glimpses into the history of TV’s most volatile couple — and an epic payoff in the end.
Chaiken was tight-lipped about what that payoff will mean, but given where we left the two in the winter finale — with Cookie throwing a major fundraiser for her new love Angelo (Taye Diggs) and Lucious under investigation by the FBI — we can only imagine how high the stakes will have gotten by then.
2. Serayah is Team Takeem
Serayah is totally on Team Takeem in real life, as is her character Tiana in the show!
“There’s a connection there. They’re just meant to be together…”
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When asked about the parallels between Tiana/Hakeem and Cookie/Lucious, she definitely feels the writers are shaping the young couple in the Lyons’ image: “There’s something there, like they’re being groomed to be the next power couple. They cut a lot from Hakeem and Tiana fighting to Lucious and Cookie fighting, so I’m starting to feel like that’s intentional for sure.”
As for Tiana and Nessa getting along, Serayah would love it if the two characters could eventually be friends, and maybe even perform together: “You know — it’s time for Tiana to actually get along with someone!”
3. Season 3’s forthcoming guest stars are amazing
Again, everyone was mum on details about what their characters will actually look like, but there are some incredible guest stars in the back half of the season: Nia Long will play a “woman with a past” who has a connection with the Lyons’ business in Las Vegas, while Eva Longoria will, according to Carlito Rodriquez, bring “just enough fu*kery to the lives of the Lyons”… And of course Demi Moore, who first appears in the Season 3 finale before her major Season 4 arc.
4. Rumer Willis is stunning in person
Standing before you, Rumer Willis is about as friendly as anyone can be. In the second half of Season 3 she plays Tori Ash, a fellow musician Jamal meets in rehab, and finds common ground with, through their music. Jamal and Torri end up writing a song together in the premiere, and it’s achingly beautiful.
“I was doing a cabaret show in New York when my agent called me about the opportunity,” Willis explains: “I said I don’t care what I’m doing, how tired I am, I’m in! [Being part of the show] has been the best job of my life.”
“She’s so dope. She’s just… She’s so dope,” Jussie Smollett gushed repeatedly about working with the daughter of Hollywood royalty. Smollett also took partial credit for getting Willis on the show, after discovering her singing on Instagram and immediately sending the clip around to all the producers.
5. Xzibit can still x-cite a room
At the Q&A after the screening, Xzibit was asked if we’ll finally get to see him rap this season. The answer was no, but great anyway: Of keeping his music and acting careers separate he told us, “It’s like in ‘Ghostbusters’ — you don’t cross the streams!”
When someone from the crowd wishfully shouted “How about now?” after that answer, Xzibit got the audience roaring with a “LA can you hear me — make some noise!”
6. ‘Empire’ fans might be the best around
Watching “Empire” in a theatre full of devoted fans is an experience unto itself: This was a room full of people who had been without their Lyon fix for the better part of three months, and you could tell — the crowd was pulsing with excitement. For every Cookie entrance there was a round of applause, every Jamal or Hakeem performance earned an audible swoon, and every coldhearted glare from Lucious got more than one “Boy, bye.” Unforgettable, fun… And the best possible way to get back in the “Empire” spirit.
“Empire” returns in its usual timeslot Wednesday, Mar. 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.