Empire has quickly captured the hearts of millions of viewers. The plot had us gripped from the get-go, we can’t stop playing the show’s soundtrack and we’ve even grown attached to the hip-hopera’s awesome characters. But do you know where the name “Cookie” comes from? Or who Jamal Lyon’s character is based on? Check out these Empire facts that all fans of the show need to know.
27. If at first you don’t succeed, Trai Again.
Andre Lyon (Trai Byers) and Boo Boo Kitty (Grace Gealey) are a couple in real life. In fact, they actually got married last year. We can’t imagine these two characters hooking up on the show, but they sure do make a cute couple in real life.
26. Thats rough…
Jamal’s character is based on Lee Daniel’s (the creator of the show) life. In the show, Lucious shoved 5-year-old Jamal in a trash can for wearing his mother’s heels. That actually happened to Lee Daniels. “When I was 5, my earliest memory was walking down the stairs in my mother’s red high heel shoes, and my dad—he’s a cop—is down playing cards with the boys and it was not pretty—at all,” Daniels told EBONY. “He put me in a trash can and he said that I would never be nothing.”
25. Get your hand outa that jar
Taraji’s Empire name was inspired from her college days. She told US Weekly that her nickname back in the day was Cookie, something only her friends would call her.
24. Where am I?
The show portrays the events and story as taking place in Philadelphia, and uses establishing skyline shots of Philadelphia. In reality, the series is actually filmed in Chicago.
23. The king must name an heir
The show is based on a broadway play, The Lion in Winter, which was later adapted into a movie (1968). The play is set in 1183 and is based on King Henry deciding which of his sons is going to inherit his throne. He favours his third son but his wife is plotting with his eldest to steal the throne. Sound familiar?
22. She’s still kickin’
The character of Elle Dallas is based on Whitney Houston, though Lee Daniels created the part for Courtney Love, of whom he was a great admirer. When Daniels contacted Love about playing the recurring character, she thought it was a joke.
21. Cuba libre
The character of Puma was supposed to have a three-episode arc and be played by another actor, but when this actor had to back down of the project, co-creator Lee Daniels called his friend Cuba Gooding Jr., who happily agreed to play Puma but could only do it in one episode, due to scheduling conflicts.
20. Technology wins
Bryshere Y. Gray (plays Hakeem) had to audition for Empire through FaceTime. Executive producer, Brian Grazer asked the Hakeem actor to rap for him on the app before going ahead and casting him.
19. Do they share a cake?
Trai Byers and Kaitlin Doubleday (married on show) share the same birthday. Byers is one year older than Doubleday.
18. I tried
Macy Gray was initially cast in a recurring role in Season 1 as Tasha, a woman having an affair with Hakeem but her storyline was written out.
17. Takin over
During its first season, viewership in the United States increased with every episode – a rarity in television where most shows lose viewers after the pilot episode. The pilot attracted 9.9 million people, culminating with an audience of 17.6 million for the season finale.
16. The way I are
Tim Mosley (Timbaland) produces the music for the show and all of the songs are original tracks. He did not return to the show for season 3.
15. Real life cookie
Monique Mosley, Timbaland’s wife, is also the show’s script consultant. Tons of Cookie’s funky garments are pulled straight out of Monique’s closet. She lends her outfits to Taraji because according to Lee Daniels, she is like the real-life Cookie!
14. No fakers here
Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon landed himself a record deal in February 2015. After watching the 32-year-old perform and write songs (I Wanna Love You, You’re So Beautiful) Columbia Records took an interest.
13. Nor here
In the show Bryshere Y. Gray raps as Hakeem Lyon. Off screen, he raps as Yaaz the Greatest. Bryshere doesn’t just showcase his rhyming skills on Empire, he also has a record deal with Columbia Records. He’s also opened for 2 Chainz and performed at Jay-Z’s Made in America festival.
12. And certainly not here
The majority of Empire’s cast are singers and that includes Gabourey Sidibe (Becky), Grace Gealey (Anika), Kaitlin Doubleday (Rhonda) and Taraji P. Henson (Cookie). Can somebody please hand them the mic in the next season?
11. Best things in life are unplanned
One of the reasons why we tune into Empire every week is to hear Cookie Lyon’s fierce and feisty one-liners. Zingers like “You want Cookie’s nookie?” and “You need to stop rappin’ like you from the streets, ’cause you not about that life!” aren’t planned. Taraji improvises these snappy lines while she’s filming. “When I’m in the moment, those lines just come!” says Taraji.
10. Hustle and flow
Empire isn’t the first project Lucious and Cookie worked together on. In 2005, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson both starred as a couple again, in the Oscar-winning film, Hustle & Flow. They also worked together on Four Brothers.
9. But this is good too
Malik Yoba, plays Vernon, really wanted to play Marvel superhero Luke Cage, and joked about starting a Twitter campaign to help him get the part.
8. Dat perm tho
Lee Daniels forced Lucious Lyon to get rid of his perm after the first season. At first Lee thought, “Oh well, you know, it’s like Prince. He’s sort of stuck in Prince-land and he’s sort of like James Brown, that sort of thing.” But then the creator quickly changed his mind and told Terrence to change his hairstyle for the second episode.
7. Timing is everything
Bryshere Y. Gray revealed that he was on the brink of homelessness before he landed his role as Hakeem. “I’m from West Philadelphia. Before I got the Empire gig, I was broke and I was about to get evicted and I got this job and I got this audition with Terrence and Taraji at the same time and it changed my life,”
6. Album is on top
Empire crashes in at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart (2015), as its soundtrack debuts atop the list after a battle was brewing between it and Madonna’s new Rebel Heart album.
5. Thanks for the insight, Facebook
In 2016, a New York Times study of the 50 TV shows with the most Facebook Likes found that Empire “is most popular in the American South East and in parts of the country with a high percentage of Native Americans”
The show has be nominated and won numerous awards but the most prestigious award the show has received is a Golden Globe awarded to Taraji P. Henson for Best Actress in a TV series drama.
3. The real CEO of Empire
Lee Daniels, who co-created it, is the guy you always hear about—but Ilene Chaiken, who produced The L Word, is Empire‘s head producer.
Wesley Snipes was almost cast as Empire’s CEO. Thanks to Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard landed the legendary role. Apparently, Taraji told the creator of the show, Lee Daniels, that she would only play Cookie Lyon if Terrence was cast as Lucious.
1. The color purple
Cookie wears a lot of purple because it is Lucious’s favorite color. “One reason she wears a lot of purple is because it’s Lucious’ favorite color,” the show’s costume designer Rita McGhee told MTV News. “So she’s doing what she can to win him back.”