And that was when Smollett lost his chill. Sure, he’d gushed over LaBelle. And every day at work he was going head-to-head with formidable, far more experienced actors. But Harry Belafonte was in another league, and Smollett was unprepared.
“I felt like I was meeting a pharaoh or a king,” says Smollett, who told Mr. Belafonte — as he insists on calling him, with full respect accorded — that he had long been an idol above all others. That was why Swizz had secretly invited Belafonte to join them. “He’s a great man,” Smollett adds. “And he has kept his voice as an activist without losing his voice as an artist.”
There was just one, very embarrassing problem. “I didn’t know I was going to meet him — so I was wearing a raggedy-assed tee. I put on the only thing I had in my bag, which was a sweater.” There was crisp, elegant Mr. Belafonte — who at age 89 still glows serenely — and Smollett was literally a hot mess. “It was so out of I Love Lucy. But he was still so sweet, and in the middle of me telling him how much he meant to me, he cut me off and said, ‘When do we get to break bread?’ ”
Empire co-creator Lee Daniels was also at the studio that day. “I remember Harry being so complimentary of Jussie,” he says, “and it was the first time I saw Jussie starstruck. It was funny to see him squirm.”
After Belafonte left, Daniels teased Smollett. “I said, ‘Fucker, you weren’t even that nervous when you auditioned for me. What the fuck?’ ” Daniels chuckles loudly at the memory, and then falls serious again. “But that’s because Harry was a leader at the forefront of the civil rights movement — and that’s who Jussie is, too.”
Smollett, 32, is having a hell of a year. It’s the day before the Golden Globes, where Empire, which was also the highest-rated scripted broadcast program in the 2014-15 season, is nominated for best TV drama. This morning he was shooting in Chicago, then on a private plane with his castmates to Los Angeles. Tomorrow he walks the red carpet and jets back into the cold Midwestern winter. In between, he has a photo shoot and an interview.
For the full interview: http://www.out.com/entertainment/2016/1/28/exclusive-jussie-smollett-being-black-and-gay-hollywood