Undoubtedly, the greatest relationship on Fox's hip-hop family drama "Empire" is that of Taraji P. Henson's Cookie and Terrence Howard's Lucious Lyon. But another fan favorite from Season 1 was Jussie Smollett's Jamal and his initial boyfriend, Michael, played by Rafael De La Fuente. Though the two lovers broke up midseason, in Wednesday night's Season 2 premiere, they're back.
With an online duo name -- #JaMichael -- already created, audiences are happy to see Michael's return. We spoke to De La Fuente about his role (now as the boyfriend of Empire Entertainment's new CEO), being on the hottest show on television and what else we can expect from #JaMichael for the rest of Season 2.
How did the opportunity for the role of Michael come about?
It was literally just an email from my agent telling me to read this new pilot that seemed to be the talk of the town. He was excited and thought I'd be good. He knew that it was interesting, edgy and thought it was going to be impactful.
[After reading the script,] I couldn't believe a show like that would be on network television and on Fox. It was going to be TV history if we actually got picked up.
And you did get picked up, obviously. What did you do to prepare? Have you ever played a gay character before?
I had never played a gay character before, but it's just part of an actor's work. It's just like preparing for any other character.
What I did do was I got very acquainted with Lee Daniels' work and Danny Strong's work. I also watched a number of hip-hop films like "Hustle and Flow." I tried to become more acquainted with this world. If I was going to work on a project like this, I had to be very acquainted.
#JaMichael is one of the biggest gay couples on TV since "Glee's" Kurt and Blaine. How does it feel to be a part of that, particularly at this moment when "diversity" is the Hollywood buzzword?
I think it's a complete and total privilege. I'm so proud to be a part of it because I think that Jussie and I and the whole team are bringing change. We're playing characters that are very real, that people identify with and we're two men of color. I'm very proud because we're shedding light on a community that is oftentimes misrepresented. We're putting it out there in a honest, fair light.
Conversations around being gay in communities of color are often taboo. The show addresses them head-on. Any thoughts on how the show is changing that experience?
It's been such a blessing. We get kids tweeting us and sending Instagram messages about how good they feel about themselves or how they got the courage to come out to their parents or how people are treating them better [because of these characters]. That's all you want as an actor, to play parts that impact society and the world in a positive way. It's not just entertainment, but what you do with your craft and how you can impact the world.
It's also not a gay issue. It's a human issue. It's irrelevant if you're gay or straight. We are all equal and we all need to be equally visible.
Now, did you know you'd be returning for the second season after Season 1's breakup?
Lee [Daniels] called me when I shot my last scene in Season 1 and told me that I would be coming back. He said, "I thank you for playing this character and you're not written off." But, you know, with TV and ratings and people's acceptance, you never really know. I knew it was their intention [to bring me back].
This is probably the first time American audiences are seeing you en masse, but you've done a lot of Spanish-language work, right?
Yes. I was born in Venezuela, but it's always been my dream to work in other languages. [Spanish and English] are both a part of who I am and couldn't dream of doing one or the other. I think in both and feel in both because I grew up with both. I always knew I wanted to come to Hollywood and do the crossover thing.
So what else can we expect from #JaMichael in Season 2?
I can't say a lot, but it's going to be great. Jamal and Michael's dynamic is a little bit different this season. Michael is back with no expectations, and Jamal is the head of the company. Power can corrupt people sometimes, a little bit.
But the fans of the couple will be happy because there are a couple hot scenes in there.