Lee Daniels' empire doesn't include Jussie Smollett on a professional or social level.
The two, who were once very close, don't speak anymore — and not just because of Jussie's alleged assault in Chicago, which police believe was an orchestrated hoax.
The relationship between Jussie and the "Empire" creator "is nonexistent," a source told Page Six, noting "it was tense even before Jussie's attack incident."
The source, who appears to sympathize with the actor, said Lee and Jussie didn't see eye-to-eye on a few things, but one of the issues surrounded disgraced singer R. Kelly. The source said Lee wanted Jussie to work with Kelly on some songs for "Empire," but Jussie was reluctant because of Kelly's reputation. Lee supposedly also encouraged Jussie to work with Kelly on the actor's own album. Lee, though, has denied having any relationship with Kelly, who is currently jailed on sexual exploitation of a minor and child pornography charges.
"The information regarding my relationship with Jussie prior to his departure from 'Empire' is false," Lee said in a statement. "I have no personal or professional relationship with R. Kelly. I never have," he added.
Regardless, Page Six's source said Jussie and Lee's relationship was routinely strained over creative differences — the actor reportedly wasn't afraid to go over the writer-director's head to Fox executives to argue his point.
Ultimately, the incident didn't help.
While Jussie continues to maintain that he was the victim of a hate crime in early January 2019, police and others had their doubts, and on Feb. 21, 2019, the actor was arrested after local authorities alleged that he staged the attack with the help of two men.
He was later charged with 16 felonies, to which he pleaded not guilty. Then, a month later, the criminal case against him — for allegedly lying to police about an alleged racial and homophobic attack — was dropped. However, in February 2020, Jussie was indicted by a special prosecutor in Illinois on six counts of lying to police.
In June 2019, Lee announced that Jussie would not be returning to the Fox show.
"Jussie's [upset] to finally make it [on a hit show] and then have this happen," Page Six's source said. "There was no reason for him to self-sabotage his career. He didn't stage anything at all."