It is not easy singing opposite television’s most musical family, but that’s the task Forest Whitaker has taken on as a new member of the Empire cast.
Fans have known since July that the Oscar-winner would be joining season four of the Fox drama about family feuds in a musical dynasty, but the company confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that he would be chanelling his inner tenor.
The 56-year-old Hollywood legend (Arrival, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) will appear in a multi-episode arc as Uncle Eddie, a music icon who gave main character Lucious his first radio airplay.
“We knew that he was very musical and we asked him whether he wanted to sing on the show,” said executive producer Ilene Chaiken.
If any actor has the pedigree, it ought to be Whitaker, who has been belting out tunes since getting into California Polytechnic State University on a football scholarship and changing to music after injuring his back.
He toured England with the Cal Poly Chamber Singers in 1980 and studied opera at the University of Southern California’s music conservatory.
Whitaker also held his own alongside established musical stars Mary J. Blige, Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson in Black Nativity (2013).
“We let him guide us. He was really excited about singing. He’s playing a musician, a producer, somebody who’s integrally involved in the music in the world of the show,” Chaiken added.
Broadcast television’s number one program hit a high of almost 18 million viewers in its season one finale in 2015 but has been struggling to recapture its mojo, with audiences dropping to 10 million.
Empire returns for a fourth season on September 27 with Lucious making his first public appearance after being injured in an explosion.
Several cast and crew joined Chaiken and series creator Lee Daniels on stage at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills for a question-and-answer session.
Asked if the earlier time slot would affect the show, Terrance Howard, who plays Lucious, joked: “No, we get to get off earlier.”
Howard also praised Taraji P. Henson, who plays the dynasty’s matriarch Cookie, saying the pair enjoyed “wonderful chemistry.”
Henson (Hidden Figures, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) was asked if she would consider a starring part in a comedy movie, and described that prospect as a “no brainer.”