"Empire" co-creator Lee Daniels said he was "beyond embarrassed" by his support of Jussie Smollett after the actor claimed to have been the victim of a racist, homophobic attack in Chicago in January.
"I think that when it happened, I had a flash of me running from bullies," Daniels said in a May interview with "Vulture" that was published Tuesday. "I had a flash of my whole life, of my childhood, my youth, getting beaten."
On the day Smollett reported the alleged attack, Daniels posted a video on Instagram in support of Smollett, saying he "didn't deserve" what the actor said had happened to him: that he was beaten by two men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs, hit him, put a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him.
The actor was charged with one felony count of disorderly conduct in filing a false police report, before a Cook County grand jury then indicted Smollett on 16 felony counts. Smollett pleaded not guilty before all charges against him were dropped on March 28 in exchange for his forfeiture of his $10,000 bond and his performance of community service.
Daniels said the allegations against Smollett came out of the blue and that he had a bit of doubt in his mind, leaving room for the possibility that Smollett did in fact endure the attack he claimed he had.
"Of course, there’s some doubt," Daniels said. "I’m telling you that because I love him so much. That’s the torture that I’m in right now, because it’s literally if it were to happen to your son and your child, how would you feel? You would feel, 'Please, God, please let there be that glimmer of hope that there is some truth in this story.' That’s why it’s been so painful. It was a flood of pain."
Daniels said he hadn't read coverage of the story because he was "too busy putting out fires" but that if the accusation that he had staged the attack was true, it would be a huge betrayal.
Daniels said earlier this month that Smollett would not be returning to "Empire" for its final season, tweeting that reports of writers preparing for the actor's return were "not factual."
"Jussie will NOT be returning to Empire," Daniels said, signing the tweet with his initials.
Questions swirled around whether or not Smollett would return for the show's sixth and last season. Fox Entertainment had said in April that there were "no plans" for his character Jamal to return, without giving a reason.
But a spokesperson for Smollett said that his contract was extended, and Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier said producers had the option to include him in the final season.
"We've been told that Jussie will not be on 'Empire' in the beginning of the season, but he appreciates they have extended his contract to keep Jamal's future open," the spokesperson said. "Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and Empire leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support."