‘Empire’: Bryshere Gray on What He’s Learned From Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson

'Empire': Bryshere Gray on Working With
Terence Patrick for Variety

Bryshere Gray’s first acting gig is his role as Hakeem Lyon, the son of Lucious and Cookie Lyon (Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson) on Fox’s “Empire,” the No. 1 show on network television. But before the 22-year-old Philadelphia native debuted on TV, he toured the world as a teen — known as rapper Yazz the Greatest.

Before “Empire,” did you ever think of acting?

I was too nervous. I wasn’t confident enough to act. So when I got this, I dabbed around and then did a season, and now I’m starting to get comfortable and it’s starting to come natural where I’m not overthinking.

You get to show off your rapping skills on the show. Is it difficult to balance your shooting schedule with recording the songs?

Not really. When I make the music for Hakeem, it’s trendy and poppy, and I don’t really put thought into it — I take it for what it is. I make the songs with Ne-Yo and Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, so it’s not a bad crowd!

“Empire” is known for big guest stars. Anyone on your wish list?

My real momma! There might be tension though.


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What do you remember from your audition?

It was intense. It was very nerve-racking walking into Grammy-nominated and Oscar-nominated actors and directors, but Terrence pulled me to the side and said, “Look, you’re doing good, but you need to own it.” I took his advice, and now I’m on “Empire” Season 2.

What else have you learned from your co-stars?

What I’ve learned from Terrence and Taraji is save your money! And if you ever feel embarrassed when you’re doing a scene and you feel like it shouldn’t be on camera, you should keep going.

When you landed the role, did you know it was going to be this big?

It was kind of a gamble for me because I didn’t know if my time would be wasted. I didn’t know it was going to be as big and touch so many families around the world.

What’s been the most surreal part of the success?

When we came out with an album, I had four records on that album and we beat Madonna! That was huge when we did that. We broke the record of 20 million people watching. It’s just been a huge blessing to be a part of this.

What is it about the show that you think resonates with the audience?

What I think resonates is the family. They’ve seen us from Season 1 and fell in love with each character, and the storylines are so intense and entertaining that they just want to see us grow and see the family come together — although that’s not that easy, and then it wouldn’t be entertaining anymore! It’s about the family. I think that’s what people connect with.


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How has your life changed since being cast in “Empire?”

It’s been amazing, thanks to everybody who believed and gave me a chance — Danny Strong, Lee Daniels and Dana and Gary [Walden and Newman]. I just was a performer touring the world and I didn’t have any acting experience.

Where do you see your career going — do you want to keep acting or rapping or work on both?

All I’ve ever wanted to do is act on TV. I’m already touring around the world so I’m really just happy acting on TV, but I have a great team so we’ll see.

Now what about Hakeem? He has been through a lot lately — what do you still want him to accomplish?

He’s getting older, but he’s the hot-head of the group. I just hope Hakeem will keep being Hakeem and be passionate to his music — and listen to his parents!

What can you tease about the midseason finale? Will Hakeem get back into his family’s good graces after betraying Lucious?

“Empire” is such a dysfunctional family. The situation that is at hand right now will grow. Season 2 is going to come back with a bang. It’s like the beginning of Season 2, but on steroids. We’re going to feed the hunger of what the fans want. They want drama, family, love and good music.

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