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‘Empire’ Strikes Back

Kaitlin Doubleday on filming the second season

When it came to television last season, there was practically only one word that mattered: Empire. The hot new series, created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, follows the antics of the Lyons clan—led by music mogul Lucius (Terrence Howard) and his music producer/ex-con ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson in a career-making role)—as they navigate fame, family and more than their share of feuds. 

Kaitlin Doubleday plays Rhonda Lyons, the wife of Lucius and Cookie’s oldest son and—as of last season’s finale—the expectant mother of their first grandchild. And while Rhonda might have only married into the family, she’s not lacking any of their ambition or drama. Here, Doubleday talks about the show’s unexpected success, the excess of the second season and just when she’ll get her chance to sing. 

How’s preparing for the second season different than it was for the first?

I think it’s way more relaxed for everybody. Last season there was a lot of nervous energy around it for all of us—even the show’s creators. We didn’t know how people were going to take it or if it would be a success. Now it’s kind of like, people are going to love it, and I’m just excited for them to see it.  It’s more excitement than anticipation. 

Really? I’d be so nervous about following up a blockbuster first season

I don’t feel that, because people are just so excited to see it, I feel like they’re just going to love it. The pressure is weird for actors because it’s not anything that we can control. We didn’t write these scripts, so if they don’t like these storylines there’s nothing we can do about it. I feel like that pressure is more on the writers to create the storylines that everybody wants to see. 

Season one ended with a bang, especially for Rhonda. What can we expect next?

It’s three months later and she’s pregnant. She starts showing in a little bit, but not yet. I’m showing by the seventh episode. The season opens, and you realize that Andre is dealing with the murder they committed in the finale very differently than Rhonda. And it’s put a huge wedge between them, so their relationship starts off rockier and more distant than it’s ever been. She’s really worried that he’s going to tell someone about this murder and he feels guilty that they did this. And she’s carrying his baby. So it’s a lot for them.

It is a lot. But everything on Empire is sort of over-the-top. Do you think this season will one-up last season?

Definitely. Especially with the clothes. Because we’re a successful show, we have designers that are willing to loan us even more clothes, even more jewelry and shoes. Cookie looks insane, like straight off the runway. 

The sets are also really amazing. You see Jamal’s new apartment, and since he’s the head of Empire now his apartment is sick. It’s gorgeous. I think you also follow all of the characters on a deeper emotional journey than in the first season, so as an actor it’s more fun to do the second season, because you get to explore where these relationships are going. 

When are you going to get to sing?

I don’t know yet. I mean I literally have a call in to Danny Strong as we speak. I keep reminding him that I sing. He’s like, ‘OK, I get it.’

How do fans react to Rhonda?

I’ve had some really funny experiences. One time we were coming back from my surprise birthday party it was me, Gabby [Sidibe] and Jussie [Smollett] in the car together. Some car pulled up next to us and the people were going crazy. My fiancé said, ‘Imagine being in the ‘90s and seeing half the cast of Martin driving next to you. That’s how it is for these people.’ They go crazy! Another time with me, Gabby and Jussie in the car a girl literally got out of her car in traffic. We were like, ‘You’re going to get run over,’ but she just said, ‘I’m sorry! I just love you guys so much!’ and started singing Jussie’s songs. We were like, ‘Get back in your car! We have to drive!’

Main image by Nina Duncan