Jussie Smollett is setting the record straight about his attack in an apparent hate crime in Chicago last month.
The Empire actor, 36, appeared on Thursday’s Good Morning America for his first in-depth, television interview since the Jan. 29 incident, detailing to Robin Roberts what occurred while hitting back at critics who have questioned the accuracy of his account.
“I will never be the man that this did not happen to. I am forever changed,” Smollett said during the interview. “And I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason. But I do subscribe to the reason that we have the right and responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us, good and bad.”
“I think that what people need to hear is just the truth,” he said. “Everybody has their own idea. Some are healing and some are hurtful, but I just want young people — young members of the LGBT community, young black children — to know how strong they are. To know the power that they hold in their little pinky.”
Smollett explained that he landed in Chicago, where Empire was filming, and was picked up at the airport by friend and creative director Frank Gatson. When they arrived at the apartment, where they were staying, there was no food, Smollett recalled. So he went in search of something to eat.
“I went out to Walgreens, thinking that they were 24-hours, and to have a smoke,” Smollett said. “Walgreens was closed so I called [Frank] up and I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to walk over to Subway, which is across the street, and I’m going to get a salad. Do you want anything?’ “
While getting his order at Subway, Smollett texted his manager Brandon Moore, thinking Moore was still in Australia on tour with one of his clients. Moore, instead, called him “immediately.”
While on the phone, Smollett left the Subway to return home. That’s when he claims he was approached by his alleged attackers.
“I heard, as I was crossing the intersection, I heard, ‘Empire,‘ ” Smollett said. “I don’t answer to Empire. My name ain’t Empire and I didn’t answer. I kept walking. And then I heard, ‘F—ing Empire n—–.’ ”
“I turned around and I said, ‘What the f— did you just say to me?’ ‘ Smollett recalled to GMA. “I see the attacker, masked, and he said, ‘This is MAGA country, n—–‘ [and] punches me right in the face. So I punched his ass back.”
“We started tussling, it was very icy. We ended up tussling by the stairs. Fighting, fighting, fighting,” the actor continued. “There was a second person involved who was kicking me in my back. Then it just stopped and they ran off. And I saw where they ran.”
The attackers gone, Smollett grabbed his phone — which he said had fallen out of his pocket — and told Moore what had happened. “I was like, ‘I was just jumped,’ ” Smollett remembered saying. “And then I looked down and see that there was a rope around my neck, I hadn’t noticed it before. … I noticed the rope around my neck and I started screaming, ‘There’s a rope around my neck.’ “
The entire attack lasted “probably, like, 30 seconds,” according to Smollett. “It happened so fast,” he said.
From there, Smollett said he returned to his apartment where he called the police. While waiting for the cops to arrive, which he claimed took about a half hour, he inspected his injuries.
“I saw the bruise around my neck, the rope burn around my neck. But I smelled bleach. I know the smell of bleach. I saw on my sweatshirt it had marks on it, spots on it, when you have a bad bleach job. Then I was like, ‘There’s bleach on me too,’ ” Smollett said on GMA. “So when the police came, I kept the clothes on. I kept the rope. It wasn’t wrapped around but it was around. Because I wanted them to see. I wanted them to see what this was.”
He also claimed he took a second round of police officers to the scene of the incident. “I went down where it happened and I walked them through exactly what happened,” Smollett said. “And I looked them up and saw there is a camera directly on the light post that is in the intersection. So I’m like, ‘There it is.’ … And [later] the detective told me the camera inside of the casing was facing north, so they didn’t have it.”
Body descriptions were given by Smollett of his alleged attackers. “I saw [his eyes through the mask] but I didn’t see … I can’t tell you what color their eyes were and I did not see anything except the second person, I saw running around,” Smollett said on GMA. “The first person, I saw his stature the best that I could. You have to understand also that it’s Chicago. People can wear ski masks and nobody’s going to question that.”
Cops eventually released a photo of two persons of interest they were investigating. “For me when that was released, I was like, ‘Okay, we’re getting somewhere,’ ” Smollett said. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did.”
Also during the GMA interview, Smollett cleared up some of the inaccuracies and looming questions that were reported in his case, including why he asked police officers to turn off their body cameras and why he did not want to hand over his cell phone to investigators.
“I asked them to turn their bodycams off because they were trying to stay in the hallway. I was like, ‘Please just come in because I don’t want a big scene with the neighbors,’ ” Smollett explained.
As for the phone? “They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three, four hours. I’m sorry, I’m not going to do that,” Smollettt said. “I have private pictures and videos and numbers. My partner’s number, my family’s number, my castmates’ numbers, my friend’s numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos. I don’t know what that’s going to be to hand over my phone. And honestly, by then, inaccurate false statements had already been put out there.”
Smollett has since turned over some of his phone records, his lawyers telling GMA that he is cooperating with police.
It was reported that Smollett had said his attackers were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, though Smollett cleared that rumor up, too. “I never said that,” he stressed. “They called me a n—–. They called me a f—–. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”
He also detailed his injuries. “They did x-rays. It was reported that I had fractured ribs or cracked ribs, that wasn’t true, I was just in a lot of pain,” Smollett said. “My clavicle was messed up, my rib was bruised, but nothing was cracked. I walked into the hospital, I walked out of the hospital.”
Overall, the star was frustrated by many of the critics who have questioned whether he was telling the truth.
“I’m pissed off,” he said. “It’s the attackers but it’s also the attack. At first it’s, if I tell the truth, then that’s because it’s the truth. Then it became a thing of, ‘How can you doubt that? It’s the truth.’ And then it became a thing of, ‘It’s not necessarily that you don’t believe the truth. You don’t even want to see the truth.’ “
One of the things that bothered him the most? Reports that he was not going to Subway, but that his attack was “a date gone bad.”
“I so resent that narrative,” Smollett said. “Subway is open 24-hours for a reason. So that when you’re hungry at night, you go to subway. … I’m not gonna go and get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody. That’s ridiculous and it’s offensive. Yes, there’s [hookup apps] … I was on that back in the day, I was single. But I have not been on that in years.”
Smollett stressed: “We live in a society where as a gay man, you are considered somehow to be weak. And I am not weak. I am not weak, and we as a people are not weak.”
Asked why he was targeted, Smollett suggested that it was because of the critical things he has said about President Trump. “I come really, really hard against 45. I come really, really hard against his administration. I don’t hold my tongue,” Smollett told Roberts on GMA.
“I can only go off of their words. ‘Who says ‘F—– Empire n—–, this MAGA country n—–,’ ties a noose around your neck, and pours bleach on you? And this is just a friendly fight?”
Trump, 72, told reporters at the White House on Jan. 31 that what happened to Smollett “doesn’t get worse.” Of his words of support, Smollett was grateful, but conflicted. “I don’t know what to say to that,” Smollett confessed. “I appreciate him not brushing over it.”
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