"That was tough. He's family. He's always gonna be family. Love him to death," Fox told Cohen. "But there was just too much drama surrounding the circumstances."
The actress added that "of course" she still keeps in touch with Smollett, who played her nephew, Jamal Lyon, on the show. "Don't count him out. Who knows? Y'all may see him," she noted, prompting Cohen to ask, "On 'Empire'?"
Flashing a grin, Fox tipped her head down ever so slightly and batted her eyelashes, staring back at Cohen.
Here's what she had to say about the Season 6 finale and the fate of her character: "We haven't got there. We're literally halfway through the season, but they've been doing this teaser of who shot Lucious, and then Cookie gets in the car. Boom! So did they both off each other? We don't know yet."
Back in September, Terrence Howard, who played Smollett's father, Lucious Lyon, on the show, expressed his sorrow over his TV son's absence from Season 6, telling James Corden that Smollett was "the heart of our show, and now it's like our show is on a heart and lung bypass machine, because the heart is gone, but we're still hoping there's going to be a transplant and hoping somehow it'll come back together."
Howard added at the time that he and the rest of the cast were "still trying to put the pieces together ... 'cause my son is gone. My son. That was my little boy and he's gone now and they don't mention him as if it's okay. And it's like, no, that's not cool."
As for Lee Daniels, the show's creator initially supported Smollett, saying on the day of the alleged hate crime, "You didn't deserve ... to have a noose put around your neck, to have bleach thrown on you, to be called 'die f--king n----r' or whatever they said to you," but his stance shifted in mid-June, months after Chicago police announced they believed the actor had faked the racist, homophobic attack.
"I'm beyond embarrassed. I think that when it happened, I had a flash of me running from bullies," Daniels told Vulture at the time. "I had a flash of my whole life, of my childhood, my youth, getting beaten."
When asked if it felt "like a huge betrayal," Daniels said only "if it turned out that he did it, was guilty, and all of it's accurate."
"Of course there's some doubt," he added. "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."
Though all charges against Smollett have been dropped, the city of Chicago is seeking reimbursement from the actor to cover over $130,000 in investigatory fees. He's refused to pay.
Lyon's absence on the show was explained by his mother, Cookie Lyon, played by Taraji P. Henson, who said he left for London to escape the family's drama.