'Empire' Star Trai Byers On Andre's 'New Path' With Jennifer Hudson And Rhonda's Betrayal

Andre 'needs to find himself,' says Byers.

Andre Lyon seemed like the most qualified successor of Lucious Lyon's empire, but in recent episodes of Fox's "Empire," his emotional instability -- fueled by his bipolar disorder -- has proved to be a major liability for the company. Not to mention, a harrowing wakeup call for him and his family.

In tonight's (March 11) episode, Andre, who has been placed under a 48-hour psychiatric hold following his breakdown at Empire Entertainment HQ, finds himself seeking help from a musical therapist named Michelle (Jennifer Hudson). And she might help him get back to the man he used to be. (You know, before he flushed his bipolar meds down the toilet.)

"Right now it's about identity," Trai Byers (Andre) told MTV News over the phone. "Andre has to find himself again after that big breakdown he just had in front of everybody -- his family, his friends, his colleagues. Because that's not the real Andre, and he knows that."


Of course, Michelle's presence might also present Andre with an unique opportunity.

"Fortunately, he meets this angelic musical therapist named Michelle, played by the lovely Jennifer Hudson, who opens his eyes to a possibility he had never thought much about," Byers added. "She shows him a different path that he can take -- and that he just might take -- that would shake things up at Empire."

As Empire's acting CFO, Andre has never been much of an A&R guy, but could Michelle and her angelic voice change all of that? Byers wouldn't spill the deets, but judging from the promo, it looks like Andre and Michelle will definitely be getting close -- as in, their lips will be millimeters apart. We don't think Andre's wife Rhonda is going to like their budding relationship.

However, "Empire"'s best couple, Rhonda and Andre, might be on the rocks after Rhonda signed Andre over for a psychiatric hold. Her decision effectively gave her a lot of power within Empire Entertainment as his proxy. (Oh. Snap.)

"The bigger thing that Andre does not appreciate is betrayal," Byers said. "You saw what Rhonda just did at the end of episode nine, that Lucious passed on to her, and Andre does not like betrayal. And anything or anybody that betrays him is on the outs, and that includes Rhonda."


It also includes Cookie (Taraji P. Henson). After spending the last 17 years in prison, Cookie has a lot of damage control to do if she ever wants to have a relationship with her eldest son.

"So much truth is required between Andre and Cookie," Byers told us. "He's the oldest son, and he pulled himself up by the boot straps and did something that nobody else in the family did: he went to college. And that's something he did all on his own, and she's embarrassed by that. Cookie is embarrassed that she wasn't able to be part of his life. There's definitely more work to be done between them, and it takes a breakdown to really bring them together."

If only the same could be said for Lucious (Terrence Howard). The Lyon family patriarch made things clear when he told Andre he's never be king of Empire as long as Rhonda -- a white woman -- was around. And Andre's bipolar disorder is, unfortunately, just another knock against him in his father's eyes.

"Just as he walked away from Cookie, he could walk away from his sons," Byers said. "He doesn't love anyone or anything as much as he loves himself."

Andre's anger has been building throughout the season. As the eldest and most qualified son, he thought he was a shoo-in for becoming Lucious' successor in the company, but when it became clear his father had a different vision for Empire, he started to break down. Many "Empire" fans didn't realize how serious Andre's bipolar disorder was until that harrowing scene in the recording studio when Andre held a gun up to his head -- and pulled the trigger.


That beautifully tragic moment was a collaboration between Byers and co-creator Danny Strong, who wrote and directed the episode. Up until that scene, Byers said Andre's character was still under question. "Is he the guy that we love to hate or do we just hate him?" he said.

"The moment it really sunk in for me is when we shot the scene in the studio and I had the gun to my head," Byers added. "I asked Danny [Strong] -- because they don't let you do this kind of stuff on primetime television -- if Andre could pull the trigger. I needed to pull that trigger; we needed to show that Andre was way past his limits. And given what was happening with his disorder and his family and feeling left out, he needed to not be a coward about this and pull that trigger. And Danny went with it with me, and thank god Fox allowed it, because it really helped set up Andre's breakdown."

Byers also credits his co-star Henson for inspiring him to push his boundaries and go outside of his comfort zone. "It's because of her and her fearlessness that we collectively feel the freedom to be fearless as well, and that certainly played a role in the elevator scene," he said.


The elevator scene was yet another example of how powerful "Empire" can be when it hits the brakes every once in a while. The heartbreaking moment found three Lyon boys trapped in a elevator together and lead to one of the season's most memorable moments.

"In order for me to pay homage to Andre and really do justice to him, I disassociated myself from them that day," Byers told MTV News of filming that particular scene. "I basically didn't talk to them until we started filming. Fortunately for me, I'm working with Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Grey, and they're at the top of their game in this elevator scene. It's all about the love. It just came together in a magical way."

It also made viewers realize the depth of Andre's sadness. "You wouldn't believe the amount of sympathy and empathy that Andre gets now from a group of people who hated him three weeks ago," he said. "It's almost like the public forgot him just like his family forgot him. It's a good lesson for people to pay attention. Things aren't always what they seem."