Mental illness has been a hot topic on Empire ever since the show’s record-breaking debut earlier this year. Last season, we saw the Lyons family confront the fact that Andre (Trai Byers) suffers from bipolar disorder. This season we get to understand why Lucious (Terrence Howard) has such disdain for his eldest son’s illness: his own mother Leah, played by Kelly Rowland, suffered from mental illness.
Through flashbacks, we watch Leah’s manic episodes, where she goes to extreme lengths to discipline Lucious (she tries to drown him), and make him happy. In one scene, Leah comes home excitedly bearing gifts for Lucious’ birthday. Except it’s not his birthday, and she has spent all their grocery money.
Besides what she has had to learn about the disorder through research, Rowland says the character has also taught her an unforgettable lesson in love.
“At the very core, Leah is a loving mother who wants her son to be happy,” she told ESSENCE while promoting her partnership with M&M’s. “With her illness, [caring for him] is a bit challenging at times because of course it’s something she can’t control. But at her very core, she loves her son.
“It’s been so interesting playing her and wrapping my head around how much and how extreme she will go to make her son happy,” adds Rowland.
Lucious has yet to disclose his mother’s mental illness to his family, but the season promises more cameos from Rowland, which means we’ll learn more.