“It’s the attackers but it’s also the attacks,” Smollett told ABC’s Robin Roberts in a Thursday interview, his first since the Jan. 29 assault in Chicago.
“At first it was a thing of like, ‘Listen if at first I tell the truth then that’s it ‘cause it’s the truth.’ Then it became a thing of like ‘Oh how can you doubt that? How do you not believe that? It’s the truth,’” he continued, referring to questions surrounding his story. “And then it became a thing of like, ‘Oh it’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth, you don’t even want to see the truth.’”
Smollett, a gay black man who plays Jamal Lyon on Fox’s “Empire,” told Chicago police he was getting food when he was attacked by two masked men who were “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs.” He told police the assailants beat him up, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him.
During Thursday’s interview, Smollett revealed more details, saying the attack began after one of the men yelled “Empire” at him while he was on the phone with his manager. Smollett said the incident escalated when he didn’t respond.
“I didn’t answer, I kept walking. And then I heard ‘faggot Empire nigger,’” Smollett said. “So, I turned around and said, ‘What the fuck did you just say to me?’ I see the attacker, masked, and he said, ‘This MAGA county nigger’ and he punched me in the face.”
Smollett said a second man began kicking him in the back after the first man assaulted him. He said his manager was on the phone the entire time.
Smollett also addressed questions that arose after the initial reports, including why he waited to call the police and handed over a heavily-redacted version of his phone records.
“There’s a level of pride there,” Smollett said. “We live in a society where as a gay man you are considered, somehow, to be weak and I’m not weak. I am not weak. And we as a people are not weak.”
Jussie Smollett out and about
Jussie Smollett out and about
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 06: Jussie Smollett speaks at the Children's Defense Fund California's 28th Annual Beat The Odds Awards at Skirball Cultural Center on December 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - JANUARY 21: Jussie Smollett is seen at NATPE Miami 2019 - Tyler Perry Keynote 'Living the Dream: A Career in Content' at the Fontainebleau Hotel on January 21, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 01: Jussie Smollett performs onstage during amfAR Dance2Cure at Bardot on December 1, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 02: Jussie Smollett attends The Trevor Project's 2018 TrevorLIVE Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on December 02, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 01: Jussie Smollett attends the Black AIDS Institute's 2018 Heroes in The Struggle Gala at California African American Museum on December 01, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachel Luna/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Jussie Smollett attends SAG-AFTRA Foundation Conversations: 'Empire' at The Robin Williams Center on November 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Actor Jussie Smollett is seen in Midtown on November 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Actor and activist Jussie Smollett visits Build Series to discuss the TV show 'Empire' and his work for charitable causes at Build Studio on November 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Jussie Smollett performs onstage at Espolòn Celebrates Day of the Dead at Academy Nightclub on November 1, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tasia Wells/Getty Images for EspolÃ²n)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16: Jussie Smollett attends a meet & greet at Bloomingdale's on October 16, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 22: Jussie Smollett speaks during the 'Empire' season 5 world premiere during the 2018 Tribeca TV Festival at Spring Studios on September 22, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dominik Bindl/Getty Images for Tribeca TV)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Jussie Smollett attends the Entertainment Weekly Pre-Emmy Party 2018 at Sunset Tower Hotel on September 15, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 30: Actor Jussie Smollett attends the 2018 BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards at Woodruff Arts Center on August 30, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BMI)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - AUGUST 02: Fergie (L) and Jussie Smollett attend the FOX Summer TCA 2018 All-Star Party at Soho House on August 2, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JULY 07: Actor/singer Jussie Smollett attends the 2018 Essence Festival - Night 2 at Louisiana Superdome on July 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 22: Jussie Smollet performs during Acoustically Speaking, sponsored by M&Ms, during the 2018 BET Experience at Los Angeles Convention Center on June 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Maury Phillips/Getty Images for BET)
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He said he didn’t hand over all his phone records immediately because he was worried about privacy.
“They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three to four hours. I’m sorry but I’m not gonna do that. Because I have private pictures and videos and numbers,” he said.
Smollett said he hopes he can create some good from such a horrible experience.
“I will never be the man that this did not happen to. I am forever changed,” he said. “I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I do subscribe to the idea that we have the right and responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us, good and bad.”