Taraji P. Henson says 'Empire' atmosphere has been 'great' amid Jussie Smollett drama (Exclusive)

Despite all of the drama, unwanted media speculation and legal quandaries surrounding Jussie Smollett in recent months, Empire star Taraji P. Henson says it hasn't done much to disrupt the feeling of being on set.

"It's a great atmosphere," Henson told ET while promoting her upcoming drama The Best of Enemies in New York on Sunday. 

According to the 48-year-old Oscar-nominated actress, the mood on set during the production of her popular Fox series really hasn't changed much in the wake of her co-star's high-profile legal scandal. And while she refrained from commenting directly about Smollett's situation, she said she's excited for what is coming throughout the rest of season five.

"Cookie's on a really emotional roller coaster this year," Henson teased, referring to her celebrated Empire character, Cookie Lyon. "She's finding herself."

Henson also admitted that, because they're done filming, she knows which Empire character is in the coffin -- referring to the season's ongoing mystery regarding which character is going to be killed off this season -- but says she's not going to be the one to spoil the secret.

Smollett, meanwhile, is still appearing on episodes of the show that were shot before his alleged attack on Jan. 29, but has reportedly been written out of episodes he would have otherwise been expected to shoot. Last Thursday, the 36-year-old actor pleaded not guilty to the 16 felony counts he was indicted on earlier this month.

While the shocking on-screen twists and turns of Empire's fifth season play out on TV over the coming weeks, Henson is also bringing the drama to the big screen in her new film, The Best of Enemies.

In the film, Henson plays Ann Atwater, a civil rights activist in Durham, North Carolina who frequently faces off against the local leader of the Klu Klux Klan, C. P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell). However, the ideological enemies are forced to work in close quarters when they have to co-chair a community meeting regarding the mandated desegregation of their city's school system.

According to Henson, she was drawn to the project because the message is "very relevant" in the divide political climate on modern America.

"You know, racism is still here and we're still dealing with and that's why these movies are important. And the reason why I love this movie is the approach is different," Henson shared. "Ann realized that she had to change her approach. [She and Ellis] were both… very passionate about what they believed, but on opposite sides of the spectrum. And it wasn't until she fell back and she had to see him as a human [that she realized] barking and yelling at each other, that goes nowhere. That's hate. Hate never wins." 

The Best of Enemies opens in theaters April 5.

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Jussie Smollett on FOX's Empire
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Jussie Smollett on FOX's Empire
EMPIRE: L-R: Taraji P. Henson and Jussie Smollett in the 'Treasons, Stratagems, and Spoils' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Nov. 14 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Taraji P. Henson and director Jussie Smollett in the 'What is Done' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Nov. 7 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Director Jussie Smollett behind the scenes in the 'What is Done' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Nov. 7 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Terrence Howard and director Jussie Smollett behind the scenes in the 'What is Done' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Nov. 7 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Jussie Smollett and Taraji P. Henson in the 'The Depth of Grief' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 31 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Jussie Smollett in the 'The Depth of Grief' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 31 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Bryshere Y. Gray and Jussie Smollett in the 'Love All, Trust a Few' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 17 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray in the 'Pride' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 10 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray in the 'Pride' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 10 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Jussie Smollett in the 'Pay For Their Presumptions' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 3 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Gray, and Trai Byers in the 'The Empire Unposessd' season finale episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, May 23 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon, Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon, Bryshere Y. Gray as Hakeem Lyon, Jussie Smollett as Jamal Lyon and Trai Byers as Andre Lyon in Season Five of EMPIRE premiering Wednesday, Sept. 26 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Pictured L-R: Bryshere Gray, Jussie Smollett and Andre Royo in the 'Slave to Memory' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Dec. 13 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Pictured L-R: Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe and Jussie Smollett in the 'Bleeding War' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 18 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Pictured L-R: Terrel Carter and Jussie Smollett in the 'Evil Manners' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Pictured L-R: Jussie Smollett and Gabourey Sidibe in the 'Full Circle' episode of Wednesday, Oct. 4 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
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