Jussie Smollett wasn't aware of online backlash until 1 year after attack: 'It was so painful'

Jussie Smollett regrets doing that infamous sit-down with Robin Roberts in 2019. In a rare interview, the actor said he was "mortified" watching it back for the first time last year.

Smollett chatted with SiriusXM's Sway Calloway to promote B-Boy Blues, his first project since he was fired from Empire when police determined he staged his own hate crime. The 40-year-old actor shed new light on his mindset three years ago and revealed he wasn't aware of online backlash for quite some time. Smollett, who was sentenced to 150 days in jail for lying to police, maintains his innocence but wishes he spoke out in a different way.

Jussie Smollett returns to the spotlight three months after being sentenced to jail for lying to police.
Jussie Smollett returns to the spotlight three months after being sentenced to jail for lying to police. (Photo: Getty Images)

"I didn't wanna do an interview," Smollett said on Sway in the Morning, explaining he initially wanted to respond to doubters directly on social media. His team determined the videos — which he still has on his phone — seemed "too angry" and "defensive." "I love and respect Robin Roberts... I did not want to do that interview. That interview wasn't for me, that was for my character."

Smollett didn't actually watch the interview until it was played by the prosecution at last year's trial.

"I watched it and I was mortified. I mean, I was mortified. I mean, I cringed at just the, every single word that I said in that interview was the truth, but there was a certain level of performative nature that came from it because I didn't want to be there," he said. "I was so angry and so offended that I had to go on national television and explain something that happened to me. And it was so political, and it was all of those things, and I found myself dealing with my own internalized homophobia."

Smollett, who is Black and gay, said he was trying "to represent all of us that had been assaulted based on who we are... but I also didn't wanna be associated with people who had been attacked."

"I'm genuinely sorry to say this... I felt like I just became a f***** that got his ass beat," he continued. "Or at least I felt like that's what people saw me as. And so, I was trying so hard to, like, the posturing of, he hit me and then I hit his ass back and I was just like, 'Oh my God... You look ridiculous.'"

Smollett stands by everything he said during the interview, but at that time "didn't know what was coming." Just over a week later, he was arrested for making a false police report. Authorities claim that the actor staged the attack to further his career, a narrative Smollett dismisses.

"If I were to do something, it would not be to look like a victim. It would be to look like, if anything, someone strong," he said, pointing to the fact he didn't need "some sort of rise" in his career. "I was on the up and up."

Smollett's family took his phone away when the scandal started to blow up.

"When I say I was shut off from the world, I was shut off from the world," he said. "I was not allowed to get on social media."

The actor decided to Google himself "about a year later."

"Worst idea ever," he declared. "I really saw what it was and it was so painful. Cause I was like, 'Ooh, he said that about me. Oh my God. Oh, she said that. What?"

One person who didn't disappoint the actor is his former Empire co-star, Taraji P. Henson. The two have maintained a friendship and she helped fund his new movie.

"I was just with Taraji the day before yesterday in Atlanta. That is my heart. My heart, we had the best time we went to brunch," Smollett said. "I love that woman. It is unexplainable how much I love that woman and she is literally one of my best friends in the whole world."

Smollett spent six days in prison after his sentencing in March but was released as he appeals his 2021 conviction.