Jussie Smollett sent shockwaves through Hollywood when found guilty last year of lying to the police about a racist and homophobic attack he staged in 2019.
The disgraced American Empire actor, 40, served just six days of a 150-day jail sentence as he seeks an appeal of his conviction, and has long stood by his claims of innocence.
In 2020, Smollett agreed to an Instagram Live interview with US author Marc Lamont Hill, where he took the opportunity to double down on his insistence that he did not lie about the hate crime hoax.
Examining the interview in Jussie Smollett: A Faking It Special (which is available to stream now on discovery+), body language expert Dr Cliff Lansley pinpoints a cluster of four behaviours inside just three seconds that strongly suggest the actor is lying.
He noted the ‘anxious lip licking, eye closure’ and contradictory head movements, as well as lip presses in a self-hushing gesture.
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Jussie Smollett (pictured in June 2022) sent shockwaves through Hollywood when found guilty last year of lying to the police about a racist and homophobic attack he staged in 2019.
In 2020, Smollett (pictured) agreed to an Instagram Live interview with US author Marc Lamont Hill, where he took the opportunity to double down on his insistence that he did not lie about the hate crime hoax
‘When he says “see the truth”, what causes me some concern is we have a little head shake “no” – a micro gesture “no” – countering the affirmative statement,’ says Cliff.
‘So, you want to “see the truth?” Why are you negating almost subconsciously with a head shake “no.” That’s a red flag.
‘At the same time, we have licking of the lips. So, he’s anxious while he’s saying this. Why should he be anxious when he’s talking proudly about the support he’s got for the black movement?’
Cliff continues: ‘We get an eye closure, almost half a second. Let’s roll it a little bit more, and we get a lip press suppression. This is a hushing gesture but done without the hands. So, “I need to be careful that I don’t say too much”‘.
For Cliff, this is strong evidence that Smollett is faking it. ‘So, four indicators. If we see one indicator we never, never, never judge. But if we see more than three indicators – we’ve got four here – within a period of seven seconds – we’ve got these within three seconds – that’s a reliable indicator of deception,’ he says.
‘There’s something going on in this statement of seeing the truth that’s causing him a problem,’ the expert adds.
Examining the interview in Jussie Smollett: A Faking It Special (which is available to stream now on discovery+), body language expert Dr Cliff Lansley pinpoints a cluster of four behaviours inside just three seconds that strongly suggest the actor (pictured) is lying
Smollett was convicted in December of five counts of disorderly conduct for lying to police about being the victim of a racist, anti-gay attack he said was perpetrated by Trump supporters who screamed ‘this is MAGA country’.
He told Chicago police he had been accosted on a darkened street by two masked strangers in Chicago in January 2019.
According to his account of the attack, the assailants threw a noose around his neck and poured chemicals on him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs and expressing support for then-President Donald Trump.
But Chicago cops almost immediately had questions about his story, pointing to the fact that he kept a noose around his neck as they questioned him and positing that he staged the attack out of fear he was going to be written off his show.
Over the course of their investigation, Chicago police found that the two men Smollett accused of assaulting him were Nigerian brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, who are black.
And in court, the brothers told the jury Smollett hired them to fake the attack because he wanted to boost his celebrity profile.
Smollett was convicted in December of five counts of disorderly conduct for lying to police about being the victim of a racist, anti-gay attack he said was perpetrated by Trump supporters who screamed ‘this is MAGA country’
Smollett’s conviction in December came nearly one year after Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx unexpectedly dismissed Smollett’s charges in March 2019.
Months later, Judge Michael Toomin appointed Dan Webb as a special prosecutor in the case, asking him to investigate Foxx’s handling of the case and deciding whether Smollett should be convicted even further. Soon after, Smollett was once again indicted, and a trial ensued.
Eventually, Cook County Judge James Linn ordered the actor to pay more than $120,000 to the city of Chicago, plus a $25,000 fine, and to serve 30 months of probation and 150 days in jail.
Linn accused Smollett at the time of ‘throwing a national pity party for yourself.’ ‘You’ve turned your life upside down by your misconduct and shenanigans,’ he said, according to the Washington Post. ‘You’ve destroyed your life as you knew it.
‘You wanted to get the attention, and you were so invested in issues of social justice, and you knew this was a sore spot for everybody in this country.’
But in March, an Illinois Appellate Court ordered a stay on Smollett’s jail term and required him to post a personal recognizance bond of $150,000. He has been free ever since.
Smollett only served six days of his 150-day prison sentence after an Illinois Appellate Court issued a stay on his prison term while he appeals his conviction. He is seen here leaving the Cook County Department of Corrections detention centre on March 16, 2022
Captured on camera, Smollett’s behaviour was apparently suspicious from the outset; in the police bodycam footage filmed in the immediate aftermath of the apparent attack – with a noose still visible around his neck – the actor plays the role of the victim.
But from the start, Smollett’s speech was giving away tiny clues to his deception, according to Professor of Linguistics Dawn Archer.
‘The invitation to take it [the noose] off comes from the police officer, and Jussie Smollett’s response is “yeah, I do”,’ she explains. ‘This is a long time to keep something on that is going to be extremely offensive to anybody, let alone somebody of Jussie Smollett’s ethnicity.’
For Forensic Psychologist Kerry Daynes, Smollett’s behaviour is strangely relaxed for someone who has just been attacked.
‘He seems oddly at ease with this noose,’ she says. ‘I can’t think of something that would be more repulsive to a black man than this rope around his neck, you’d naturally just want to get it off you.’
Two weeks after the alleged attack, Smollett gave a detailed account of the attack in an exclusive interview with ABC News, where he was questioned as to why he didn’t immediately report the incident to the police.
Analysing the interview, body language expert Dr Cliff Lansley highlights subconscious signs of anger in Smollett’s behaviour that suggest that he was faking the story all along.
Chicago cops almost immediately had questions about Smollett’s story and posited he could be faking it because he feared he was going to be fired from his role on Empire
‘He’s asked, “why did you hesitate to call the police?” And we just hear a breath of “you know.” But what you’ll also see is the reliable indicator of anger; this makes him angry. Because this is an attack on his claim that this was true,’ Cliff points out.
‘This anger that we see on the lip here, the margin of the lips – especially the top one – is rolled in, tell us the fury that’s going on inside him at being accused that there’s something wrong with your story because you waited too long to report it to the police.’
For Forensic Psychologist Kerry Daynes, this is an indication not only of Smollett’s deception, but of his true self coming to the surface.
‘When people start to question him, Smollett gets what I would call righteously indignant,’ she says. ‘He’s quite smug in a way in how he goes about this, so I don’t think he actually won any sympathy with the way that he addressed these issues.’
While Smollett’s body language suggest he’s lying, so too do the words he uses when recounting what happened during the alleged attack, as Dawn Archer highlights.
‘We’ve got a one minute fifty-six second answer, and within that we get “and then” five times and “so” five times. So he also uses and as a chronological sequencing device 12 times,’ Dawn says.
‘Research points out that deceptive accounts tend to be more chronological, whereas truthful jump about a little bit more in time.’
As Dawn adds, while Smollett appears calm and coherent during the interview, he continuously tries to distance himself from the story.
‘The other thing that gets interesting during this account is we get pronoun omission at the point we start to talk about the actual attack. This is the point at which he is actually talking about the physical attack,’ she says.
‘He doesn’t tell us about the attacker, it’s ‘…punches me’ not ‘the attacker punches me’ or ‘he punches me.’ It kind of hides him, doesn’t it? He’s hidden away in all of this. And that is a form of distancing.’
In the end, Smollett was found guilty of five of the six counts of felony disorderly conduct pertaining to making four false police reports and was sentenced to serve 150 days in county jail.
As the sentence was passed, Smollett appeared calm – but analysing courtroom footage, Cliff pinpoints subtle movements in the actor’s behaviour that show his fury at being found out and punished for his crimes.
‘We’ve got the mask, the COVID mask, so we can only see the top half of the face. You think that he’s giving nothing away, but he’s leaking the fact that he’s furious. How do I know that? Because I see this temporalis muscle swelling,’ Cliff says.
‘So he’s clenching his teeth. On the surface, he’s fairly calm. But underneath his little legs are flapping away in terms of his emotions because he’s furious and angry that he is going to have to suffer incarceration.’
Soon after, Smollett’s anger became obvious as he stood up from his chair, lowered his mask, and launched into a passionate speech, angrily and bizarrely claiming that he was ‘not suicidal.’
For Cliff, it’s further evidence that Smollett was outraged that his lie hasn’t been believed.
‘So, “I respect you, your Honour,” are mere words which he has no feeling behind because the emotion he’s feeling, if you look at his right-hand lip, is contempt. So, contempt is a unilateral expression on one side of the face where the buccinator muscle pulls this lip corner,’ Cliff says.
‘A very reliable indicator, no doubt. And what’s he angry about? What’s he contemptuous about? He gives us the answer in two words – “jail time”.’
Jussie Smollett: A Faking It Special is available to stream now exclusively on discovery+
TIMELINE OF JUSSIE SMOLLETT SAGA FROM FIRST CALL TO COPS TO HIS SENTENCING
January 29, 2019: Smollett tells police he was attacked at around 2am while walking home from Subway. He says his attackers were white or light-skinned, and that they put a noose around his neck and yelled racial and homophobic slurs
Smollett, on police bodycam, shows police the noose around his neck that he claimed his attackers put there
January 30: Details are leaked to the public and Smollett wins a groundswell of support. Chicago PD vows a swift investigation to find the attackers
February 2: Smollett opens a concert in West Hollywood, California, with an emotional speech, saying he had to play the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win.
February 13: Unbeknownst to the public, Chicago PD investigators have zeroed in on the brothers after reviewing surveillance footage from the night of the attack and Lyft and Uber records. They pick up the brothers at the airport as they return from Nigeria.
They are released without charge.
By then, stories had leaked from Chicago PD that some suspected Smollett of lying.
February 14: Jussie Smollett appears on Good Morning America to tearfully protest that he is telling the truth.
Robin Roberts shows him surveillance footage from the night of the attack and he says definitively that the men shown are his attackers
February 19: Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recuses herself from the case because of her contact with Smollett’s family
February 20: Smollett is charged with filing a false police report
February 21: Smollett surrenders to police but maintains his innocence
February 22: Smollett’s character is removed from Empire
March 7: A grand jury returns 16-count indictment charging Smollett with lying to cops repeatedly
March 26: Charges against Smollett are dramatically dropped. The decision sparks public outrage
March 28: The City of Chicago says it will sue Smollett for $140,000 in wasted police resources
April 23: Abel and Ola Osundairo file lawsuit against Smollett’s lawyers who called them liars on TV
August 23: Former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb named as special prosecutor to investigate why charges against Smollett were dropped
Feb 11, 2020: Smollett is indicted by a grand jury on six counts of felony lying to police
February 24 2020: Smollett pleads not guilty
November 29, 2021: After an 18-month break due to COVID-19 affecting courts, Smollett’s trial finally begins in Chicago
Dec. 6 2021: Smollett testifies at trial insisting he is telling the truth
December 9: Smollett is convicted on five of the six counts of lying to police
March 10 2022: Smollett is sentenced
March 16 2022: Smollett is released by an appeals court in a 2-1 decision while his petition to have the conviction overturned is reviewed