Jussie Smollett took the witness stand at his trial on Monday and told the jury that he wrote a $3,500 check to a friend for nutrition and training advice, not as payment for the man and his brother to help him stage a racist, anti-gay attack on himself.
The former Empire TV show actor testified over charges, which he denies, that he lied to Chicago police about an attack in 2019.
The brothers last week said he arranged a fake attack as a publicity stunt.
Asked by his defense attorney if he gave the friend, Abimbola Osundairo, payment for some kind of hoax attack, Smollett replied: “Never.”
Smollett had said in January 2019, that he was walking home in downtown Chicago at about 2am when two men approached him, shouting racist and homophobic slurs, beat him up, poured bleach on him and looped a rope around his neck.
The police began investigating a hate crime but Smollett was later accused of staging the attack because he was unhappy at work and wanted to drum up publicity to help his career.
On Monday, Smollett, 39, told the jury that he grew up in a close-knit family of six children and started performing as a child actor before getting more interested music.
He said he “came to terms with my sexuality” in his early 20s, when he got involved in charity organizations, including a group that fights HIV and Aids within Black communities.
He said he auditioned for a role on the show Empire of a singer who is gay because he had never seen a Black man portrayed that way.
Smollett said he met Osundairo in 2017 at a club, where he learned Osundairo also worked on the set of Empire.
He said the two men took drugs together and went to a bathhouse, where Smollett said they “made out”.
When questioned about whether he regretted his drug use, Smollett said: “Of course. I’m sitting here in front of a jury and in front of my mom, having to explain it.”
Both brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo said Smollett orchestrated the hoax, giving them $100 for supplies and paying them $3,500 to carry it out.
Upon being asked by the defense about the purpose of the payment, Smollett replied, “For my workout. For my training”.
Defense attorneys have suggested the brothers were motivated to accuse Smollett of staging the hoax because they disliked him and saw an opportunity to make money.
They suggested that after the brothers were questioned by police about the alleged attack, they asked Smollett for $1m each to not testify against him at trial.
Smollett’s lawyers also have argued that Chicago police rushed to judgment when they brought charges against Smollett, and suggested a third person may have been involved.
Former Chicago police detective Michael Theis denied the accusations, testifying last week that detectives clocked some 3,000 hours on what they thought was a “horrible hate crime” before concluding Smollett had staged a hoax.
During the trial, prosecutors have said Smollett was unhappy with the Empire studio’s response to hate mail he received.
Brett Mahoney, who produced Empire in Chicago, testified earlier Monday that Smollett called him after a hate letter depicting violence against him was sent to the set.
“We were obviously all very upset about the letter,” Mahoney said, adding that law enforcement was contacted and the letter turned over to authorities.
He said Smollett agreed to added on-set security.
Smollett denies felony disorderly conduct. The trial continues.