‘Empire’ creator Danny Strong now turns to J.D. Salinger

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“Rebel in the Rye” star Nicholas Hoult (left) with director Danny Strong at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. | Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

For Danny Strong, being a co-creator of “Empire” means long stretches of time spent in Chicago, where the hit Fox TV series is shot.

Along with waxing poetic about Our Town’s physical beauty and excellent restaurants, Strong explained a favorite pastime — “when I have a bit of free time, which I don’t have when working in Chicago” — is to rent a bike and ride around the city.

“It’s a great way to both exercise and blow off steam. I especially love going down by the lakefront. That’s a lot of fun, but Chicago is so bike-friendly, it’s a great way to explore neighborhoods I may not know.

“Chicago is a very eclectic town. The variety of buildings and neighborhoods and parks is wonderful. I often will spot a building or a spot that I know will be great for ‘Empire’ — simply by riding by on my bike.

“If I have to spend a lot of time in a city that’s not home, I want it to be like Chicago. Lately, I’m happy it has been Chicago — such a fun, dynamic place to be.”

While he declined to give away any details about stories on the show, returning Sept. 27, Strong did promise with a laugh that “Season 4 is going to be crazy — even by ‘Empire’ standards.”

The former actor and writer now adds big-screen director to his resume with “Rebel in the Rye” (opening Friday), about the early career of reclusive “Catcher in the Rye” authorJ.D. Salinger.

His inspiration to pen the screenplay and make his feature film directorial debut came while reading “a biography on him [Kenneth Slawenski’s “J.D. Salinger: A Life”]. I was so surprised by thestory and stunned by it. To be honest, I was quite moved by it.”

With Nicholas Hoult cast as Salinger, Kevin Spacey as the author’s teacher and mentor Whit Burnett, Victor Garber as Salinger’s father and Sarah Paulson as the writer’s agent, Dorothy Olding, Strong said, “I did get so lucky with the casting. Everyone was really passionate about it, and they all showed up with their ‘A’ game.”

If Strong could have met the obsessively reclusive Salinger, who died in 2010 at age 91, the filmmaker guessed a fantasy conversation with him “would focus on why he stopped publishing. … I would love to ask him about what it was he was writing all those years, since he last published in the early 1960s. What was he going to do with it all?”

Being a writer, Strong said chronicling Salinger’s life “was something I could really connect to. I could connect to his story and his life. I understand what it meant as young writer, trying to break through. ”

Strong hopes that “Rebel in the Rye” will encourage a new generation of readers to go out and read Salinger’s classic “Catcher in the Rye.”

“It would be great if we could stir up a whole new Salinger renaissance.”

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