Actress Shanola Hampton plays Veronica Fisher on Showtime’s Shameless every week. Now in its second season the neighbor and best friend has gotten to show her true colors this time out. Shameless is a gritty drama series based on the British show of the same name. It follows the Gallagher family led by William H. Macy as they try to survive with an alcoholic father in Chicago.
Shanola is no stranger to television from Reba to Scrubs and movies as well with You Again. We talked to the talented actress about filming in the Windy City.
Jerry Nunn: Hi, Shanola. How long have you been living in LA?
Shanola Hampton: I have been out here for eleven years actually.
JN: You are from South Carolina, correct?
SH: Yes, from a town called Summerville. South Carolina. It is just outside of Charleston.
JN: I was reading that you studied at the University of Illinois.
SH: I did. I got my undergraduate degree in a place called Winthrop University in South Carolina. Then I got my Master of Fine Arts at the University of Illinois.
JN: So it must be fun to return back here and film the show.
SH: It really is lovely because I love Chicago! Chicago is my absolute favorite city. It is beautiful and clean. I am obsessed with food and there is not food in any other city like Chicago. New York is good too but Chicago, obsessed! You can go to the smallest little rinky-dink place and get the best meal.
JN: Where do you like to eat?
SH: Portillo’s is my joint. Every time I am there shooting I eat Portillo’s about twice a day!
JN: So the hot dogs?
SH: Yes, I do the hot dogs, pasta, and there is a chocolate cake that I take back to my dressing room. Don’t get me started on food! I digress…
JN: People say Shameless looks very Chicago.
SH: I think that is because of director John Wells. He really goes for that authenticity. It was important that when they did those exteriors to be in Chicago. Whatever the elements are that is what you see. Last season when we were in the winter months that is a whole other character in our show. We were there during the doggone blizzard! We had to shut down production for a day. It was Armageddon out there.
JN: I remember. This season on the series it is summer.
SH: Exactly so it is a different experience. There was a year between shooting the pilot and the first season. We did winter the whole time so with season two we got to be in shorts and be in a pool, a grodie pool, but we were in our bikinis. We took it until the school year and we did that pretty much as the seasons were happening. It worked out really well.
JN: I enjoyed the boat scene.
SH: I know a few people in Chicago that have boats but nothing like that nice yacht.
JN: How did you audition for the show in the first place?
SH: My agent said there is a part that you are perfect for although you hear that often in pilot season. I was actually working on a show called Miami Medical as a recurring character for about seven episodes. It so happened that the audition was on the same exact lot that I was shooting on. I had to sneak out in between set ups. The PA would drive me in a golf cart over to audition for Veronica. I had to change from my scrubs to my va va vroom Veronica outfit!
JN: That is crazy!
SH: When I was able to make that audition I knew it was something special because getting an audition in the same place never happens. That is unheard of. I had to go back for seven call backs and was working the entire time.
JN: You poor thing.
SH: I know but it actually keeps the nerves down. I said, “I know I am what you want and now I have to go back to work.”
JN: Are you very similar to Veronica?
SH: We are similar in personalities. We are very outgoing, loyal, loving, always giving advice, warranted or not (laughs)! We just have a love for life. She really exudes that I and I embody that as well. She loves people so deeply and there is nothing she wouldn’t do for them.
JN: Was your character originally a smaller part that grew into a bigger one?
SH: No, she was a central character if you go on the basis of the British version. She is a series regular and one of the leading characters. Because it is about the Gallagher family it is very difficult with a cast as large as ours to have everyone with their own storyline.
Specifically for season one it was setting up that framework of who the Gallaghers were. For season two you are able to see more of Kevin and Veronica now that it has been set up and we are able to go into depth with these characters, which I find refreshing and great. She was definitely meant to be one of the central characters with the Gallaghers, Kev, and Karen.
JN: Did you work with Steve Howey who plays Kevin on the Reba show?
SH: I did (laughs) and there is an actual picture of us on the refrigerator on the set taken about ten years ago. He looked like Van in the picture with no facial hair, and a baby face. You have to look real close to see it.
JN: You have a great chemistry on the show together.
SH: Thank you. We are like an old married couple off set too.
JN: I call it “The Color Purple” scene where you put Post-Its all over the room and your body to show him how to read.
SH: That was fun! I got to pull them off too.
JN: The gay character named Ian played by Cameron Monaghan on the show is not like any I have seen portrayed on television before.
SH: It is so nice isn’t it? Cameron plays it so well. You see him working out and his ambition to be at West Point. He is really giving the face of gay teens a different look. I am so impressed by his work and the writing they have given him to give his character something different than what others have seen. There are gay characters on Glee but those are some of the same we have seen before when it comes to gay teens. Ian’s character is so different and just shows the diversity in that community. I think teens who are afraid to be who they are have something to look at and I applaud that.
JN: Speaking of Glee, you worked with Ryan Murphy before.
SH: That was my first job! Ryan Murphy got me my SAG card for the show called Popular. I am sure he doesn’t remotely remember me but however I would love to work with him again because I would love to be on Glee. I grew up in musical theatre. Glee would have been my dream show when I was a teenager to be a part of. Hopefully he and I will cross paths again.
JN: In musical theatre you performed Into the Woods in the past.
SH: I did. (sings) “Into the woods it’s time to go to grandmother’s house.”
JN: I read that your dream is to open a performing arts school like Fame.
SH: I really would. I would like to expand it to be a chain of schools. The arts are so important and an outlet to let me exercise acting. I had a lot of energy, as you can imagine, as a child. So my mother wanted to put me in cheerleading, dance, and acting. It was a therapeutic way to express myself. I want to provide that for others. I want to produce young performers not just for fame. Not to get on a soapbox, no one wants to put in the work anymore.
JN: That is true with reality shows.
SH: I am not knocking reality shows, it is my mindless TV, I get it. But when you say you want to be an actress it is an art and you need to educate yourself. I am big on education and want to open a school that nurtures that.
JN: You worked for your career. This has been ten years in the making and didn’t happen overnight.
SH: I was not found in a coffee shop, thank you!
JN: You have a new movie coming out called Things Never Said.
SH: I am so excited about this independent film. It is a character so far removed from Veronica. She is a woman that has been domestically abused and lost her voice. Through poetry she is able to find that voice again. It is a beautiful love triangle. I am with Elimu Nelson, and Omari Hardwick, Tamala Jones plays my best friend. It is my first leading role in a film, which was a great challenge for me that I embraced and want more of. Even though it is am all black cast it is a universal story about finding your voice and expressing yourself.
JN: So there will be a season three to Shameless?
SH: Yes, we got picked up around week three of shooting this season. Showtime has been so good to us. I work for the best network ever!