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Shanola Hampton: Proud of Being “Shameless”

Uninhibited, blunt, charismatic and tenacious perfectly describe the character of Veronica Fisher on the hit Showtime series Shameless as well as the actress who portrays her, Shanola Hampton. After eleven years of plugging away in Hollywood, appearing in supporting roles on TV shows—Scrubs, Miami Medical and Reba—and in films—The Mostly Unfabulous Life of Ethan Green and You Again—Hampton has finally come to the forefront as the voice of reason for one of the most dysfunctional families on television, the Gallaghers. As Emmy Rossum’s character, Fiona Gallagher, attempts to care for her five younger siblings in the face of their mother’s absence and their father Frank’s (portrayed by William H. Macy) drunken antics, she relies on next door neighbor Veronica for emotional support and the occasional financial assist. Flashy on the outside but remarkably grounded on the inside, Veronica serves up blunt reality checks tempered with warmth and empathy. Veronica’s own maternal instincts have come to light in season two, where a foster child she and boyfriend Kev initially took in for fast cash has become a vital part of their family. It’s a role Hampton was born to play.
 
DivineCaroline: Shameless is so much more than its outrageous trappings. There is incredibly deep content about love, family and friendship. As an actress, how do you balance that need to be over-the-top, but also touch people emotionally?
Shanola Hampton: You never approach it in a way that you’re saying, “I’m going to be over-the-top.” The writing is given to you, so you start from a very real place and you let the writing lead you wherever it’s going to be. If that’s to an over-the-top place, then that’s where it is. For me, I always approach it from a place of truth.
 
DC: In your first appearance on screen in season one, you were in S&M gear, but the show has many layers. You quickly see past the craziness to the emotional content.
SH: You’ll see more of that in season two (currently airing). Like the storyline of Kev not being able to read, we go from all this crazy sexual stuff, Mistress Veronica, to us having a very tender moment where he shares with me that he’s illiterate. You see what that means for us and how that changes the dynamic of our relationship, which I think is really touching.
 
DC: What do you love about the character of Veronica?
SH: I love that she’s loyal. I love that she’s honest. And I love that she has no inhibitions. She puts it all out there. You love it or hate it. She doesn’t give a rat’s behind. She is who she is, but you can always depend on her.
 
DC: Within the context of all the craziness that happens to the Gallaghers and those who love them, how do you feel Veronica’s strength of character plays into the show’s dynamic?
SH: Veronica is a pillar of strength. She’s like an aunt to these kids; she’s a voice of reasoning to Fiona. I really believe she is the backbone of morality in the show.
 
DC: What do you think she sees in Kev?
SH: He’s so sweet. He’s a big teddy bear. He is so loving and he cares about people and he’s funny. The list goes on. They’re soul mates. They’re one of the strongest couples of television.
 
DC: It’s impossible to not ask about the nudity on Shameless. There has even been male full frontal. How do you psych yourself up to do a nude scene?
SH: It’s so refreshing that Shameless is an equal opportunity nudity place. I feel very comfortable with my body. As Americans, we’re a little more stuffy when it comes to nudity. I don’t have that stuffiness. Also, when you have a great partner like I have in Steve Howey, who I trust, who protects me and makes me feel comfortable, it makes the job a lot easier.
 
DC: You’re a trained actress with a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Illinois. You’ve been in Los Angeles for 11 years. How have you survived and thrived?
SH: It has definitely been a journey, but there was a little voice inside of me that said this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I knew there was a dream in there that was going to manifest into reality. I kept knowing this is what I wanted to do, this is what I was put here to do. Having that feeling inside my heart made me know I had to keep pushing. I have a big supportive family and a great group of friends. If I get down, I have people that push and lift me back up.
 
DC: How tough was the competition for the role of Veronica?
SH: Very. I went in about seven times for callbacks. It was a very long, drawn out process, but I later found out that John Wells (writer/director) wasn’t just casting people who could be good at the roles, but he was casting a synergy and a family and people who would get along. The more that we would come back in, the more they would get to know our personalities and how everyone would fit together.
 
DC: Some of the best of television these days is on Showtime and HBO. Those are the shows people talk about. What is it like to be on a Showtime series?
 
SH: It’s really a dream come true. I think that is what has been great about Showtime is their ability to take risks and have them be successful and to not dumb it down for the audience. You have Homeland and Dexter and all of these different feelings of television shows, but all great. If I had to wait the 10 years that I waited to get on a show like Shameless, this is what I was waiting for.

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