Home TVInterviews Interview: Schitt’s Creek’s Emily Hampshire

Interview: Schitt’s Creek’s Emily Hampshire

by Charles Trapunski

While we’ve been fans of the series Schitt’s Creek from the start of season one, we’ve been fans of actress/executive-producer Emily Hampshire (who plays Stevie on the hit show) for even longer than that. Therefore, it was a bit of a shock and a surprise to us that we hadn’t ever spoken to the talented and unique Hampshire – not at an event, a red carpet, a sit down interview such as this one, nothing. So of course we had to make this happen prior to the series finale of Schitt’s Creek (which airs on CBC, Pop TV and streams on Netflix). To our great fortune, our extended phone interview took place the day after the Super Bowl, where the world watched Hampshire’s Tide ad debut.

We know a lot (!) of Stevie supporters so we were fascinated to hear how much the character’s journey has mirrored her own and, because her career encompasses so much more than just the one character, we were thrilled to gain insight into her new role as a first-time executive producer.

The following is a condensed and edited version of a phone conversation with the rollicking Emily Hampshire of Schitt’s Creek.

*This interview was originally published on February 18, 2020*

Brief Take: Congrats on your Tide ad, Emily! I’m happy to say that I watched the Super Bowl mainly to see your commercial. 

Emily Hampshire: Thanks! I actually was trying to break it to the Tide people that I wasn’t actually really that into sports or football, and I was trying to say it to them, and then at one point [chuckles], the brand guy was like: “We got that you weren’t into football when you called their uniforms ‘costumes'”, so, yeah, we’re on the same page.” But I did watch it, I was at a Super Bowl party, and I too watch the Super Bowl for the ads and I go to the Super Bowl parties mainly for the snacks. But it’s a lot of screaming! [laughs]

BT: You managed to get in a Stevie plaid shirt as well.

EH: Well, it’s funny, they gave me a plaid shirt. It’s not actually Stevie’s shirt, but I mean, who would know the difference? It’s a plaid shirt. [laughs]

BT: How did you feel about the ad itself?

EH: First of all, I have been a fan of Charlie’s since forever. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is maybe the last show I watched all seasons, I know it’s not finished yet but it’s probably the last show I watched when I had a tv, which was so long ago. Just to get to do anything with him, I don’t think he knows how big a fan of his I am. I think I told him that I’m a fan, but not like exactly how big a fan, because he probably wouldn’t have done the commercial if he knew that. [laughs] This is my first commercial that I have ever done, and I’ve recently, I guess because of Schitt’s, been offered advertisement stuff, I’ve said no, not because I don’t want the money, it’s because I’m so bad at selling anything that I’m not one hundred per cent sure that it’s me. But with this, after I read it, I asked my manager: “Do I know someone at Tide in the writers room? Like how do they know how messy I am?” Because it was just so authentically me. The talking points they sent me were: “Just be yourself, don’t be afraid to say that you’re messy and let your laundry pile up”. [laughs] It feels like such a gift that I get to do this, and for a seriously great brand. I couldn’t do something that wasn’t a good brand or also just wasn’t me, and this is the jackpot and I feel very happy with it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPrLiNseyCc

BT: In terms of seeing yourself on screen, did you finally get to see your performance of ‘Maybe This Time’ from your Cabaret episode of Schitt’s Creek?

EH: I did. I was very scared to watch that, just because the weight of that for me was huge…it was a bunch of things. It was, first of all, decades of my dream to play Sally Bowles, personally come true. Then adding on top of that, Stevie and how huge of a moment that was for her, and I am not a crazy person, I know that Stevie is not [chuckles] an actual person, but I sometimes feel more affection for her than for real people. I feel protective of her and especially for that moment, I really wanted it to be a specific thing, which was that this wasn’t about Stevie, or me, performing a musical number well in the show, this was about Stevie her losing herself in this song in order to say an otherwise unspeakable truth about herself through it. Which suddenly strikes me as very meta…because as an actor, I want to lose myself, my inhibitions, in a part so I can like, Trojan horse all my unexpressed thoughts, feelings and actions through the character. The original ‘Maybe This Time’ song is about “maybe this time I’ll win this man, maybe this time, he’ll love me”, but for Stevie, which I kind of only realized in the doing of it, it’s Maybe this time I’ll win, maybe this time I’ll be as great as all these people around me think that I can be. It’s so self-empowering and I just wanted it to be all that. I did watch it but only after Dan assured me I would be happy with it. Because he knows how crazy I am with needing everything to be THE BEST, so I trusted him. And when I watched it, I was very happy with it, but my favourite moment was when David goes: “That’s my best friend”, like that kills me, I loved that.

BT: What has the evolution of Stevie meant to you? 

EH: Oh my God! I mean it’s hard to speak of the character without talking about the show as a whole and Dan and what the show has done for the world outside of the show. For Stevie, what I love so much about her is that when I signed onto the show, I really thought that I was going to be just the girl behind the desk who gives David and the family their towels, because we didn’t read a script, I didn’t know that Stevie was going to be as amazing as she turned out to be. [laughs] Also, because she’s not your typical character that grows with an accumulation…that grows outwardly, it’s like Stevie was this hard shell and then we peeled back these layers and then at the end, you’re like: “Oh my God! There’s a real girl in there!” [chuckles]

For me, it’s affecting me in a weird way but I feel like I’m a bit different from friends of mine who are actors. Oftentimes they put a lot of themselves into the part and I always feel like I get so much from the part and my goal when I start something is to live up to how great they are on the page and in my imagination. So by the end of doing something, I always feel like I’ve gotten so much from the character that I’ve been changed, and Stevie definitely changed me, as with Jennifer from 12 Monkeys, they all changed me. [chuckles] It’s also the process of doing something for six years and working with people, Dan, the way that this show has affected the LGBTQ+ community really affected me too. I just remember when we were doing the scene about the wine, he’s trying to explain his pansexuality through wine and that he’s into the wine, not the label, and at the time, I didn’t know what that word meant. I had to ask Dan: “Wait, what’s the third wine? What is pansexuality?” I had no idea, which I think most of the world didn’t either at that time, because I’m thinking: “If I, who has been in this industry since I was 12, and therefore surrounded by artists who are traditionally not traditional…I mean, almost all my friends are gay.” If anyone would know what pansexuality is, it would be me. [chuckles] And I didn’t. Then to find myself in love with a woman for the first time and then reading on these message boards, people saying: “Oh my God, Stevie’s a lesbian? Stevie’s gay..” and then somebody, which I love this so much, someone funny commented: “I think that she’s into the wine, not the label”, but of course they’d mixed up and conflated Stevie and me. [laughs] I love when fans on the street call me Stevie, I think that it is such a compliment. [laughs]

But yeah, I feel like I have grown in so many ways. Stevie also has a quiet confidence that she’s had from the beginning, she never- and I think this is the town- there is no kind of putting on airs, and a lot of small towns are like that, which I love, like they don’t find value in someone pretending to be something they’re not, and that is so something that’s the opposite of Hollywood. [laughs] What I loved so much was seeing her always be herself, but still discover that she was always so much more than she thought that she was, kind of like, I don’t know, Wizard of Oz-style. You know, it’s always in your own background. But it’s also this show in which we do these tours, and to sell out these 5000 seat theatres twice a day is crazy not only for me, but Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy are like: “We’ve never experienced anything like this”.  I’ve been to a rock concert before in which…I’m so old that I call it a rock concert, even if it is just a regular concert, but anyway, you can feel the energy that an audience gives the person on stage, and the energy that we get is so…and this is going to sound crazy, but it’s true, it’s just this wave of fucking love and inclusion and you see it when they ask questions or when they see us outside. I think because the show puts out this kind of kindness and love that people are like, they go outside and ask for our autograph, they’re really patient and nice and not getting mad at us, and if we have to go or something, it just feels like a different energy, and I think that’s from what the show puts out.

BT: I liked the Pan Am joke in the Job Interview episode. It was really funny and also you and Karine Vanasse go back.

EH: That’s really funny because when I read that line, I thought it was so funny, because it’s kind of…I don’t know, it’s insider a bit. I remember auditioning for Pan Am and then it was like this Big Thing and then it was cancelled. Anyway, I couldn’t believe that he put that in, it was very funny. I haven’t spoken to Karine about that yet, she’ll have watch it on the show. [laughs]

BT: How have you felt about watching and re-living the final season?

EH: Well I guess the good thing is I don’t have a television. [laughs] I don’t even have furniture right now. And I haven’t had any of that for like…God, I think it’s been…since around October. [laughs] I have not had a home or a place so I haven’t actually seen the episodes, I’ve just seen little clips and stuff, but I shot them so I know what they are. I know how it ends and I did think that last season coming into this season, I was scared, because I was thinking: “How can it get better than Cabaret for Stevie? What could possibly come next? It’s only going to be downhill from here.” And then when I read the scripts, it was so so perfectly in line with where she would be, which is that she can’t go back behind the desk after she’s done Cabaret, and now what? Which was my question, which is Stevie’s question, and it ends so perfectly and for everyone. Every character gets their due in a way that has made me one hundred per cent respect Dan for his decision to end the show. I think that all of us wanted to continue, even Dan.

We genuinely like each other, [chuckles] but it was so the right decision because he always planned to end this story the way that he ended it. It’s not the kind of show that…as opposed to Sunny in Philadelphia, you could watch that for 20, 30 seasons because it’s always a new kind of: “The gang goes on an adventure”, but that’s not what our show is. It’s a different kind of show in which you have this growth of this family and this community and at a certain point, you have to end that to tell that story. Because if you continue it, then you start to tell a different story. I have so much respect for him doing that, because he did it at a time when all of a sudden, people liked us, and he got offered everything to continue, and to stand his ground and say no, I want to do right by the characters and the audience, which is really important to him, I think that’s pretty impressive. [laughs] It’s a hard thing to do.

BT: At one point, you were doing this show, 12 Monkeys and movies for Xavier Dolan and Darren Aronofsky simultaneously. What was that like for you?

EH: So I’m a workaholic. I’ve had other addictions that I’ve substituted all into work. Because there’s always got to be something, and now I’ve discovered that’s my thing. I was very lucky that my agent, when I signed on this show, it was originally just going to be a Canadian show, in that it would only show on the CBC, and at the time, nobody knew that shows would stream, it was the really early days of that. She managed to get me this amazing deal in which I was allowed to do another American show if it didn’t conflict. And of course it did conflict in the end [laughs], and there was a time in which I was shooting Schitt’s during the day and then I would take the transport and sleep in the van to do night shoots on Monkeys, and then go from there back to Schitt’s. And it was the best time of my life because everyone was so nice to me. [laughs] The A.D. would make a bed and would be like: “You have 15 minutes, take a little nap. I’ll bring you tea”, like so nice.

And on hiatus, the good thing is that my Canadian agent…I was her first client, she was my first agent, and we’re still together. And what’s kind of great about her is that I can’t even tell her I’m at the DMV, because if I have that amount of time, she’ll try to fill it with a job, which I love. [chuckles] Every hiatus, before it was coming up, I was like: “What am I going to do? I have to do something”. Unfortunately, I don’t want to do just anything, that’s the problem. If I could just do anything, it would be fine. But I just want to do great stuff, and especially when those opportunities arise like when I was doing Xavier’s movie and I get this call from my agent saying: “Would you be interested in doing a Darren Aronofsky movie? We don’t know what your part is and you’ll just go in, shooting this amount of days, there’s no script..” and I was like: “Fuck yeah!” I’ll work in the crafts truck to work with him. It was such an experience, too. I’ve never gone on to anything in which I didn’t know at all what I was doing, and my first day on set, my first minutes on set was Darren saying to me…well first he was thanking me for doing it, which was so nice, and then he’s like, “Okay, walk through this living room to the kitchen and act like you own the place”, and I’m like: “Okay”, but walking through the living room to the kitchen meant walking past Michelle Pfeiffer, Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, Ed Harris, like all these people,  just acting like I own the place, it was crazytown. Such an experience. I’ve never seen a set work like that, everybody is at the top of their game to get to where he’s at in his work ethic, it’s incredible.

BT: How does it feel that on the awards circuit everyone is such a fan of Schitt’s Creek?

EH: Oh my God. I mean it’s crazy. It’s so surreal and I think I’m so grateful now, I think we all are, that we got popular later, because we got to do the show and fall in love with it and fall in love with our characters, despite anybody really caring. [laughs] It wasn’t about that, it wasn’t about money, it was like we loved the show and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, America loves the show and it’s kind of this nice feeling in which you’re like: “I knew it! We loved it, and now you see? Our baby is really great!”. But then to have people, like the SAG Awards was insane. Annie (Murphy) and I are sitting next to each other and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson come to our table and he’s like: “I want to be at the Schitt’s Creek table, this is the cool table!” [chuckles] Annie and I are dying, like choking, and it just kept going. And even to be seated next to Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Brad Pitt, because it wasn’t just being seated next to them, when Brad Pitt went up and did his acceptance speech, he made you feel like, for everyone there, it felt like you were a peer.  If you were there, you were on the same level as everybody, we’re all actors. That is something that you don’t usually get in this job, there always is this [sighs] hierarchy of who’s hot right now and who’s not, and who hasn’t done anything. To think that all of my life, I have been watching and studying Robert De Niro movies, like Meryl fucking Streep was a few seats away and this is somebody that I obviously admired and recorded things of hers to practice accents, and then I’m in a room with her in which we have Reese Witherspoon coming up to us and she’s like: “I’m such a fan”. It’s surreal, and also this weird thing that I’ve been feeling a lot recently is like: “All my dreams have come true”.

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BT: What did the experience of being an executive producer on Home mean to you?

EH: I kind of love that question because it blew my mind. I’ve been acting for a long time, and I’ve worked with friends a lot of the time – Xavier is a friend, Jacob Tierney, with whom I’ve worked on a bunch of movies…kind of my entire career is that I’ll work with someone and then I’ll become friends with them and we’ll do something else together, and because of that, I’ve always gotten to be on the inside of the movie and getting to say my input on costumes and my input on the script, but that’s kind of been a secret thing. And for all the reasons we already know, it’s always been with my male director/producer friends where I could be like, “Oh, let’s do this, what about we do that”, but it’s always their movie and their thing, and I don’t want credit for that, it’s more that, the only way I felt I could have any power or control and say about my character was to tell the guy in power and let it be their idea.

Film and television are collaborative mediums, I mean that it was my own insecurity, I didn’t feel like I could own my own ideas. I didn’t think they would be respected coming from me. And then I remember the first fucking conversation I had with Philip (Kalin-Hajdu) the Home producer, and Adam (O’Brien), the director, in which I was talking about the script and saying what I thought, and they were listening and they were making notes and they were asking my opinion on stuff. I told my agents when I came back after, because it’s a small movie, but this experience changed my life. This made me feel like I have not only a seat at the table, but that I could have a seat at the head of the table some day. François Arnaud is a friend of mine and I really wanted to have him in that part and to get to be part of that casting process, it was just everything. It made me feel like what I’ve been doing for so long, feeling weirdly like it’s some dirty secret is something that I can actually do out loud and own it.

Schitt’s Creek airs on Pop TV and CBC on Tuesday nights

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