Season 5 of the Showtime series Shameless, which has already been renewed for a sixth season, finds the Gallagher family dealing with the upsides and downsides of personal growth. Fighting demons both personal and genetic has become old hat for the Gallaghers, who have learned to make lying, cheating and stealing into a currency to help them survive. And yet, through it all, they still have an obvious love for each other that helps make it all bearable.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Shanola Hampton (who plays Fiona’s loyal best friend Veronica) talked about having her character experience her own set of hardships this season, starting off the series as the comic relief, being surprised by the depth of the journey she’s taken, the role reversal with Veronica and her husband Kevin (Steve Howey), never wanting to get too comfortable with her character, how playing Veronica has affected her, how she feels about the show’s nudity, experiencing motherhood for the first time at the same time that her character is, and whether Veronica and Kevin will ever be able to get back on the same page. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: You’ve taken such a journey with this character. When you think back to where everything started, could you have ever imagined that it would take quite the journey that it has?
SHANOLA HAMPTON: No, I really could not. We started off being the comic relief, and we would come in with these one-liners. The characters were great and juicy because there was so much love, but they were just really fun and sexual, and that was all, without a lot of depth. They still had depth, but you hadn’t seen that yet. It was just pure love. But they wanted to have kids, then they didn’t want to have kids, then they weren’t able to have kids, and now they have twins. What’s so lovely about doing a television show, and having the blessing for doing it for so many years, is that we get to grow with these characters and see how they evolve. It’s been such a ride. I love Veronica so much. I love her journey, even this year, which is a tougher year for her. She is a mom and she’s dealing with the twins, and this is a way that fans have never seen her before.
Is it a fun role reversal, with Veronica and Kevin?
HAMPTON: It’s a very fun role reversal. Usually, it’s the man who feels left out and goes off to work. That’s what our writers do best. Really, most of our stories come from something that’s actually happened to someone they know or themselves, so it’s really true. It’s not just something that they pull out of the air, even with that reversal. It’s just nice to see it portrayed. I think people have really loved our show because we get thrown into these crazy situations, but we’re able to bring a reality and a truth to it. Especially with the storyline with my mother [having Kevin’s child,] when everyone read that, they were like, “What the heck is happening here?!” But there was something funny about it and sweet, I dare say. Even though it was out there, you know these characters don’t have a lot of money, and desperate times call for desperate measures. That’s what’s so great about Shameless.
Do you feel like you very confidently know who Veronica is now, or do you feel like you’re still learning about her and exploring who she is?
HAMPTON: I think that I have a pretty great sense of Veronica. I get her struggle, all the way through, so far. But, there were definitely some things this season that I was still figuring out about her. It’s a healthy balance. As an actor, you don’t want to ever get too comfortable where you’re like, “I know this character,” and you don’t do the work anymore. Then, there’s something that you’re going to miss. If you always stay hungry to learn more about your character, that’s a healthy thing, while having a great sense of who she is, at the core.
Has playing someone like Veronica affected you, personally?
HAMPTON: From the beginning, we were most similar in our confidence. Even with the sexual things that I have to do and the nudity, I’ve always been very comfortable with my body. I’m more European, in that way. Americans are so stiff when it comes to nudity. For me, I’ve always walked around the house naked. My husband, in real life, is like, “Babe, could you just put some clothes on! Keep the mystery alive!” Veronica and I are very similar in that. What has changed, for me, by playing Veronica, is that I have found myself to have a little bit more filter, whereas she has none, at all. That’s changed. I still don’t have a lot of filter, let’s be honest, but I try to think a little bit more before I speak because I play a character who’s so raw and just says it like it is, right away.
Because of her demeanor and the way she carries herself, the nudity almost seems natural.
HAMPTON: Yeah, and you have to be careful when you’re doing that. When you’re on a show that is so free with the body and nudity, you get a guest director every episode and you want to make sure that they’re not trying to one-up each other. It will take away the integrity of our show and the character, if you’re just gratuitously showing boobs. I had a lot of nudity in Episode 1 [this season], and what I said to my husband about that episode, particularly, was that I thought it was great because it was a woman dealing with breast feeding, and milk coming in or not coming in, and the pain of that, but still trying to be sexual for her husband. Only on Showtime, or cable TV, are you able to see the rawness of that. I was actually breast feeding at the time that I was shooting that, and any woman who has gone through the pains and trials of breast feeding knows and will find it so refreshing to see it raw and out there. And it wasn’t gratuitous.
What’s it like to be dealing with pregnancy and having a new baby, while your character is also going through the same thing?
HAMPTON: Veronica and I had a very different pregnancy. I had an easy pregnancy, and she hated it. She was also pregnant with triplets, but one got eaten, and then it was twins. Veronica is having a really hard time being a mother, whereas I really love being a mother because I waited so long and I’m older now. So, it’s funny to play the juxtaposition of me being a mother and Veronica being a mother. There are definitely demons that get exorcized, any time you’re playing a character, which is fun and therapeutic.
Fiona is usually the one who needs guy advice from Veronica, but this season, Fiona was giving Veronica advice about how to seduce her husband.
HAMPTON: Yes, that’s nice, and that’s what’s so great about their friendship. When one is down, the other one is up and able to lift the other one up. Because Fiona had such a tough year, last year, and Veronica was dealing with having babies, but also trying to be there for her, it’s nice to have Fiona back. Imagine going through this without your best friend. Having her right there is really nice to see. Fiona always steps up for Veronica, and Veronica always steps up for Fiona. It’s a great friendship.
What does Veronica think about Fiona’s guy situation?
HAMPTON: You have to remember, Veronica and Fiona have been friends for so long that the guy situation is nothing new. It’s Fiona’s pattern. In the long run, what Veronica really wants for Fiona is to break away from a destructive lifestyle, when it comes to men, and to have healthier relationships, without judgement. Eventually, it would just be nice if Fiona doesn’t always F things up for herself, or always go after the bad guy. If she really wanted a healthy relationship, it’s boring for her. The cup guy was boring for her. That wasn’t fun, so she had to have a sexual relationship with his brother. You saw Veronica get on Fiona, last season, when she did make that choice. She said, “What are you doing?!” But in the same sentence, that’s Fiona. That’s what she does. That’s her pattern. She was raised by wolves. What else is she gonna do?
So far, this season, Fiona has been after her boss, she’s gotten married, and then she took up with Jimmy-Steve again.
Will Veronica and Kevin ever get back on the same page again, or will they have to start a new page?
HAMPTON: Without spoiling it too much, it’s very hard for them. Will they eventually figure it out? I don’t know. I think that there’s so much love there, and there’s so much respect for one another there, that this takes them by storm and it’s a shock to both of their systems. They’ve never had these sorts of issues. Of course, every relationship has issues, but they were so strong in where they were, as a couple. This is brand new territory, and neither one of them knows what the F to do. Both of them have times where they’re angry with the other for not giving them what they need or what they want. It’s a new chapter, for sure. It has to be because they have twins. Whether they figure it out or don’t, it’s definitely a new chapter. Without even playing this role, I love Kevin and Veronica. I love their love. I love their banter. I love their silliness. I love their sex. I love all things Kevin and Veronica. My hope is that this will be a new chapter, but it will still be great, in a real Kevin and Veronica way, and they’ll be together. With the separation this season, because Steve Howey, who plays Kevin, and I are so close, it was very difficult to not be with him in scenes, like we were in seasons past. That’s my familiar place, as an actor. So, even that was a new chapter, for me and for us, as actors. But, I think that they’ll work it out.
With all of the crazy things you’ve had to do on this show, have you ever worried about pulling anything in particular off?
HAMPTON: Yeah, there are lots of moments like that. We get the scripts and we’re completely surprised. We don’t get a heads up about what’s coming. My biggest example of that would be the storyline with the mother sleeping with Kev. It was so shocking! And then, there was this moment where I was really trying to get them to go for it, and it ended up being a threesome situation. I had no idea how that was going to work out. It was just gross. Where do you go from there?! I didn’t know what to do! I was trying not to look. And I didn’t know how the audience was going to respond to that because it was so out there. I gagged a little bit, and then I kept it moving. It was great! It all goes back to the show’s core, which is love and loyalty. You see that they are given these situations where they could fall out and never speak again, and not have friendships or relationships, all around the neighborhood. But the Gallaghers, the Balls and the Milkovichs love, and they love heard.
After five seasons on this show, what do you most love about being a part of it, playing this character, and working with this cast?
HAMPTON: After five seasons, what I love the most is the fact that we’re still a family. There are still no egos. Bill Macy is the most incredible, humble and hungry human being, and that is the captain of our ship. He is phenomenal. We still laugh together, and we still talk and text and check on each other. Much like the Gallaghers and the Balls, and all of the characters on Shameless, there is that love and loyalty with us, as a cast. When you go and do movies, or you guest on another show, after being on a series, you realize, “Oh, every place isn’t like this. Every show is not like my show. I’m blessed.” It’s the people, and not just the cast, but the crew and everyone who works with us. We have a great family.
Shameless airs on Sunday nights on Showtime.