Carl Clemons-Hopkins was fast asleep when they made history. As one of the stars of the hit HBO series Hacks, they stole audiences’ hearts as Marcus, the savvy-at-work, vulnerable-off-the-clock chief operating officer to Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance. It’s a role that earned them a groundbreaking Primetime Emmy nod for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, marking the first time an out nonbinary actor has been nominated in the awards ceremony’s 73-year history. But thanks to Clemons-Hopkins’s seasonal allergies, they snoozed right through it.
“I was deep in a Benadryl sleep,” they recall with a laugh. “My partner woke me up, was like, ‘Hey, you need to check your phone right now.’” When they discovered more notifications than they’d previously thought possible, their first thought was that someone had died. Instead, it was an unexpected (but well-deserved) dream come true — and something Clemons-Hopkins is still processing.
This moment is the culmination of a lifelong dream for Clemons-Hopkins, who’s known they wanted to act since age 6, when their father took them to see the movie Glory. “It was wonderful...and one of the first times — and one of the few times — that a story with that many people who look like me were in a film. In the early ’90s, this wasn’t a thing,” they explain. This led them to major in theater and build a career around stage performance. “I’m just a fairy on a stage swirling. And that’s all I need to do. It’s still the dream, actually,” Clemons-Hopkins laughs when describing their early career aspirations. It was seeing the 2016 film Moonlight that inspired them to pursue on-screen acting.
The role of Hacks’ Marcus marked Clemons-Hopkins’s biggest role yet — and the kind of character that actors dream of. “If I’m being very honest with you, I think I had originally thought it was too good to be true,” they recollect. That’s because Marcus is about as far from the typical gay sidekick character as you can imagine. He has a work life and a home life, plus a budding romance that’s both sweet and awkward. “We will never actually have enough different queer love stories on film and television,” they say, adding t h a t M a r c u s ’s romance resonates with them. “I’m really glad we got to bring that kind of honest human interaction and communication to the screen.”
Carl Clemons-Hopkins in Hacks
While Clemons-Hopkins’s nomination has earned them a place in this history books, that’s not what set out to do. “I don’t know about other people, but I never set out to make anyone’s history and my goal wasn’t a trophy, it was just to let me be as authentic as I can and do the best work that I can,” they explain. They’re nonetheless thrilled to be nominated in a year when so many other queer actors, including Mj Rodriguez, Bowen Yang, and Jonathan Groff, also received nods. “It’s really humbling and amazing and also bittersweet because it just marks how far we all, as a society, have to go. But the fact that there’s so much gender diversity and queer representation and Black representation, and so many women in positions of power being nominated, that’s really great,” Clemons-Hopkins says.
Their success also means people will look to them both as a role model and, unfortunately, a target for bigotry. “I think that I’m of best service to communities I represent by simply living. If I put my focus on the amount of pushback I’m going to receive for existing, I actually forget to exist,” they say. “My great-grandmother used to tell me never to argue with a fool because the fool is always right.”
Clemons-Hopkins is now starring in the Jordan Peele-produced, Nia DaCosta-directed Candyman sequel, in a role that’s very different from the lovable Marcus. “I’m one who’s not in the corner of the protagonists, which is one of my favorite places to be,” they laugh. “[I’m someone] who’s also just kind of an opportunistic weirdo. It’s so fun.”
When asked how prepared they are for a potential Emmy win, Clemons-Hopkins answers with their trademark degree of humility and gratitude. “I never...truly understood the honor to be nominated. I mean, I got it, I heard it. I can understand people saying it, but not like viscerally in my entire soul,” they confess. “It’s such an honor, and I’ve already won right there.”
They’re also gearing up for the second season of Hacks and, in their words, a chance to “continue this crazy, wonderful, beautiful, hilarious, heartbreaking story they’re weaving for America.”