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After Schitt's Creek, Emily Hampshire Upends Gender With Fashion and the Pen

After Schitt's Creek, Emily Hampshire Upends Gender With Fashion and the Pen

Emily Hampshire
Photography by Maxwell Poth

The actor who played Stevie for six seasons discusses writing, gendered clothing, queer identity, and what it means to wear Dan Levy's "Radical Feminist" sweater on our cover. 

It's January 2020 and Emily Hampshire is about to enjoy the tipping point of Schitt's Creek's popularity as it heads into its sixth and final season. She poses on the red carpet at a Screen Actors Guild Awards celebration clad in a sleek suit jacket and a thin plaid tie. Her eye makeup is blue and bold. The look and vibe recall the style of early '80s British alt singers like Martin Frye of ABC and Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music. Later, she will dub the picture her "most handsome" photo. It's a look she spearheaded that straddles the invisible gender line prescribed by centuries of patriarchy. And she's ready to smash it.

Fast forward two years later nearly to the day, and Hampshire's in a downtown Los Angeles studio for The Advocate's photo shoot obliterating that line. She chooses to sport men's suits with a literary flair -- think Oscar Wilde in some, Truman Capote in others. Those dandified looks are balanced with a nod to Schitt's Creek's creator, her friend Dan Levy, who lent her a sweater he wore as David Rose on the beloved comedy. Fans will instantly recognize the black sweater emblazoned with the words "Radical Feminist" that she offsets with a Minnie Mouse-esque black bow. It's no accident that Hampshire embodies a variety of looks from adorable to handsome for the shoot. She's thought about clothing for a long time now. Hampshire's sartorial choices encapsulate her breadth of identities not only as a woman and a queer person but also as who she's become professionally. For an actor who recently transitioned in a big way to writer, producer, and creator, those literary looks are indicative of a new piece of her persona.

"I wanted to think of what [playing with gender roles] meant for me if I had never been raised with the concept of clothing being gendered," Hampshire says. "I love dressing and looking 'like a boy.' But since learning what a crazy social construct gendered clothing is, I wanted to know what 'playing with gender' looked like for me in a photo shoot if I didn't gender clothing."

Emily Hampshire

Aficionados of the Emmy-winning Schitt's Creek will no doubt recall several incidences in the series when Hampshire's sardonic flannel shirt-clad motel manager Stevie Budd poked fun at Levy's David for his fish-out-of-water couture clothing choices in their Podunk town. In one episode, Stevie agrees to store some of David's clothes in exchange for wearing them, which she never did -- until now.

Since Schitt's ended its glorious run in 2020 (just as the pandemic hit hard), Hampshire's career has soared. That's due to a few factors. "My childhood report card says, 'Emily plays well alone,'" she shares. She notes that quarantining allowed her the space to dig into her creative side, which she used for good when she created Humpday With Hampshire. Within weeks of worldwide shutdowns, she launched the weekly streaming talk show, with guests including queer luminaries Carson Kressley and Hannah Gadsby. The show raised money for the Actors Fund, which provided emergency financial assistance for everyone from theater ushers to hair and makeup folks to performers and more when the world shuttered.

Emily Hampshire

All Photography by Maxwell Poth; Coat: Stella McCartney; Dress: Aura Tout Vu; Shoes: Saint Laurent

Humpday proved to be a boot camp of sorts for future projects as a writer and creator, and it's something the Montreal native who's been acting since the mid-'90s is proud of. "That lil' charity talk show I thought would last maybe two weeks -- and ended up being a 10-episode season -- changed my life," Hampshire says, adding that it essentially lasted as long as two seasons of Fleabag. "It was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I'd done up to that point because I didn't realize you had to write a talk show. You can't just go in there and wing it. There's so much prep that goes on behind the scenes of even this humble homemade little virtual show that gave me a whole new respect for every interview, talk show, or podcast I do."

It's been a prolific two years for Hampshire, who's starred in two TV series: the Adrien Brody-led 19th-century mystery Chapelwaite and The Rig, which takes place on an oil rig in Scotland. She's also set to star in the film The Mattachine Family. While the movie is not about the groundbreaking gay rights organization the Mattachine Society, it is ultra-LGBTQ+ with its queer love story and a cast that includes out stars Nico Tortorella, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Heather Matarazzo, Garrett Clayton, and Hacks' Carl Clemons-Hopkins.

Emily Hampshire

Custom sweater

In the gothic horror Chapelwaite, based on a Stephen King story, Hampshire plays Rebecca Morgan, who culls inspiration for her new novel while acting as the governess to the children of Brody's character. For Hampshire, who donned practical clothes as Stevie and as the intense Jennifer Goines on the sci-fi series 12 Monkeys,Chapelwaite allowed her to explore her literary sensibilities in period clothing.

"My agent was like, 'I want to get you out of those plaids.' I guess being in a corset was [about] the furthest she could go to get me out of [Stevie's] baggy jeans," Hampshire says.

Rebecca's backstory includes an education at Mount Holyoke College, founded in 1837, about 15 years before Chapelwaite takes place. Back to the "Radical Feminist" sweater -- Hampshire became increasingly intrigued with Rebecca the more she read about the Massachusetts college that is one of the Seven Sisters, along with Smith, Wellesley, and others, and has long been a hotbed of progressive feminist thought.

"What I loved so much was doing research for the part -- going through that school, what they believe in," she says. "They were the first [Seven Sisters] school to allow trans women in. I was so impressed."

Emily Hampshire

Custom Sweater; Shoes: Valentino

It's not a foregone conclusion that queer people will champion the rights of everyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, but Hampshire is an ardent fighter for all, especially trans and nonbinary folks. Her best friend is a trans woman. And she's making space in her projects for trans people to thrive.

Chief among Hampshire's writer- creator projects is a reboot of Norman Lear's dark '70s sitcom Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. In the original, Louise Lasser played a put-upon housewife more concerned with the "waxy yellow buildup" on her kitchen floor than the murder down the street she's just heard about. The original series, which included one of TV's first gay kisses, was an excoriation of gender roles and consumer culture. Hampshire hopes to take it further in the series she'll produce and co-write with a friend, Letterkenny creator Jacob Tierney. Her Mary will cross the line to becoming an influencer.

Emily Hampshire

Coat: Celine; Suit: Helen Anthony; Shirt, Tie and Sunglasses: Gucci; Shoes: Saint Laurent

"All the consumerism stuff is now all social media. [The new show] is all about a small-town woman who feels like a nobody in every aspect of her life until she becomes a verified social media somebody," Hampshire explains. "We're taking the original show -- it was a satire of consumer culture -- to today's social media world."

"[Mary] used to be called America's typical consumer housewife," she adds. "And now it's like America's typical consumer housewife has become the product consumed."

Another modern shift in Hampshire's Mary Hartman occurs with Mary's friend Loretta (originated by gay icon Mary Kay Place). "I've made Loretta a trans woman," she says. "What's so great is that my best friend [who is trans] is going to write on the show. She has all these great stories about her bat mitzvah and all these things that I just can't wait to put in [the series]."

Emily Hampshire

Coat: Stella McCartney; Dress: Aura Tout Vu

While aspects of Lear's original series will remain intact in Hampshire's reboot, she's chosen to borrow another ethos from Levy. There will be no homophobia in Mary's town of Fernwood.

"It's going to be the world I want to live in. I am taking a cue from Schitt's Creek because, for six years, I watched Dan and how he had that [no homophobia] mandate," she says. "That's where I want to start. I mean, halfway through the original show, there's a gay couple in the '70s. Mary's just friends with them. It's amazing."

While Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is her "baby" 10 years in the making, she's got several other hot projects in the works -- many of which she can't discuss in detail. She teases just enough. "I've partnered with Elliot Page and his company Page Boy Productions to write and create a new television project that Elliot will star in as one of my favorite characters ever. I can't wait for people to see him in this role," she says.

If all of that weren't enough to prove how much she's blossomed in the past two years, she's also creating a graphic novel with Z2 Comics, the company that worked with Yungblud. "[It's] based on an original idea that I can't tell you about yet, but know that it's killing me not to," she says.

Emily Hampshire

Coat: Stella McCartney; Dress: Aura Tout Vu

If Hampshire appears wholly confident in her skin on a red carpet these days, that wasn't always the case. "I was always, I think, trying to be hot or beautiful ... [for] the male gaze. It was in the eye of what some guy thought was hot, and I don't find that hot," she says. "I used to dread it ... getting dressed for an event. Then I started to love it. I think I went through a teenage-hood again in wanting to put my own stamp on making an outfit."

"I can see that on the red carpet when I am comfortable, I'm not trying to pose for anything," she says. "Stevie in her suit [for David's wedding] ... I think that actually had a huge impact on me."

Several years back, a memorable scene on Schitt's -- David deploys wine varietals to explain his pansexuality to Stevie -- proved to be pivotal for Hampshire. Not one to cling to labels, she asked Levy sometime after that aired, "Is it weird that I truly just fall in love with a person? And I know this might be weird to some people, but wherever they are on the gender spectrum doesn't matter to me. I just have to be into them."

Emily Hampshire

Coat: Celine; Suit: Helen Anthony; Shirt, Tie and Sunglasses: Gucci

Based on their conversation, she began identifying as pansexual. But much like she's exploring eradicating gender lines in fashion, she'd like to reach a place where LGBTQ+ people aren't required to lead with labels, although she recognizes the power in representation.

"That visibility, be it being out and proud or pushing storylines forward for underrepresented groups that highlight their humanity, not just their sexuality or gender identity, etc., I think that's the power of coming out and a responsibility I feel for the privilege of having the power of the pen, so to speak," she says.

"At the same time, I don't want to have to identify as anything. ... I understand now it's important to say those things and it's important to [be] visible," she adds. "We don't ask straight people what their sexuality is and how they identify. I see that this is the pathway to the future of where we're just human. We're just, 'I like what I like,' and 'I like my pasta al dente.' And it's not a big deal."

As 2022 kicks off, Hampshire has entered a new phase of her career, fully embracing her identity as a writer and producer. In that Los Angeles studio on an unseasonably hot 90-degree day, she turns an eye to a future of projects like Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, her graphic novel, and her collaboration with Page, while looking back at Schitt's and the Rose Motel one more time. She's pleased to "make good" on her promise to fans who've asked her through the years why Stevie never wore David's clothes.

"Playing with gender roles felt like it meant something to me to step into my former showrunner's sweater with a big Minnie Mouse bow in my hair. The whole thing felt like all the ingredients to some magic potion coming together in one photo to help launch me into this next chapter of my career," she says.

"Dan lending me his sweaters for this shoot felt like when David said, 'That's my friend' about Stevie after her 'Maybe This Time' performance in Cabaret."

Photography by Maxwell Poth

Photography Assistant : Drake Hackney

Styling by Tiffany Briseno

Stylist Assistant: Emily Diddle

Makeup by Tami El Sombati

Hair by Jill Buck for Exclusive Artists Using Joico

Hair Assistant: Serena Hildenbrant

This story is part of The Advocate's 2022 Entertainment issue, which is out on newsstands April 5, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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