The denouement of Schitt's Creek's fifth season centered on Stevie Budd -- the sardonic townie known for her plaid sartorial choices -- belting "Maybe This Time" in her local production of Cabaret. With her clad in a lacy slip, boa, kimono, and one of matriarch Moira Rose's infamous wigs, it's in that moment when the typically pared-down Stevie, for once so outwardly adorned in artifice, is at her most vulnerable. She delivers a rendition of the song in which she lets loose, daring to reveal that she yearns for something beyond that controversial billboard that welcomes visitors to Schitt's Creek at the edge of town.
It's a remarkable, meta performance in which Emily Hampshire -- who's embodied Rosebud Motel owner Stevie for six seasons -- pierces her character's steely veneer via the character of Sally Bowles. It also happens that the scene was a bit of wish fulfillment for Hampshire, a musical theater lover whose favorite show is Cabaret. It was the show's cocreator Dan Levy, who plays David, who made that come to fruition after discussions about a musical episode from early on in the run.
Levy made Hampshire's dream of stepping into Sally Bowles's garters a reality, but it's not the only way her friend and colleague has influenced her life beyond the insta-fame that occurred a few seasons into the series. On a profound level, Levy's friendship and mentorship, along with Schitt's Creek'sopenness around queer identities and its gentle exploration of tomboy Stevie's gender expression, dovetailed with Hampshire falling in love in with a woman for the first time midway through the run of the series. Although she was in her mid-30s at the time, Schitt's Creek, Levy, and Stevie helped shape that new identity.
"Dan changed my life in so many ways. I feel that he's changed my life in a very similar way to the way he's changed the lives of the people who watch the show," Hampshire tells The Advocate. "Being in [Schitt's Creek], I got the benefit of what the show puts out there too," Hampshire says about the humanity, warmth, and acceptance that bubbles under all of the Rose family's lofty shenanigans.
"In my journey in discovering all sorts of things about myself, he has been someone who's been there," Hampshire says of Levy, who is gay and whose pansexual-identified David is currently engaged to his business partner Patrick (Noah Reid).
Pop TV's Schitt's Creek kicked off in 2015. At the time, the Canadian series was a blip for American audiences. That is, until viewers began discovering it on Netflix. It's the story of an eccentric family of 1 percenters bilked of their riches and forced to live in the crummy motel in the podunk town that patriarch Johnny Rose (Levy's famous dad, Eugene Levy) once purchased on a lark. Schitt's Creek is about the evolution of people whose wealth had girded them against real hardship and life lessons (no matter how many times Annie Murphy's Alexis Rose regales with tales of overcoming some sort of socialite peril on international soil).
Still, they are always lovable in their cluelessness even if they weren't always likable. And Stevie has been the outward antithesis of the Rose family's wigs, couture, tailored suits, leather sweaters, and artifice, if not also the voice of reason. That said, adding a costume to Stevie to get to her essence in Cabaret is layered with the show's ethos. The first several episodes of Schitt's Creek this season have picked up where Sally Bowles left off and featured Stevie struggling to determine how best to spread her wings, even if it's as a flight attendant on the half-baked airline Larry Air.
Emily Hampshire as Stevie
A native of Montreal, besides Schitt's, Hampshire is best known to American audiences for playing Jennifer Goines on Syfy Network's adaptation of 12 Monkeys. An actress whose dozens of IMDB credits date back to the mid-'90s, Hampshire recalls what felt like the turning point in Schitt'sCreek's popularity when it went from a cult hit to a critically lauded fan favorite.
"I came back to L.A. and I went into Bed Bath & Beyond and it was a whole different experience for me," Hampshire says. "It was like a musical because every aisle I passed there was some employee, there was somebody who was like, 'Oh, my God. Oh, my God, Stevie!'"
But Hampshire suspects the show's sudden popularity a few seasons into its run had something to do with the zany yet heartstring-pulling world that Dan and Eugene Levy built that began resonating for viewers when they needed it most.
"I do have a theory that when it did blow up, it was after a shitty political time and I think people wanted something good. [Something] with a good heart and not dumb and not easy good," Hampshire says. "It's got its own unique heart that I don't think people expected but I think people needed. It reminds me of Billy Wilder movies."
A notable aspect of the tiny town of Schitt's Creek, which is purposely not set in a particular country, state, or province, is that it's a mini-universe completely free of homophobia, Hampshire points out.
"Dan decided to make Schitt's Creek the town be somewhere where there would be no homophobia, which I thought was such a maverick move," Hampshire says. "I would've thought, If I'm creating a show and you want to address an issue, you would have somebody be homophobic and then tell them they're bad or whatever. This is so much smarter."
"You show a town where it doesn't exist, and you know what? Everything's great there. You don't miss it. You definitely don't miss the homophobia," she adds.
"People tell us, 'It's the only thing we can watch with our whole family. I was able to come out to my parents because they saw David and Patrick and they didn't think they would find love.' [There are] all kinds of ways in which the show's affected people in such a positive way," she says.
Annie Murphy, Noah Reid, Dan Levy, and Hampshire
Occurring, like the show's meteoric rise in popularity, a few seasons in was a social media moment that spiked when Hampshire shared that she'd proposed to her then-girlfriend, songwriter and record producer Teddy Geiger. At the time, Levy was there to guide Hampshire when she was faced with questions from fans eager for information about her sexual identity.
"I remember when I was engaged and people were saying things about me like, 'Oh, is she a lesbian?' Trying to say 'what I am' because I was a cis woman, who happened to be with a trans woman. Suddenly there was this pressure for me to pick a label," Hampshire says.
"I was like, 'What am I? Because I don't feel like I'm anything,'" she says she told Levy, who suggested she may be pansexual. It's not as though those conversations ended and Hampshire suddenly had the perfect answer or word for her identity, although "pansexual" could fit, she says.
"I just fall in love with a person I really like," she says.
"I've been in the industry forever, since I was a kid. It's a very LGBTQ-plus friendly industry and all my friends are gay or gay-straight, or trans-nonbinary, everything. I always thought I was just like every gay guy's beard like Liza Minnelli," Hampshire says of coming into a more fluid sexual identity a little bit later in life.
But it's not just Levy who's been a guide. Six seasons of playing Stevie, the no-nonsense straight tomboy in the plaid shirt, made a mark on the woman who embodies her.
"I feel like Stevie shepherded me into my sexuality as an adult," Hampshire says, recalling her first "girl date" in which a friend of a friend messaged and asked her out.
"What makes you think I'm gay? Is it the plaid shirt?" Hampshire joked, to which the woman responded that she'd indeed watched the show.
"It's the plaid shirt," Hampshire kiddingly concluded. And the woman said, "Maybe."
Hampshire as Stevie in Cabaret
Throughout the seasons, Schitt's has explored Stevie's gender expression, pushing at the edges of her comfort, for instance, when Johnny gifts her with what Hampshire calls a "suitcase full of makeup." The most recent episode features Stevie clad in a flight attendant's uniform for Larry Air that spurs David to quip that "Pan Am was canceled" after a single season.
"When I was in that flight attendant uniform, I was like, I don't know how to be Stevie. There's something wrong with me," Hampshire says. "I figured it out at the end of the episode. Oh, it's because I'm in this."
"She's a tomboy," Hampshire says of Stevie. "When she put on makeup and stuff -- there's something so embarrassing about being caught trying like that. I guess I'm going to merge with Stevie right now. I always found it, in theory, embarrassing."
As with her Sally Bowles costume, it's those moments of putting on layers when Stevie is least like herself that she's also the most open and vulnerable.
"Stevie was mortified when David saw her putting on lipstick. I don't know what it is. But it's a girly thing," Hampshire says.
"I definitely had girls' shame," Hampshire says about performative femininity she's succumbed to on occasion. She adds that she's worked past those misgivings about performative gender, but she admires Stevie for continually bucking against those expectations.
"This is what I love about her. She never had to put on airs for anyone. I think it's looked down upon there [in Schitt's Creek] anybody being phony in any way. I think there's something about makeup -- there's an artifice to it, and she's just herself."
In the episode where Stevie dons the Pan Am look, the blissfully solipsistic Alexis (Hampshire's now good friend Annie Murphy) comes to Stevie's rescue as she struggles to make the right choices as David's maid of honor. It's a moment of female solidarity that is heartening.
With Schitt's Creek's final episodes about to unfold over the next several weeks, it's not entirely clear where Stevie will wind up. But Hampshire says she feels confident fans will be satisfied with the finale, an ending her friend Levy knew would happen from the outset. While she doesn't give away the ending, Hampshire, who found her way and identity in the LGBTQ community during the run of the show, says that Stevie is in good hands having found the Roses.
"She's been living with these people, this chosen family, as most LGBTQ people have a lot of the times, who have, I think, raised her over the past five years in this way that created this confidence in her that she can now go on," Hampshire says.