Wearing a sleek, black jumpsuit and a bright red lip, local actress Shanola Hampton stood in stark contrast to her on-screen persona, Veronica Fisher of Showtime’s Emmy-nominated Shameless. Gone were the frayed jean shorts, colorful tees and faux leather knee-high boots that usually adorn Veronica’s petite frame on screen. Dressed simply but stunningly on set of a photo shoot in early August, Shanola’s LA-chic look was a far cry from her Southside Chicago wardrobe.
No matter how she’s dressed, however, Shanola’s contagious, playful spirit is strikingly similar to the fiercely loyal and hilariously fun-loving “V” she plays on TV. From the moment she walks on set, Shanola’s energy, laughter and joy brighten those around her. Moving from shot to shot, she joked and even sang her way through the shoot. Obviously, work rarely feels like work to Shanola Hampton.
“It’s such a gift to not really feel like you’re working,” she said between shots. “That’s when you know you’ve struck gold – struck your dreams. I definitely found something.”
Born to a car salesman and an IRS agent, Shanola grew up in South Carolina, chasing the stage from an early age. After earning a Master’s Degree in fine arts, she packed her bags and moved to L.A., where she met her husband, actor Daren Dukes. When the Shameless script landed in her lap, she was shooting a season of Miami Medical. After one read, she was in love.
“I felt there weren’t many characters like Veronica on television,” she said. “The script itself is unique and original – that’s what attracted me to it. I was so excited to be a part of this movement on cable TV, taking risks and thinking outside the box. I finally had a juicy, juicy script.”
Shanola instantly took to the role of Veronica, relating to her in some aspects and differing in others. When Shameless kicked off, for example, both actress and character were working as bartenders.
“For a really long time, I was known more for being the singing bartender at BJ’s (in Valencia) than I was for playing Veronica,” she said with a big smile.
Though it seems their experiences were often intertwined, Shanola’s background was different than her character’s.
“I grew up differently from Veronica. She’s more street-wise; whereas I’m a suburban girl from South Carolina,” Shanola said. “But I do see parts of myself in Veronica – her spirit, her thirst for life, her loyalty to everyone around her.”
Beyond just spirit, Shanola and Veronica shared much more in recent seasons. Just as Shanola became pregnant with her first child, Veronica was trying to conceive on the show.
“Life was imitating art,” she said. “I delivered twins on the show on a Thursday, and I delivered my own baby the following Monday.”
The real challenge came after, however, when Veronica experienced postpartum depression.
“I was so in love and happy and excited at home,” she said, “while Veronica struggled with that maternal instinct and didn’t really feel the same thing. That was tough for me last season.”
But to Shanola, there also lies the beauty of Shameless.
“Real life happens on our show – that’s what I love about it,” she said. “Veronica’s gone through this entire life on screen. You get to watch her grow from this selfish, sexual character to someone who will do whatever it takes to be a mother.”
And just as the cast of Shameless works through life’s challenges as an unshakeable team, so do the actors who play them.
“From the beginning, there was some sort of energy,” she said. “Now we’re even closer – we’ve gone through everything together. I hope to be with Shameless until the wheels fall off – until the audience says goodbye. We’re a family.”