Sometimes Emily Hampshire slips into character during dates.
Things get awkward, the Canadian actress tells ET, when her
courter suddenly realizes that she’s not Stevie Budd, the deadpan, buttoned-up
motel clerk she hilariously portrays on Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek, which just finished airing a critically acclaimed third
season earlier this year. In fact, Hampshire, who frequently breaks into
uproarious giggle fits during our freewheeling interview, couldn’t be more
infectiously giddy and refreshingly forthcoming.
“I feel bad that I’m not Stevie for them, that I’m not
as cool as Stevie,” the 35-year-old actress says. “They meet me and
they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re way more animated than Stevie is.’ I can hear the
disappointment in their voice.”
That’s when, she acknowledges, “I try to overcompensate
for not being Stevie.”
So then they get Jennifer Goines, the brainy but unhinged
heroine she plays on Syfy’s 12 Monkeys.
If you know Jennifer, you know this means Hampshire’s dates end with her
getting “a little crazy.”
The actress returns as Jennifer for more mind-blowing
supernatural turns — remember when old Jennifer met young Jennifer in
season two? — during the trippy time-travel series’ third season, which
premieres Friday, May 19. Initially, Hampshire thought showrunner Terry Matalas
would struggle to top the clever convergence of two Jennifers, but the opposite
was true when she read the script for the third season’s premiere episode.
“Who else gets to be in the 1920s doing, basically, a
Katy Perry video?” she says, geeked.
MORE: Here’s What the Cast of ‘Home Alone’ Looks Like 25 Years Later
Hampshire says she’s already crestfallen over the series’
end, set for 2018 with the show’s fourth season. It’s funny, though: The
actress, who’s currently pulling double duty on two wildly different shows, originally had little interest in a
regular TV gig.
“I actually never thought I wanted to do a
series,” she says. “I knew I would get bored just playing the same
thing all the time, and this is like the ideal situation. It’s like being in
the best relationship — but it’s an open relationship!”
She compares Jennifer to a Russian doll, a doll within a
doll within a doll, and says the character has afforded her the luxury of role-playing.
“I love Jennifer so much — way more than I like myself,” she
says, unleashing yet another giggle. “I think she’s the most amazing human
being in the world. She’s all heart and all just pure crazy love.”
But finding her version of crazy proved tricky. Brad Pitt
originated the role in the 1995 film on which the show is based, so for
Hampshire, there was immense pressure to live up to the actor’s Golden
Globe-winning performance. She avoided rewatching the film before constructing
her version of Pitt’s character, Jeffrey Goines, but ultimately caved. “I
thought, ‘Oh boy, am I supposed to be doing this?’ I started to freak out, and
Terry told me, ‘No; the reason we cast you is because you did your own
To honor the iconic source material, season one featured
Hampshire wearing a replica of the brown velour sweater Pitt dons in the film.
“I really think of Jennifer as sharing the same DNA with Jeffrey Goines,
but they’re not the same character,” she explains. “They’re cut from
the same crazy, but they manifest it in different ways, like anybody would if
you’re a different gender.”
Opposite 12 Monkeys‘
sci-fi crazy is the fish-out-of-water comedy of Schitt’s Creek, in which Hampshire dims her own bubbly personality
to play a motel clerk whose long-term guests include a well-to-do family forced
to live a more modest lifestyle. The latter’s third season wrapped up in April
and a fourth season is in the works.
“They are so different, but also the best in their
field,” she says about the shows. “I would be thrilled just having
one of [these shows], because, I mean, [starring alongside] Catherine O’Hara
and Eugene Levy — it’s a dream come true. I do feel like I have won the
jackpot of jackpots getting to do both of these things at the same time.”
Before those roles, Hampshire’s IMDB page was filled with indie after indie, including 2006’s dramedy Snow Cake alongside Sigourney Weaver and the late Alan Rickman, and two episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? The first of these, which aired in 1994, was the result of her first audition (she appeared again on the show in 1996). Even now, “every time I go to Comic-Con someone asks me about it.” But her actual first role might surprise you.
During a part she says “I’ve never told anyone about” — her first — she remembers being required to say the word “vagina” in French and English for an instructional video on child molestation for Canadian police. “God, I prepared for that thing,” she recalls, “and I felt like I did some of my best crying work.”
Turns out, she’s a better crier than dancer.
After catching Les Miserables as a kid, which made her feel like “I left the earth,” the soon-to-be seventh grader drafted a demanding contract for herself: She was allowed to pursue only two hours of non-acting activities a day. Though her Les Mis infatuation has subtly spilled over into her current work (in an upcoming 1920s-set episode of 12 Monkeys in which she speaks in French she intentionally dons a hat similar to the musical’s Éponine Thénardier as a nod to the character), she knew there were no way she could pursue musical theater.
MORE: 14 Actors Who Appeared on ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ Before They Were Famous
“I’m so bad at dancing that I’ve actually been in two movies where the director of the film saw me dancing and thought it was so funny that in one movie they had me do it as the mental dancing of a real simple person,” she says. “The other one was, like, to-be-laughed-at dancing. That’s how bad my dancing is.”
Now that Hampshire’s earned enough screen cred that even her dates expect to meet the characters she’s playing, the actress is freer to select her roles. Her litmus test for parts: Does the script put her to sleep?
“Honestly, I think I have this narcolepsy thing with reading,” she says, cracking up. “I fall asleep when I’m reading. So, if I stay awake to read an entire script, I’m like, ‘Wow, I need to do this.'”
Clearly, director Xavier Dolan’s forthcoming The Life and Death of John F. Donovan kept her attention. Dolan, a fellow Canadian, wrote the part for Hampshire four years ago, before his Cannes Film Festival award-winning films and heralded direction on Adele’s “Hello” video elevated his profile. Now that the cast includes a pool of A-list actresses, including Kathy Bates, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Chastain and Natalie Portman, Hampshire thought surely her glam role — “the best girl part in it” — would go to one of them.
It didn’t. In fact, now, “I have the privilege of being the only non-superstar in that movie.”