Emily Hampshire is in the unique position of being on two of the coolest shows on television right now. You’ll find her in 12 Monkeys on Syfy as Jennifer Goines, the mental institution resident and daughter of the creator of “the virus.” She’s also in the CBC show (though it airs in the U.S. if you have the right channel) Schitt’s Creek, and she plays Stevie, the motel clerk who can’t believe the screwy “rich” people who now live in her motel.
You should really check out both shows, though they could hardly be any different, and Emily has great roles in both. 12 Monkeys obviously is what it is, and she seems to almost be channeling Ally Sheedy in some very odd sense (that is probably specific to me), but to go into a show with Eugene and Dan Levy, and Catherine O’Hara, and steal the show… that’s impressive.
I had a chance to talk with Emily recently, just after it was announced that her character was being “promoted” to series regular for the second season, and it was a great conversation. Although, as you might imagine, 12 Monkeys is a difficult show to talk about for the cast. The semi-redacted transcript is below.
EH: It means there’s going to be a lot more of me.
EH: Fortunately, or unfortunately. It means that before I was signed on as a recurring character. Initially I was only signed on for, I think, five episodes. I think I ended up doing a few more than that…
It means that I’m going to be in at least 10 episodes, and then I’ll have more episodes that are from Jennifer’s point of view, and I’ll have full episodes that are my own. Aaron and Amanda are obviously still anchors, but I think it will be more of an ensemble piece.
Right. It feels a bit like we’re… waiting to get to you. It seems like that’s how the show is progressing. We get hints of you mostly, at least now, and clearly we’re going to need to expand your character to get more information.
EH: Yeah. It’s nice to hear people on Twitter who want to see more of Jennifer. I remember when we were shooting I had a conversation with Terry Matalas, the co-creator of the show, and I asked what his vision of Jennifer was. He said something like… I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say this…, “It might not even be good for the show, but I want people to want more of Jennifer. I want to tease it out a bit.”
You could never do a whole show with Jennifer, I mean, a crazy character like that is too much, but he really wanted to make it so you would miss her. If she’s not in an episode, you want her back. So, that means you need episodes that she’s not in, or talked about.
Speaking of crazy character. You know, there’s something weird going on with her. Is that just how it seems, or is there something to that? It’s like she goes back and forth… like you aren’t sure if she’s really crazy, or if she’s pretending.
EH: I love that you say that, because that is pretty much the way I have seen her, and I hope that comes across. I always think of Jennifer… even talking to Terry… that that’s it, you don’t know. Is she crazy, or is she manipulating things, or is it a way of protecting herself? She’s had a lot of trauma in her life. I think crazy is a subjective term, but a lot of the time she’s the smartest person in the room, and she’s the one who knows things. That’s really going to come out later in the show… it sucks, because there’s so much that I’m not allowed to say.
I promise you, it’s like each new script I got was like peeling the layers of an onion. I feel like Jennifer is a Matryoshka, and I keep getting a new character to play.
Plus, you have to do the flashbacks here and there. Is that a tricky thing, when suddenly you have to switch gears and she’s normal?
It’s a real gift to an actor to get to play that. Most of the time you’re in a movie or TV show, and you’re playing a certain point in that character’s life. This, you get to play the whole life. I wish I could tell you where it goes. When I got the script of a flashback before the incident, I really got to think about who this person was then. So, I get to play all these different scenes in her life. I love that.
It is sort of like interviewing someone on LOST, because you can’t say anything about anything. I have all these questions about timelines that I’m not bothering with, but I want to know.
EH: I know. And, it’s on the tip of my tongue to say things. I think it’s up to episode eight now…, I have to try to figure out where things are right now. From eight on it just felt like every episode is a finale… like, you can’t believe that all that goes on in one episode.
I love the way the show builds like that. I think it switches things up from your average show. It seems like we’re going one way, and then it suddenly does something else, I guess, without the long road you expect. Like, the last episode, you figured the set-up meant one thing was going to happen, but then, no, they just kill everyone and take the core. So, it felt like we would build more, and “watch” that other place for a while, and then things would come to a head, but no.
EH: Yeah. That episode was actually… I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but whatever… it was initially, episode eight and nine were… part 1 and part 2, with a whole “to be continued.”
Yeah, it’s exciting to be part of something that can do anything. I mean, the whole time travel thing… my brain just doesn’t work that way. There’s so much going on, and keeping that all straight.
I do want to ask you, and maybe you can’t tell me, but we’re starting to get to really confusing points in the time travel scenario, like where we get things like, “Oh, you were here last week, and told us all this, but you haven’t done that yet…” Does Jennifer get wrapped up in that sort of thing?
EH: Well, I would think I’m not allowed to say things, but then Syfy released a photo of old Jennifer, so I do go into the future… I would think that would be a total spoiler… I mean, it doesn’t mean I time travel to the future, but I’m there. I could just be older.
Yeah, there is all this time travel, and where Jennifer comes in… it’s hard to say, because that happens to everyone, where whatever hasn’t happened to other characters yet.
What I love is that they don’t dumb it down. It’s a really smart show, and you have to really pay attention. It isn’t something you can just put on in the background.
That’s the thing I like about the show. You know, most of the time, you would expect a show like this… practically everything they say, then they would explain it again. This show, they just say, look, you either get it, or you don’t, but we’re moving on.
EH: Yeah. And, that’s a brave choice for the creators, and Syfy. I think that’s a hard thing, because they are moving toward smarter television, and that’s tough. I love watching people debate it on Twitter, and create this whole other “after the show” effect.
And, you know they could guess just about anything.
EH: Yes. Some of the theories they come up with are amazing. Even the writers of the show… they read all that stuff… and, they say, you know, “That’s a good idea. Why didn’t we think of that?” And there’s… what’s that? Fan fiction? There’s fan fiction around it. I’m learning all these new things… like. Cosplay? Someone wants to cosplay me?
Yeah. If you go to Comic-Con next year, there will be a bunch of Jennifers.
EH: I went to my first, in New York, and I couldn’t believe the work people put into the costumes. It’s amazing. If anyone dressed up as Jennifer Goines, I would die. That would be amazing.
Ok. On the one hand, we have a really crazy character. But, you’re in another show where you’re the most sane, touchstone to normalcy, on Schitt’s Creek. You’re sort of the straightest man of the group. Is that the biggest jump between two roles that there could possibly be?
EH: You know. I couldn’t have planned this better. Having both of these shows, I feel, for the first time, completely satisfied, because I love to do comedy, and playing Stevie… I love that character. She’s so easy, and confident, and comfortable in her own skin. As opposed to the wild and crazy characters I usually play. So, it’s a breath of fresh air for me to get to do a character like that, and then I shoot that before 12 Monkeys, so I get to get my engine going.
The amount of energy, I didn’t realize…
I also realize, playing Amanda’s part, I always think is a real challenge for an actor. And, people don’t always get recognized as much for that as playing the crazy character, but it’s hard to be that lead girl, and be solid and believable. So, I always look to those characters as being the hard acting jobs.
But, the first week of shooting Jennifer, I was exhausted in a way that I had never been before, and I just didn’t realize the amount of energy, physical energy, it takes to get up there, in that zone. To be that “on” all the time. So, for the first time I think crazy isn’t as easy as I thought it was.
What I love about it is that there are no rules. Everything is right, as long as you follow your own logic. Normal people have rules. But, at the same time, there’s so much going on in her brain… always on… so, I feel like I get that way on set, and it’s so exhausting.
So, it’s not really doing anything, but exhausting?
EH: Yeah. I mean, I always thought… acting… you do nothing all day… but, at the end of a day, I’m wiped.
Is it the same thing when you’re playing normal on Schitt’s Creek? On that show, you’re just normal. You are the average person’s reaction to all the other crazy people.
EH: It’s so great. It’s the easiest job in the world. It’s the first time that I felt like I had a day job. Because it’s a half-hour show, and because Eugene and Dan Levy create this atmosphere like family… I go into work at the same time, we wrap at six, there’s a lunch hour… everybody is so nice. It’s so great.
As opposed to 12 Monkeys… I mean, everybody is great on 12 Monkeys… but the work… the hours we shoot are insane. It’s polar opposite. Schitt’s Creek is like I’m on vacation. 12 Monkeys, I’m paying for it.