Here’s a little thing you might not know about us: we have a huge crush on Shanola Hampton. We’re big fans of “Shameless,” and she’s a major reason why. Not only does Shanola bring the nudity week after week, but she does so with levity, comedy, and energy that makes us break out in smiles. And yet, we’ve never stopped to study the woman; that changes now.
Shanola Hampton was born May 27, 1977 in Long Island, New York, but raised in Summerville, South Carolina. She first wanted to be an actor when she was four years old, and was serious about it from the get-go:
I remember the moment when my father said to me, “Oh yeah well you do it as a hobby.” And I was like, “No I’m going to do it as my life.” And he was like, “Okay.”
However, her folks were adamant that Shanola get a solid education first–as her sisters did, and they’re all educators and principals–so after high school, the young Ms. Hampton matriculated at Winthrop University where she graduated with a theater degree in 1998. Shanola followed that up with a Masters in Fine Arts at Illinois, where part of her grad program required her to teach.
I taught ‘Introduction to Theater’ and ‘Theater as a Black Experience.’ Teaching is so rewarding because when you see the look on student’s faces when they get it, when you’re able to excite them about what you’re excited about, it’s so rewarding and it’s so much fun. And I have more of an appreciation for the arts, which is such a big thing for me.
Even though her life has been dedicated to exploring the theatrical arts, Shanola has had to buckle down and make some cash at times, and bartending was her longest non-acting gig: she did it for ten years! As she told Esquire:
I was the non-drinking bartender. I stopped drinking in college because I was that girl who drank and then ended up on the street crying… I’ve already got enough high going on with my natural self, so I’m good without alcohol. But the thing about bartending is that you’re actually more of a therapist. And when you’re there for ten years, you really get to know the lives of your regulars.
In addition to being the “Oprah behind the bar,” Shanola was known for her generously poured Long Island Ice Teas and for the way she shook her booty while shaking up drinks. [Insert joke about a wet martini here.]
Shanola’s first official foray into the acting world–at least, the thing that earned her a Screen Actors Guild card–came when Ryan Murphy (of “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee”) cast her in an episode of the WB’s “Popular” in 2001. She continued to get single appearances on TV shows until she got her first recurring role on “Related” in 2005 and then “Miami Medical” in 2010. Neither show took off, and Shanola stayed relatively obscure for a while, but that all changed when her agent sent her to audition for Showtime’s American reboot of “Shameless.”
Coincidentally, the audition for “Shameless” took place on the same lot where she was filming “Miami Medical,” so Shanola had to sneak out during breaks, change out of her scrubs, and take a golf cart over to Showtime’s spot; she went through seven callbacks before they finally gave her the gig, but Shanola says it was totally worth it. The whole cast and crew feels like her family, she and Emmy Rossum quickly became best buddies (they even celebrated the end of the first season with a girls-only trip to Las Vegas), and Shanola feels like she’s playing the ideal character. Her feelings are best summed up in her interview with TVEquals:
It really is a dream come true. I know that sounds so generic, but I do visualization for my life and the things that I want to happen and the kinds of parts that I wanted. This I couldn’t have molded out. In some of my visions some of these things are almost like, “Wow. I saw that sitting in my bedroom when I was meditating and now it’s here.” It’s exactly what I wanted and this is the kind of show that I wanted it to be. It really is surreal, but I feel like I’ve put my time in as well. You don’t want to say that you deserve it, but I mean I feel like I really put in the work. I wasn’t found in a coffee shop. I’ve had a lot of nos. I got a lot of rejection. I got a lot of things that didn’t go. This was the time and I’m so happy and grateful for it. I’m humbled by it. I’m just so excited. It’s a ride. I love it.
So what’s next for Shanola? Well, hopefully “Shameless” will keep on truckin’ and we’ll get more of Veronica doing what she does best. As far as other projects go, Shanola has said that she’s crazy about “Glee” and would love to do a guest spot (“I would get to sing! I would love that. Singing and acting on a show is like theater, it doesn’t get any better. Ryan Murphy gave me my first job [...] Maybe he’ll remember me and call me!”). On a more serious note, Shanola has repeatedly said that her deepest desire is to open a performing arts school:
I would like to expand it to be a chain of schools. The arts are so important and an outlet to let me exercise acting. I had a lot of energy, as you can imagine, as a child. So my mother wanted to put me in cheerleading, dance and acting. It was a therapeutic way to express myself. I want to provide that for others.
Such a noble goal from such a sweet woman! Whether she’s acting or educating, we know that Shanola Hampton will continue to do great work and give back to the world that’s been so kind to her. We’ll always be watching for her next move, and no matter where her career takes her, one thing is for sure: she’s changed the way we look at flash cards.
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[Above: Veronica teaches her man to read. Clip via "Shameless"]