Photos by Maria Ponce
Shanola Hampton is patient. Very patient. The actress — who plays Veronica “V” Fisher on Showtime’s “Shameless,” which premiered its eighth season this month and quickly got renewed for a ninth — had been in Hollywood for nine years before she landed the game-changing gig in 2009. But she’d been chasing stars long before that.
“I knew from the age of 4 that I wanted to be a performer,” the actress, 40, says. “I was a Diana Ross impersonator for one of our local talent shows [in her native South Carolina]. … I had that wig on, I got the applause, and I knew there was no other stage I would ever want to be on. … I used to pretend the paparazzi were following me when I was a little girl.”
With her sights set on Broadway, Hampton earned her master’s in fine arts from the University of Illinois and was all set to move to New York City, but decided to spend a summer in LA first. She landed an internship at a casting agency and, while there, started going on auditions and booking small parts; she got a SAG card after her first role and never looked back.
Bartending and bit parts — including an episode of “Reba” in 2001 opposite her now-TV-husband Steve Howey — carried her through the next decade. Then “Shameless” came along, and it was all worth it. “What I loved about the show when I first read the script is that it was unlike anything else on TV,” Hampton says. “It took a big risk.”
If you’ve watched the show, you know the gist: Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) is the alcoholic patriarch of a rowdy Irish family on Chicago’s South Side. Despite his antics, his six children will stop at nothing to keep their family together, and they’ll lie, cheat and steal their way through Chicago in the meantime. It’s Hampton’s Veronica — neighbor and best friend of the eldest Gallagher, Fiona (Emmy Rossum) — who keeps the family on an even keel, and though she has plenty of her own struggles, often acts as the moral compass.
“I love [my] character’s passion and loyalty, and in that way we are very, very similar,” she says. “We are different in the way we hustle, but we’re both hustlers. And we both love fiercely.”
In the past few years, viewers have seen Hampton’s character play a larger role in the show, with more storylines of her own — some more, well, shameless than others. “Still to this day, the one that shocked me the most was [my character’s husband’s love scene] with her mother to have a baby. That was shocking.”
Veronica did eventually get pregnant — and coincidentally (and conveniently), so did Hampton. Her first child, daughter Cai, was born in 2014, shortly after Season 5 wrapped; son Daren followed in 2016.
Hampton naturally falls into a maternal role on set, where the entire cast is like a family. While filming in Chicago this past summer, the actors often had dinner together at spots like Barrio and Hampton’s personal favorite, Portillo’s.
Now, nearly a decade into the show, patient Shanola Hampton is a bona fide star — and her breakout role has finally afforded her the chance to be choosy. “When you’re on a well-written, well-received show, playing a great character, you can and should be selective in the projects you choose to go on,” she says. “I’m in that filtration process right now. I’d love to do a nice arc as a guest star in another show. TV has taken on a new life, and I wouldn’t mind going to play on somebody else’s playground.”
Catch up on “Shameless” Seasons 1-7 on Netflix, and see new episodes on Showtime Sundays at 8 p.m.
Actress Shanola Hampton is the life of any party — even if that party is a cover shoot with an early-Sunday-morning call time. We set up shop at the Chicago Athletic Association and walked up and down Michigan Avenue, shooting against unique downtown backdrops. All the while, Hampton was yelling to fans, stopping for selfies and striking fierce poses.
Photographer: Maria Ponce
Hair & makeup: Mecca Dickerson
Stylist: Tahler Johnson, 10 Management
Shot on location at: Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, 12 S. Michigan; Chicagoathletichotel.com
On the cover
Earrings: tanzanite, sapphire, jade and diamonds in 18k white gold, price upon request, A. Marek Fine Jewelry, 3021 Butterfield, Oak Brook; Amarekfinejewelry.com Coat: multicolor mink, $3,495, York Furrier, 107 N. York, Elmhurst; Yorkfur.com Trousers: Tibi, $345, Neiman Marcus, 737 N. Michigan; Neimanmarcus.com Sandals: Via Spiga, $99.97, Nordstrom Rack, 24 N. State; Nordstromrack.com