We caught up with Shameless actress Shanola Hampton to get some hints about season six, what she eats every day when she’s in Chicago, and where the cast hangs out around town.
Shameless, the beloved Showtime series that follows six poverty-stricken children trying to get by on Chicago’s south side (with no help from their alcoholic father, Frank Gallagher), returns for its sixth season on January 10. Shanola Hampton, who stars as the Gallaghers’ neighbor and Fiona Gallagher’s friend, Veronica Fisher, has a front row seat to all of the Gallagher family drama that ensues.
Here, Hampton spills on what she and the cast like to do in Chicago, why the Windy City makes the perfect setting for Shameless, and what we can expect from season six.
What can we expect from Veronica and the rest of the show in season six?
SHANOLA HAMPTON: What’s crazy about being on the show for six seasons is all the characters have evolved and grown. You’ll see much more maturity in our children. [For example], Debbie is a whole different Debbie than you’ve ever seen before; Ian goes through a lot of transitions; [Kev] and Veronica are back together, but you’ll see by the end of this season a twist in their relationship. You do see Fiona in a relationship throughout the season, but of course it’s never as easy as you think it’s going to be, because it's Shameless. And Frank will begin getting over Bianca so you’ll see him go through a mourning period, but also be very, very much Frank—and even more shameful. This season, though, I think we get back to doing what was at the root of the show, which was going through things together, even though we all have separate lives. When it comes down to the struggle, you’ll see us all come together again, which I think the audience will appreciate because that’s what made [them] fall in love with these people in the first place.
When you first started on this show, was it challenging, knowing there was a version of it [the original Shameless] in the U.K. that was already so successful?
SH: That wasn’t very difficult for us because we knew we brought something very new to it. Obviously, the Veronica character in the U.K. was a short-haired blonde girl with Caucasian skin, so I knew that she and I were definitely not going to play it the same way. And after we got away from that first season, especially the first few episodes in the first season, we really took it on our own journey.
Why do you think Chicago was a good setting for this version?
SH: I think Chicago is very real. We shoot in an actual neighborhood [Chicago’s Canaryville] that is low income; that does struggle every day. Chicago is another character on our show. It shows the face of how a lot of Americans are living, and so it's perfect in that way. It has such a voice and it has such beauty, even in desperate times. I think there's beauty even in the struggle, and I think that there's no better place to show that than Chicago.
What's it like splitting the filming between Chicago and L.A.?
SH: It's hectic but it's great, because we found a home in Chicago. Chicago is my absolute favorite city. It's clean, the food is amazing, and everyone is so warm and welcoming. We’ve gotten really, really used to it and really excited about our second home in Chicago. But it is very hectic because in the same day you could be shooting something from episode one, four, and six [and] you have to remember where you are in the script and where you are emotionally with those scenes. And you're doing wardrobe changes, and hair changes, and it's very fast-paced, and you have to be ready for that.
You spent some time in the Midwest when you got your master's degree at University of Illinois, right?
SH: In [Urbana-Champaign], yeah. But I used to spend my summers in Chicago. I worked at Goose Island Brewery, and I opened the one that was right by Wrigley Field, so I got to see all of the Cubs come through—it was insane on game days. [And] I used to live in Wicker Park.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?
SH: Portillo’s. My cast will tell you, and it’s not a joke, I have to go get something there every day—whether it’s the beef-n-cheddar croissant, or just to go get a piece of chocolate cake. I am a regular at Portillo's. We went to this great restaurant called Prime & Provisions the last time we were there, and it was delicious—it’s one of my favorites now, too. I love Italian food; you can’t go wrong with Rosebud, and of course, I like Lou Malnati's pizza. We eat so much while we’re there. You have to diet before you even go to shoot in Chicago, because we just eat the entire time.
Does the cast hang out outside of shooting?
SH: Actually, in Chicago, it's like camp. We are madly in love with one another and we go to dinners together, basically nightly. We are together quite often and we’re a family; we really, really are, and we love each other. You talk about six seasons, so I’ve gone from being just married to now being married [and having] had one kid. They’ve gone through my first birth with me, having another birth with me; Steve Howey [who plays Kev] being married, going from one child to now having twins; Emmy [Rossum, who plays Fiona] getting engaged; the kids going from nine to 16—can you imagine? So we’ve experienced real life together in very real ways and we still love each other in season six, even more now, and we have an appreciation for where we are. It's very rare, and we haven’t fooled ourselves that we would get it again any place else. We cherish it while we have it on our show.
Aside from that family aspect, how else is it different shooting something here in Chicago versus in L.A.?
SH: L.A. is spread out so it’s hard. When you’re shooting and you’re [basically] living together, because we’re all staying in the same hotel, you’re building a lot of the relationships that you see on screen and off screen […] because you're spending morning, noon, and night together for the most part. And being in Chicago and being able to go shopping, and walk right from the hotel and being able to walk on the streets together—that’s not something you can do in L.A. And the fans are so great [in Chicago]. We run into fans every single time we’re out, and we can take pictures right then, and talk to them, and interact. You can only have that feeling certain places, and that's what Chicago brings.
What’s your favorite neighborhood in the city?
SH: Wicker Park would be my favorite neighborhood, but I also love the downtown Michigan Avenue area because it's so accessible, and I love to shop on that street.
Do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
SH: My biggest project is going to be giving birth to my son! That's a big project after Shameless, so the timing worked out quite well with the show and being pregnant. And then when we go back—if we're blessed to go back—I'll already have given birth.
Photography by: PHOTOGRAPHY BY CATIE LAFFOON; STYLING BY KELLY JOHNSON; HAIR & MAKEUP BY KIMBERLY BRAGALONE