Carl Clemons-Hopkins’ Journey With ‘Hacks’

·4 min read

Being part of “Hacks” is just as amazing as one hopes it would be, confirms Carl Clemons-Hopkins.

“It’s such a unique show,” they say of the Emmy-winning series, which has just wrapped its second season and is once again up for several Emmy awards. “I’ll be honest with you, there are certain times where it sneaks up on me even when I’ve read a script or done some of the scenes. Then when I come back and I’ll watch it, I’m like, ‘wow.’ It’s some really unique storytelling.”

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Clemons-Hopkins is in New York, where they’ve been based for their return to theater, starring as James Baldwin in the play “Lessons in Survival: 1971.” Stage work has been the bulk of Clemons-Hopkins’ work and they were eager to refresh that muscle between seasons of “Hacks.”

“As much as I love ‘Hacks’ and doing television, I was really adamant about getting back to some stage work,” Clemons-Hopkins says. “I always found that there’s a breadth of character and a breadth of artistic expansion that the theater allows that’s still very unique in my opinion. I really was appreciative to get back into some of that before coming back to other things.”

On “Hacks” they play Marcus, chief executive officer of Deborah Vance’s business, and season two saw Marcus having a bit of a freefall before a period of growth.

“I enjoyed that there seemed to be some real depth beneath the surface of just what he does for Deborah and what he does on the side, what he does for his family. It was a character who wasn’t doing too much for himself, and that was intriguing in a sense of, ‘oh, I wonder where that’s going to take him,’” Clemons-Hopkins says. ”I also enjoyed, of course, that it was something that showed us queer characters without very much explanation. The conflict was not his identity. The conflict was not his racial identity. The conflict was an interpersonal understanding that many people, I think, have a variation of.”

Following the first season, Clemons-Hopkins was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series at the 2021 Emmys, making them the first nonbinary actor to be nominated in one of the acting categories.

Carl Clemons-Hopkins - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD
Carl Clemons-Hopkins - Credit: Lexie Moreland/WWD

Lexie Moreland/WWD

“It was and still is a very real surprise and very real honor. Honestly, for me, it was not in any way something I expected because it was not in any way something that I thought I could have,” they say. “It just wasn’t. I had already felt that was something that I’d already long since put out of the scope of my dreams. It gave me confirmation to dream bigger. It also gave me the really great honor of, if I thought that, then I’m sure there’s countless other artists who find similarities to me who thought that as well. What I like is that it can be less of a shock to the next person. I enjoy the encouragement that it gave both me, and gives people like me. It’s really nice to not be counted out.”

The Emmys in 2021 were Clemons-Hopkins’ biggest red carpet, and therefore the perfect stage for fashion expression, something the performer delights in. For the occasion they worked with Christian Siriano for a custom look that was done in the colors of the nonbinary flag — purple, yellow, black and white.

“It’s interesting because fashion was another world that was not something I felt included in — quite literally, because I just don’t fit. I can’t list off a high number of designers who are designing for 6’4″ nonbinary individuals. It’s just not done,” they say. “I also enjoy queering the lens. I enjoy having fun. I enjoy finding rules, breaking them. I personally really quite adore fashion and creative process and the design process of it all. That’s really fascinating to me.

“I was watching some documentary and this designer said the function of design is to solve a problem. What I enjoy about that approach to fashion is if the problem is exclusion, if the problem is limitation, if the problem is gender binary, then I enjoy using fashion to help just break some of that up,” Clemons-Hopkins continues. “I’m not saying you won’t ever find me in a standard suit and tie, but my God would there be some rhinestones or something on it. I enjoy approaching fashion with some sense of purpose and with a lot, lot, lot of fun.”

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