“Some of my best work in [The Rig] is when I can’t understand what the other person is saying,” laughs Emily Hampshire, who filmed the supernatural thriller series “at the height of COVID” (therefore masks) with a predominantly Scottish cast (therefore accent barrier) including Iain Glen, Mark Bonnar and Martin Compston; the latter of which she describes as the country’s “Justin Bieber”. “He is so famous,” she says. “When I posted about The Rig, Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek texted me like, ‘You worked with Martin Compston?! Like, Line of Duty?!’ I need to see that. He hasn’t seen Schitt’s Creek, though.”
The Prime Video series follows the crew of the Kinlock Bravo oil rig in the ferocious waters of the North Sea, who encounter a an all-enveloping fog that halts communication with the outside world. Allegiances are formed, tattoos mysteriously vanish and Hampshire leads as the fierce Rose Mason, an oil company representative and scientist coming to terms as the newbie on board while finding her footing in a “man’s world”. “She doesn’t care about being liked,” the star explains. “It’s like Stevie in Schitt’s Creek. When people who are fans of the show meet me, they’re very disappointed that I’m not as cool as Stevie. But, I wanted to play Stevie so I can take a vacation from myself and be chill.”
Ahead of its release (all six episodes of The Rig are available to stream now), we caught up with Hampshire to discuss the acclaimed new series – including the “unimaginable” storylines that “will happen someday” – how Schitt’s Creek changed the course of queer representation on television and how her career-defining role as Stevie hasn’t “pigeonholed” her as an actor. Of course, we had to ask about that potential Schitt’s Creek film…
Because I wore it yesterday! Was it yesterday? What is time? Anyway, you can’t wear it the day after because it’s dirty. I wore underwear. You’re supposed to wear a kilt with no underwear, but I wore underwear.
In Scotland, in that weather?
Yes! They’re so comfortable though, and now I get why guys like to wear kilts.
Right. Let’s talk about the show! I will say, I’m glad it’s not just about a rig and that there’s some supernatural elements there.
Yeah, me too. First of all, I didn’t even know what a rig was, because we [Americans] don’t know what that is. I, also, would not want to be in a show that’s just about a rig. Not that that’s not fun, but it’s not my thing! What I love about the supernatural element is, because I don’t normally like stuff that’s fantasy or supernatural, it reminds me of Black Mirror where it could happen. It’s this close because it’s based on real science. In a couple of years, this might no longer be supernatural. It might just be natural.
You’re telling me that a bit of fog is about to mince along, remove my tattoos and kill me?
Keep watching, because it comes from… It’s possible. I’m just saying, it’s possible!
Prime Video only gave me the first three episodes, so I’m dying to see the rest.
Yes, yes, so you can know that the end of the world is, like, tomorrow.
Months ago, I saw a tweet claiming that a meteor the size of the Eiffel Tower was heading for Earth and I thought, ‘Woo! C’mon then!’
[Laughs] Oh my god. Did you see that there was this video online of this flock of birds that just suddenly died in the air? You have to Google it. It’s so terrifying because imagine you’re just walking and all the birds just fall out of the sky? Supposedly, there was a science thing where a radio wave or something told them to go down but I’m like, ‘That’s the end of the world.’ When birds start falling out of the sky… It’s an insane video, I highly recommend you Google.
I’ll include the link right… here. In The Rig, you play Rose Mason, the badass oil company representative and scientist. What attracted you to this character?
First of all, I have to say I love you so much for saying all of that and not asking me to say, ‘Can you tell me who your character is?’ I find that the hardest thing to be like, ‘I play Rose Mason…’ I’m so happy you just did that. What I loved about her is, because she’s so corporate and is not very popular with the crew, she doesn’t care about being liked. I like to play characters that I idolise where I think, ‘I want that to rub off on me.’ It’s like Stevie in Schitt’s Creek. When people who are fans of the show meet me, they’re very disappointed that I’m not as cool as Stevie. But, I wanted to play Stevie so I can take a vacation from myself and be chill. Rose is similar to me in that everything is about work, and I care a lot more about that – which sounds terrible! A social life and stuff like that… I much prefer to work. If I end up hanging out with people, I’m like, ‘I’d rather be working.’
Work is so social, too.
That’s why all my friends, my good friends, are people I work with. If we’re not doing something productive work-wise, then I feel like I’m being lazy or wasting my time. I can’t even watch television unless there’s a purpose. So, Rose definitely has that thing that I identify with. But, she doesn’t feel guilty about it, and that’s what I like. I always feel bad! I just love how she’s this woman in a man’s world. I can’t tell you what happens… It’s really good, though.
Back to what you said about Schitt’s Creek fans being “disappointed” when they meet you. Surely not? Do fans really tell you they’re disappointed?
No, no! I just see it. If people call ‘Stevie!’ I get just as excited because I love Stevie, so I’m like, ‘Oh my god, hi!’ But, I think I scare the person a bit because I can tell they’re like, ‘Ooh, you’re not like Stevie.’ I’m more enthusiastic than both Stevie and Rose.
With Rose, there’s this inner conflict because she’s a powerful woman in, like you said, a man’s world. She’s also the newbie on board and she’s balancing that with this secret romance with Fulmer. How would you describe what Rose is going through across the course of the series?
When I first read it, one of my questions to both John Strickland, the director, and David McPherson, the writer, was, ‘Does she really care about Fulmer? Does she really have feelings for him?’ When I met Martin, all those questions went away because I realised that casting both of us together worked so well. I loved him instantly. The struggle is, she does have feelings for Fulmer but doesn’t want to have those feelings. She’s become so good at her job because she doesn’t let herself have needs or emotional attachments to anybody and this crack in her armour, of Fulmer being somebody she cares about, really makes all big decisions difficult. It’s great to play a character that has lots of conflict within them. There’s also so much conflict with everybody else, too.
Then there’s this motherfucking fog stirring up trouble.
Yeah, there’s that too! And we’re in the middle of the North Sea, with no communication.
You work with some TV legends on The Rig, from Martin Compston to Iain Glen and Mark Bonnar…
They were amazing. I was doing wardrobe when we first started the show and I hadn’t met anybody and our costume designer was like, ‘Martin Compston is on this! Ooh.’ I had no idea who Martin Compston was. Then somebody else was like, ‘Martin Compston! Martin Compston!’ We instantly became besties and we went out for dinner. Walking down the street with Martin Compston in Scotland… He’s like Justin Bieber. He is so famous. When I posted about The Rig, Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek texted me like, ‘You worked with Martin Compston?! Like, Line of Duty?!’ I need to see that. He hasn’t seen Schitt’s Creek, though. Before I was fully cast, the director and some producers were on the Zoom and Iain Glen comes on like, ‘Such a fan of your work!’ and I’m like, ‘I’m such a fan of your work!’ All through filming, he wouldn’t know certain things and I wouldn’t know certain dragon names or whatever. At one point, he was like, ‘If I wanted to watch your favourite episode of Schitt’s Creek, what would it be?’ and I was like, ‘I haven’t seen Game of Thrones either!’ None of us have seen any of our shows and we were just pretending!
I love that. The Rig is the first Prime Video series to be entirely shot in Scotland. Have you ever visited Scotland before shooting the series?
No, I hadn’t, and I loved it. We were shooting at the height of COVID, so everyone was wearing masks and I couldn’t understand anyone, at all, especially Martin. Some of my best work in the show is when I can’t understand what the other person is saying, and it just seems like the wheels are turning. Yeah, it was my first time in Scotland and I loved it.
You’ve become known over the past few years for your work in horror and supernatural dramas, from 12 Monkeys to Chapelwaite and now, The Rig. What is it about the genre that you like? As an actress, anyway?
Well, I’m usually tricked into them! Chapelwaite is this Stephen King gothic horror, which I’m totally into… a gothic horror. It had Adrien Brody, it was well written and was based on this short story. I went to set on the third episode and we didn’t get the scripts before, I suddenly look to my left and there is a vampire sitting next to me. Not your Halloween kind of vampire, it was like a real vampire. We weren’t actually on set, we were off set, so I was terrified. That’s how I learned that I was in a show about vampires. It wasn’t in the short story, no vampires appear! Anyway, I did ultimately enjoy it. What was the other one? 12 Monkeys. First of all, I did four seasons of that show and even at the very end, Terry Matalas, the creator and showrunner, drew so many diagrams trying to explain time travel to me. In the movie, Brad Pitt plays this crazy person and I play the Brad Pitt part. So, the great thing about being crazy in the way that he was is that I got to do everything. She has these delusions of grandeur… I got to sing 99 Luftballoons in German. I got to sing P!nk’s U + Ur Hand to Hitler because when you have time travel, you go back and kill Hitler, that’s what you do. To me, there was no fantasy about it in my character’s head, everything was just real. What I love about The Rig is that I actually believe – and I will say it on record – that the stuff that happens, the unimaginable things that happen in this show, something similar will happen one day. I’m never gonna have that thing happen again with 12 Monkeys where I was very surprised when COVID happened. In 12 Monkeys, it seemed like fantasy.
Let’s talk about Schitt’s Creek, because it was a popular show, Emily.
It wasn’t a hit until later!
Stevie is a career-defining role and one that you’re always going to be associated with. Is this something you welcome?
I’m so glad that the one that hit was Schitt’s Creek. What’s so great about that character, and I wanna make sure I say this properly because Annie’s performance as Alexis is my favourite, but I could see how playing a character like Alexis could pigeonhole you. People would always want Alexis. What I love about Stevie is that she really is the audience, the everyman. I feel like the opportunities that come my way are a little broader than being pigeonholed. But, I did expect to only get offers for characters like Stevie. I feel like I’ve been very lucky that I haven’t. I haven’t tried to avoid it, but I do like to do different stuff. I have really good agents and I’ve had my Canadian agent since I was 13 and so they get me. I was fortunate to start in Canada where I got to play so many different characters, so I do have that stuff that people know me from. I would be upset if I was only getting parts like Stevie, but then Stevie… There are no parts like Stevie. I have gotten a lot of different stuff.
Rose is definitely not like Stevie.
Nothing like Stevie! Except, we were doing a press roundtable the other day and there was a journalist who opened with, ‘I’m really mad at you because I’m the biggest fan of Schitt’s Creek and you were really different in this!’ She said something like, ‘You were really serious in this,’ and now I think she hates me.
A journalist actually said that to you?
Yes! I hope I took it the wrong way and she didn’t mean that. But yes, Rose is very different and that’s why I became an actor, to get the opportunity to be different people. That’s what I want. I want more than this one life. I don’t want to be Emily. I want to be all these different people.
When I last spoke to you, we spoke about the lack of mainstream representation for marginalised communities under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. That was three years ago: have you witnessed much change since then?
Yes. Yes. I think there’s been so much change in the last three years. For me, halfway through Schitt’s Creek, or maybe when people started watching in season five, the world changed too. Schitt’s was putting out this kind comedy and this inclusive world. Dan [Levy] said there was no homophobia in Schitt’s Creek and that was just normal. That normal can come from diversity and representation, and seeing it, that’s when it becomes normal. Everybody’s identifying as things now so that we become a world where you don’t have to identify as anything other than yourself. Be who you are. So, I have seen a huge change in that.
Definitely, more shows are becoming like Schitt’s Creek with no elements of homophobia in the storyline, from The Haunting of Bly Manor to First Kill and so forth.
I think the bar was set. Going back after that feels a little… I’ve been watching Boy Meets World and old sitcoms and it’s so weird when you hear somebody say, ‘That’s so gay!’ or ‘That’s retarded’. When I was in elementary school, those were insults and so it feels like Schitt’s made progress in the world and now, to go back, it’s a little, ‘Eww, you’re doing that?’
Dan has spoken about the potential for a Schitt’s Creek movie. I assume you’re on board?
I would be surprised if we didn’t do one. We like each other too much to not. Actually, we like each other so much that we wanna be like, ‘Who got the oldest?’ and talk about how bad we look now. We like to make fun of ourselves.
The Rig is now available to stream on Prime Video.
Watch the trailer here or below.