'Hacks' doesn't have just one 'gay assistant' — and the actors playing devoted associates say that brings the show closer to real life

'Hacks' doesn't have just one 'gay assistant' — and the actors playing devoted associates say that brings the show closer to real life
  • The season three finale of "Hacks" brought big changes for Deborah Vance — and everyone in her entourage.

  • That includes Marcus, Deborah's business partner, and Damien, her personal assistant.

  • Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Mark Indelicato, who play Marcus and Damien, spoke with BI about season three.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the season three finale of "Hacks."

"Hacks" is a series that has grown wiser and more audacious with time — and that goes for its characters as well.

Stand-up comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) has finally hit it big in the wake of her comedy special. But despite cutting her protégé Ava (Hannah Einbinder) loose at the end of season two to pursue her own projects, Deborah brings Ava back into the fold to help her campaign for a late-night hosting gig. Her single-minded pursuit of the job upends not only her life but that of everyone in her professional orbit.

That includes Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), the CEO of Deborah's company, who struggles to set boundaries between his personal and work life, and Damien (Mark Indelicato), Deborah's endlessly devoted personal assistant.

By the end of season three of this Max series, which streamed earlier this week, Marcus is ready to leave Deborah's side. That means ending their long-standing professional relationship and coming to terms with the way Deborah has treated him as a business partner and one of her most ardent fans. It also means that Damien, by the end of the season, is left inconsolable on the floor as he realizes he's about to take on much more responsibility.

As Clemons-Hopkins remarked to Business Insider, it's notable that Marcus and Damien are two separate characters in Deborah's entourage — something the actor says brings the show closer to reality.

"It could have been easy to make the 'gay assistant,' and what you end up having are two very, very different human beings who have very different approaches to their job," they told BI.

Clemons-Hopkins and Indelicato spoke with BI about how that division has allowed both of their characters to grow and what it means to work on a show — and more importantly, a set — that feels safe as a queer actor.

carl clemons-hopkins as marcus in hacks. they're wearing a greens shirt and looking skeptically down a table at deborah vance, played by jean smart
Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Marcus in "Hacks."Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Max

Marcus and Damien are very different iterations of this "staff to a famous person" archetype frequently seen in film and TV. What's your understanding of playing a more nuanced version of that character? Did you ever speak with people who had worked in a position like this?

Carl Clemons-Hopkins: I didn't get to go that route, but I have witnessed and been in the presence of certain company managers or people, mostly in the theatrical world, that were closer to huge stars, Tony winners, and whatnot. And with this show, one thing I was really excited about was the fact that these are two separate characters. …They have their own skill sets. They have their own connection, relationship, and edification of Deborah's world, which has been really helpful to play with, but also, I think much closer to these individuals who have the staff.

Mark Indelicato: And while they're very different, I would say that there is a common denominator that definitely bonds them, which is their commitment to their job. Approaching Damien, I went the route of trying to channel some of my favorite assistants that are in the same ilk, namely Tony Hale on "Veep," you know what I mean? Like, of Gary.

Damien's always standing behind Deobrah, and there's not necessarily a lot of words that he's saying, but trying to evoke some semblance of emotion without words.

mark indelicato as damien in hacks, wearing a green shirt, brown jacket, and jeans, clutching a pair of sunglasses as he runs down an airplane tarmac
Damien sprints down a tarmac to deliver Deobrah Vance's sunglasses in "Hacks."Jake Giles Netter/Max

That lack of words allows you to do some of the funniest physical comedy on the show, including sprinting down a tarmac to deliver Deborah's sunglasses during season three, episode four. Tell me a bit about filming that.

Indelicato: It was a real reminder for me of how much work and how many bodies go into these very small snippets that you see. We started it, and I started jogging, and they were like, 'You need to run." I was like, "No, I'm running." And they were like, "No, no, no." And so by the end of it, I did throw up after. I mean, I'm not in any kind of physical shape, and to be doing it for three hours?

But watching the opening of that episode, I was so pleased with the way that it turned out. It's the essence of Damien, right? Running down a tarmac screaming it's an emergency, only to find out that it was about sunglasses.

Carl, I want to talk about Marcus' arc this season because he's trying to set boundaries with Deborah — but he's not only a workaholic, he's also a fan of his boss. Toward the end of the season, when he decides to step away from Deborah, what's going through his head?

Clemons-Hopkins: Something to keep in mind is that … these are business partners. He runs Deborah Vance Inc. He created the House of Vance. He oversees all this merchandise. It's no longer what I'm doing for my favorite comedian, and now it's — I need to mind my business. I need to take my fandom, my love, my personal connections out of it for a second.

carl clemons-hopkins as marcus in hacks, wearing a brown shirt, and sitting at a bar holding a beer. behind them, there's a neon pride flag light and lit-up plastic flamingos
Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Marcus in "Hacks."Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Max

I'm really excited that this season gets to explore how he's growing up. And I also love that it doesn't really fully answer the question. We're still left with What is he going to do? How is he going to get Damien off this floor? How is he going to exit? What are the next moments going to be?

Damien sobbing on the floor in the season finale after he realizes that Marcus is leaving is such a transition point for both characters, but it's also incredibly funny. Mark, when you said, "I don't want to talk to vendors," as you're speaking with Marcus is so good.

Indelicato: In the room on the day, I was in Carl's arms, and Lucia, Jen, and Paul were screaming at me over the loudspeaker, just being like, "Keep crying, keep crying, we're coming up with something right now. 'I don't want to talk to vendors. I don't know how to work Excel.'" And so the energy filming that scene was so high. Thank you to literally every single person in that room to keep my energy up and keep it moving because I was very nervous about doing it.

Clemons-Hopkins: I was too. It's weird.

What made you both nervous about it?

Indelicato: For me, the scene was less about what Damien is going to be doing than it is about the way Marcus feels about leaving Deborah essentially in the lurch, and can Damien take on this responsibility at a moment's notice. Listen, I'm stoked about the idea of Damien's new job, personally, but I fear for him.

Clemons-Hopkins: You always are going to be a bit nervous when you know you're about to shake up someone's world. And the way they set it up, you don't see it in the scene, but it starts mid-meeting and Mark's delivery of, like, I'm saying all this stuff. And he goes, "Okay," like, am I being trained for something? And then watching it add up.

Indelicato: I cannot stress enough how much fun Carl and I had that evening, whenever we filmed it. You know that something is going well when the camera operators are laughing; the boom operators are laughing. You can tell when the energy in the room is kind of electric, and so I walked away from filming that scene being like, "Okay, we nailed it."

carl clemons-hopkins as marcus in hacks. they're wearing tan linen pants and a blue button up shirt, standing in a backyard with a pool and holding up a phone. a cutout of jean smart as deborah vance can be seen in the corner, while the pool in the background has a crowd of people partying and the words "house of" visible
Carl Clemons-Hopkins in season three, episode eight of "Hacks."Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Max

One of my favorite things about this show is that it is just so casually and abundantly queer, and it seems like it's also that way behind the scenes. As actors, what does it mean to be on a set like that? And narratively, what's it like working on material that isn't a coming-out story and just having these characters exist?

Clemons-Hopkins: I find it very affirming in the sense that I don't get up and have my gay coffee and then go for a gay walk. I'm not putting on my Black shoes and listening to my tall music. That's just not what's happening.

And so to be in a work environment, first and foremost, and then to be telling a story that inclusive in the non-identity politics way, but inclusive in the fact that — we're having this conversation, and you're wearing a green top. We're not going into the history of the dye. We're not going into why Hunter Green is called Hunter, because that's not what the point is. The point is we're having this conversation. So it's a very refreshing thing. It's also just really true to life.

Indelicato: Carl and I have been doing this for a long time, and I think when I was making "Ugly Betty," it was a very lonely place to be a queer person in this industry on a show. Most of the time, you're the only queer person in your vicinity, and so I would echo the fact that it feels affirming, but it's safe. It feels really, really safe.

I've said this before, but if you're not a queer person on "Hacks," you're an ally in every sense of the word. And I think that semblance of safety also allows you as an artist to be freer. If you feel safe, then you can do whatever you want and not feel that there would be any kind of repercussion for whatever it is that you're choosing to do in the context of your art.

We're encouraged to be as queer as possible. That's the subtext of the show, in a certain way. …And I think that I can speak for every single one of us that we feel this sense of freedom working on the show.

I know that's not always common.

Indelicato: It's not normal. It's surely not industry standard; let's just put it that way.

Clemons-Hopkins: Not yet.

Indelicato: Not yet. We're working on it. But it certainly is rare.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

"Hacks" season three is available to stream on Max. The series was just renewed for season four.

Read the original article on Business Insider