By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 16, 2024 at 6:56 PM

After ten years and more than 100 episodes hanging with law-breaking miscreants on "Shameless," actress Shanola Hampton – aka Veronica Fisher on the Showtime dramedy favorite – is now hunting law-breakers on her latest TV hit, "Found." But she hasn't entirely ditched that Gallagher "laws schmaws" attitude in the process.

Debuting on NBC this past fall – and already booked for a second season – the crime drama stars Hampton as the no-holds-barred frontwoman of a top missing persons crisis unit, hired to help find missing individuals when the police fall short. Her ace in the hole? Literally a guy in a hole: the man who once kidnapped her as a child, now locked up in her basement and full of useful info on how a criminal might think and what they might do. So, in short, a kidnapping expert solves kidnappings with the help of her former kidnapper who she has, in turn, kidnapped. As you might guess with a premise like that, "Found" is a lot more twisty and twisted than one's standard issue case-of-the-week crime drama. 

Gabi Mosely may be an ethical or legal nightmare, but she's a dream for a performer like Hampton – a dream a long-time coming as she tried to find her next big step, both as an actor and a producer, after the incredible run of "Shameless."

It may not be as big as finding a fresh role on a smash TV show, but another one of her next big steps will be toward Wisconsin, as Hampton will come to Alverno College on Feb. 2-3 for a pair of events: a conversation as a part of the Alverno Speaker Series about her life, her career and her work to stop human trafficking, as well as a separate acting master class session for performers of all acting goals. 

Before her duo of events here at Alverno, I got to chat with the "Shameless" and "Found" star about what drew her to her popular new crime show, her acting origins, where her personal passion for ending human trafficking comes from and what she makes of the insanity that is Hollywood awards season. 

OnMilwaukee: Was there a performance, show or movie that inspired you or sparked your interest in acting growing up?

Shanola Hampton: The truth of the matter is there weren’t a lot of people that looked like me on television at all, definitely not darker skin. I grew up in the South, and the only thing we’re really, really serious about are our grits and soap operas. So I watched a lot of soaps, and there was one character – Drucilla, who was on “The Young and the Restless” played by Victoria Rowell, who I later met in life – who was the only one that really was an example of someone that sort of reflected me. So I said, “I’m going to be Drucilla’s daughter!” That was one of the things that I could really look to.

What about “Found” really captured your imagination and excited you to be a part of this project – not just as a performer but as a producer?

"Shameless" gave me such an opportunity to grow and to learn and to learn from the best of the best: (show developer and executive producer) John Wells, who’s my mentor and a friend. And I knew that when I left that show that I would not just be an actor-for-fire anymore, that I wanted to put my stamp on as a producer and that I loved being a director and using my voice in different ways in my artistry.

So with “Found,” it was a long road to be honest. I’d signed an overall deal with NBC who saw the vision of what I wanted to do with my career post-“Shameless,” and they were all on-board – all females in this meeting, it was such a powerhouse meeting. So I did two things for NBC that didn’t do very well and they should not be seen by anyone ever in life – one of them can be, the other one please Lord no. So I was really losing hope that the partnership was going to continue, because I didn’t know if the material was going to align with what I wanted. 

And right toward the end, I met with Nkechi Okoro Carroll, our producer, showrunner and creator of “Found.” She told me about it first; I met with her to be a director on one of her other shows, and she said, “Let me send you this script.” I read it, and I saw that Gabi Mosley was a baddie. And that she could dress. And that it was about impacting a community and telling stories that don’t get told about. And then there was a man in the basement, and I said sign me up! (laughs)

I have to imagine that’s a feast of a role to find, getting to be the good guy and bad guy simultaneously on a TV show. That’s such an interesting and dynamic role. 

Yeah, it’s really fun – because the hero is very rarely the villain as well, or villainess. Or the hero is never as complicated and with so many flaws. So as an actor, it’s everything you want to do, to play a character that has layers. And I’m still peeling back the layers of Gabi. 

The show debuted in the middle of the SAG strike. Was that hard for you to have this exciting show take off but not really being able to talk about it?

It was brutal – not because of this sense of “look at me, look at me, I have a new show” but because I believed in the show so much and all of the hard work that was put into it. I wanted to sing it from the rooftops because I knew it was special and I knew we were going to tell great stories. You know, you go out and promote because it’s a part of your job to promote whatever you’re doing – and some things you promote and you’re like, “Lord Jesus, do I have to talk about this?” And then there’s something that comes along very rarely, like “Found,” where you want to scream it from the rooftop: “Watch this show! I promise you’re going to love it! You’re going to think it’s just a procedural but it’s not! And then she has heels on and she’s kicking butt! AND THEN THERE’S A MAN IN THE BASEMENT!” So it was really, really difficult.

I supported so much of what everyone was fighting for, so there was this juxtaposition between this support and also wanting to be like, “OK, can we get this over with so I can talk about my show?”

For one of your Alverno events, you’ll be talking in part about human trafficking. What really got you involved with that issue and made it something that means so much to your life and career?

Thank you for even touching on that. I wasn’t very versed in the amount of human trafficking going on, but my dear friend Jeannie Mai worked with several organizations. The numbers are crazy – crazier than you would ever think. Right now, in 2024, for human beings to be sold off and to be taken from their homes or their places, to still be living with this? It’s not something that’s really discussed because people are like, “Oh no, that doesn’t happen” – but it does. People are disappearing, and there’s been a massive growth in human trafficking. So she did a wonderful documentary about it, and it’s such a serious topic that I wanted to get on board, not only because she’s a dear friend but because it’s one of those things that people really don’t understand the severity of what’s happening in the human trafficking world. 

Right now we’re in the middle of awards season, and I wanted to ask somebody in the industry: What do you make of awards season and all the craziness that surrounds it? Do you love it or do you hate it?

I would love it if I was nominated. Then I would love awards season – but right now, I’m like whatever. No, I’m kidding.

My brother (Jeremy Allen White) – and he IS my brother; we are family, he is my kids’ Uncle Jeremy – is having a wonderful time in his life, and I’m loving it because I know him so deeply, and I know how hard he works. I’m so proud of him being in this season – so for that, it’s fun. And it’s always good to watch the fashion. 

I mean, I’m gonna be honest: I get really bored by the awards shows. There’s a version of awards shows that I think can be an hour long, where everybody just comes up and says, “This is the category, and here’s who won. And this is the category, and here’s who won.” And then let’s just be done with it. All the extra filler? I’m bored. 

How terrified are you that I’m going to pull up a photo of Jeremy’s Calvin Klein photoshoot and ask you for your opinion on it, like they’ve been doing to “The Bear” cast?

I’m not terrified, but he’s like my little brother. We were together right before he went to go shoot that, and I brought him some Southern pound cake from my mother-in-law, and he was like, “I cannot eat this pound cake; I have a Calvin Klein shoot.” And I was like (*mocking voice*), “Oooh, you have a Calvin Klein shoot?” Then I saw it and I was like, “Oh no, you were right to have not eaten that pound cake.”

Shanola Hampton will participate in two events with Alverno College: an speaker series discussion at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2 as well as an acting master class at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3. For information on how to attend or participate, click here and here. On screen, "Found" airs on NBC on Tuesdays at 9 p.m., with past episodes streamable on Peacock.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.