Fitting In Emily Hampshire interview

Montreal-born and raised actress Emily Hampshire on her new film Fitting In

We spoke with the Schitt’s Creek alumnus about her new role in the dark coming-of-age comedy, Montreal private schools, her first acting gig in Are You Afraid of the Dark? and more.

Molly McGlynn’s pitch-dark coming-of-age comedy opens with a quote from Jennifer’s Body. “Hell is a teenage girl” sets the tone for a general atmosphere of malaise for the audience. It’s a quote with a double edge, one that describes the nightmare teenage girls inflict on each other and the world, and the way the world inflicts horror on young girls just trying to survive. 

Based, in part, on the director’s experiences, Fitting In is a typical teen movie in many ways. Lindy (Maddie Ziegler) navigates love and friendship in high school, but she soon learns she suffers from MRKH Syndrome, a rare condition that affects the female reproductive system and is characterized by an underdeveloped vagina and uterus. If most teenagers feel the pressure to be normal, Lindy is confronted with a genetic reality that forces her to get creative and redefine the hell of teenage girlhood.

In the film, the Canadian darling best known these days for her role as Stevie on Schitt’s Creek — Emily Hampshire — plays Lindy’s mom Rita. She’s a great mom, perpetually worried that she’s not enough. She’s passionate and frantic, a matriarchal force that yearns to be defined beyond her social roles. It’s a performance that could have been passive, rooted in stereotypes, but instead feels embodied, brimming with interiority and a frantic “mom” energy that challenges the toneless matriarchal stock roles we often see in teen films. 

Hampshire was born in Montreal and began her acting career here. Her first major role was in an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? She’s been a staple of Canadian TV with roles in iconic CanCon programs like Made in Canada, 12 Monkeys (the series), Ruby Gloom and The Rig. She’s had an equally successful film career and has worked with Jacob Tierney, Xavier Dolan, David Cronenberg and Darren Aronofsky. 

With boundless enthusiasm and a good dose of humour, she spoke with Cult MTL about her role in Fitting In, teen comedies and growing up in Montreal.

Justine Smith: Fitting In is a truly singular teen movie that captures a very specific experience with a dark sense of humour. What was it about the script and the character of Rita that first spoke to you?

Emily Hampshire: I agree. This movie, and I love that you said it, is so singular. What really got me was that I knew this was Molly McGlynn, the director’s personal story. We call it a coming-of-age traumedy. What I loved about the script was that she was able to tell her personal trauma with gallows humour. There’s this part where Lindy is looking for anyone else who has been diagnosed with MRKH Syndrome, and the only person she can find is Hitler’s wife. That was the moment I was like, “Oh, I’m in!” 

JS: Watching the film, it struck me that it’s the type of film I would have responded to when I was young. I went to an all-girls school, and it was rare that I’d watch a film that would “capture” my teen experience. I connected with dark humour as a kind of coping mechanism that is present here. What kind of teen films did you respond to when you were a teen?

Emily Hampshire: First of all, I just have to ask because I was a teenager in Montreal and went to an all-girls school. What school did you go to?

JS: I went to Villa Maria!

Emily Hampshire: Oh my God, I went to Queen of Angels. We shared school dances with the Loyola boys!

JS: I only went a few times; I found it so awkward and terrible.

Emily Hampshire: Oh. My. God! So sorry I got sidetracked! What was the question? Teen movies!

When I was young, it was Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing, but that might have been even before I was a teen. Those weren’t teen movies. Grease? Not Grease. [Emily is talking with a friend in the room with her.] Okay, Dazed and Confused and Reality Bites! But I don’t know if they were “teen movies.” There was Clueless, but I didn’t really connect with it. I connected more with older movies like The Goonies and the one with Ponyboy, The Outsiders.

I don’t think I count as I’m not a good person to ask! I was in a generation between teen movies. There were the John Hugues movies before me, and then after, there was She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. We were more grungy with Winona Ryder films like Reality Bites and the one where she’s in a hospital and depressed, Girl Interrupted. I really connected with Girl Interrupted

Maddie Ziegler in Fitting In

JS: How did growing up in Montreal shape your career, if it did at all? 

Emily Hampshire: I would not be an actor had I not gone to Queen of Angels, even though I didn’t want to go because I went to a co-ed elementary school, and everyone went to St. Thomas. And I wanted to go there, too. My mom wanted me to go to Queen of Angels, and I was so mad because I didn’t want to wear a uniform and be in an all-girls school. 

It ended up being the greatest thing that could have ever happened to me. I had teachers there who stayed after school and read to me because I didn’t know at the time, but I was dyslexic. I just thought I didn’t like reading. Then I had my vice principal, who I still speak to. I had a tiny part in our high school play in Sec 1 and she came up to me. She was like, “You were good. You were really funny.” From that moment on, I was going to be an actress! I made a contract with myself: I would spend eight hours a day on acting and give myself one hour to do anything else. I went full-on. I had my first part in Montreal in Are You Afraid of the Dark?

JS: I loved that show. I watched every episode growing up.

Emily Hampshire: That was my first role, and I was playing the part of the girlfriend. My whole part in the episode was to kiss the boy. I went up to the director and asked, “What kind?” I was really trying to be professional. Like, “What kind of kiss would you like? Do you want a French kiss? Full tongue?” And he must have been horrified. What’s funny is, I was talking to Maddie about this, and how she had an intimacy coordinator for (Fitting In). We never had intimacy coordinators before. So, you had an 11-year-old asking the director how much tongue he wanted. It’s just so interesting how much the industry has changed for women in the time I’ve been in it. In a movie like this, you have a female director, and we had a female DOP [Nina Djacic]. We call them cameramen, like a camera-man! It’s not expected to be a woman.

But, back to Montreal. My first film role was with Geneviève Bujold. I played her daughter in this movie called Dead Innocent. She took me under her wing. I went to L.A. and stayed at her place in Malibu. It was my first time seeing the ocean. All my firsts were in Montreal, and had I been better in French, I would have stayed there, but I couldn’t pass as a French-speaking actor. So I went to Hollywood North, Toronto!

JS: There’s a really rich dynamic between all the actors in Fitting In. How did you guys make these relationships work so well?

Emily Hampshire: There wasn’t time for rehearsals. There never is in independent film. Molly had Maddie and me over for dinner before we started shooting just to meet and hang out, which was a great idea. I was nervous about playing a mother because I feel like I don’t have a maternal instinct. But I just felt instantly, “I must protect this girl at all costs.” She’s so special. I never wanted kids before, but now I want a Maddie. I just want Maddie Ziegler in the form she is now to be my daughter. She’s such a great kid, and her performance in this movie is remarkable. I don’t think people know how good an actress she is, and the movie is such a great showcase of that. ■

Fitting In is now playing in Montreal theatres.

Fitting In (directed by Molly McGlynn)

This article was originally published in the Feb. 2024 issue of Cult MTL.

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