Alum Gets Emmy Nod for Role on ‘Hacks’

July 27, 2021

Carl Clemons-Hopkins BFA ’09 (Musical Theater) received a 2021 Emmy nomination for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for their role on HBO Max’s new comedy series Hacks.

The show follows the waning career of legendary comedian and Las Vegas mainstay Deborah Vance, played by Jean Smart, and young outcast comedy writer Ava Daniels, played by Hannah Einbinder, who is tasked with reviving it. Clemons-Hopkins is Marcus Vaughn, who oversees Vance’s company and brand as chief operating officer, shuttling Deborah from casino standup gigs to infomercial appearances, where she hawks gaudy housewares emblazoned with her initials. Smart and Einbinder also received Emmy nominations for their roles in the show.

Last year, despite appearing in a run of Hamilton in Chicago and landing a role in Jordan Peele’s upcoming remake of the 1992 horror film Candyman, they were actively preparing to pursue business school and a potential career change. If it wasn’t for what Clemons-Hopkins told the Associated Press was a “life-changing 24 hours,” their breakout role on Hacks might never have materialized. 

While quarantining at their home in Chicago, Clemons-Hopkins’ agent requested a self-filmed audition for the then-unannounced Hacks. Clemons-Hopkins had just one day to turn the tape around. A Zoom meeting with the showrunners, a virtual chemistry check with Smart and an offer to play Marcus quickly followed their submission. 

For Clemons-Hopkins, whose experience is mainly theatrical, those early meetings were just a taste of what to expect as they stepped into the production routine of the COVID-19 era.

“I never really got to have the ‘Oh, you’re on a TV show’ experience. There were no parties. Our table reads were over Zoom,” Clemens-Hopkins told online outlet Shondaland about their experience filming Hacks. “It was just about keeping your head down and getting your job done and trying to do it quickly.”

As a character, Marcus doles out a more subtle and wry brand of humor than the rest of the cast. He excels as Vance’s COO and in his house-flipping side hustle because of his convictions and tendency for perfectionism. The show also tracks Marcus’ love life, which has not seen much success until he meets Wilson, a local utility worker regularly called to Vance’s mansion to admonish her for egregious water use. The complete picture of Marcus that emerges is radically different than any character Clemens-Hopkins has played previously.

“For a long time, it was just henchmen and bodyguards,” Clemens-Hopkins told Shondaland about their past roles. “Nothing against henchmen and bodyguards, but I wanted to do more than that. The fact that Marcus is an out, queer, Black character with agency, and his adjectives were not the conflict of the piece — that was the most exciting part for me.”

Clemons-Hopkins hopes to pursue similar roles, reflective of real experiences lived by real people, in the future. For now, they will reprise their role as Marcus is the second season of Hacks, which HBO Max recently confirmed. 

Carl Clemons-Hopkins on the “Hacks” set, sitting at a wooden desk with their elbows propped on the desk and hands clasped. They’re talking to Hannah Einbinder, their co-star on “Hacks.”
Carl Clemons-Hopkins and co-star Hannah Einbinder were both nominated for acting Emmys; photo by Anne Marie Fox/HBO Max.