“At the end of the day, we’re all trying to figure this out. We’re all trying to feed ourselves, feed our family, find somewhere to sleep… and sometimes we’re absolutely fabulous while doing it, and sometimes we’re perfectly fine in the suit we’re in.”

Carl Clemons-Hopkins knew the 18-month interval between the second and third season of the Emmy award-winning Max series ‘Hacks’ would be worth the wait. 

After production on season three was stalled due to star Jean Smart undergoing a heart procedure, production was later impacted by the six-month-long writer and actor strikes. But the latest season has received rave reviews, finding a fresh balance between its growing cast of characters and Clemons-Hopkins, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, has their strongest season yet. 

‘Hacks’ explores the fragile working relationship between a legendary comedian, Deborah Vance, and her entitled millennial writer, Ava Daniels. In the latest season, Deborah vies for a late-night talk show and rehires Ava after their fallout at the end of Season 2. Clemons-Hopkins, who plays Deborah’s business Manager, Marcus, is coming out of a soul-searching second season to finding his own path, possibly away from Deborah, in the latest episodes. 

Clemons-Hopkins has stellar moments in the final two episodes as Marcus starts to see his position in Deborah’s life become less pertinent as she neglects their business ventures in favor of her talk-show ambitions. Marcus’s conversation in episode 8 with a Deborah Vance superfan, played by the legendary comedic actor Tim Bagley, ignites a flame under Marcus to further his career elsewhere and spread his wings. 

“Whenever you’re recognizing a force in your life, I think it’s very important that you recognize the power that you also have,” shares Clemons-Hopkins. [This season] is the beginning of Marcus stepping into that power and recognizing that he is more than an employee… and he will need to have that confidence and that strength within himself to move forward.”

Clemons-Hopkins spoke with Awards Focus about learning about Marcus’s journey for the season, seeing Marcus start to spread his wings, what they took from sharing their scene with Bagley, and their thoughts on the inclusivity of the series both in front and behind the camera.

Awards Focus: What kind of reactions have you been getting this season?

Carl Clemons-Hopkins: This was definitely the most difficult and storied season to work on, short of an actual pandemic with Season one, so knowing that the audience is still there enjoying it and as excited about it as we are has been refreshing and encouraging. It makes the 18 months, or however long it took to get it done, worth it. 

AF: Marcus’s journey this season is a lot about him seeing his value in being in a professional relationship with Deborah. What were your thoughts reading scripts this season and seeing Marcus getting into a position where he wants change?

Clemons-Hopkins: The head writers and showrunners gave me a synopsis of what would happen ahead of getting the scripts so that I knew where we were going. But reading them as they came out and watching the story unfold, I was really excited because I’ve been rooting for Marcus. He’s so wonderful, brilliant, and complex, and this season, we not only get to go into an understanding of Marcus the fan, but we also get to see him begin to bloom in interesting and unique ways. 

AF: Marcus is very analytical and doesn’t have much of a personal life outside of work. Is he at a point where he’s trying to make space and start spreading his wings?

Clemons-Hopkins: When you start doing these things in life, there’s going to be challenges. There are going to be obstacles, and those obstacles are very apparent around episodes eight and nine. I do believe he has all the tools he needs; he just needs to get comfortable using those tools. 

I’m happy that he got to show his strength a bit by handling the third-party vendors and developing the House of Vance. There’s a brilliant mind there and he entered Deborah’s life as a pivot point slash savior of her career. Now, Deborah is pivoting elsewhere and taking her career by the reigns. It’s an opportunity for him to spread his wings, explore his talents, and see what else he has to offer because he has so much to offer. 

AF: He’s been competing for Deborah’s attention and commitment with Ava since she joined the team.

Clemons-Hopkins: Ava was the beginning. Jimmy and Jimmy’s assistant Kayla and the quote-unquote Hollywood influx of Deborah’s life, too. Marcus is not Hollywood. Marcus is not show business. He’s having to really make some decisions and sit back and look at what he wants for his own world. What I love this season is that we got to not only start that storyline, but in some pretty funny ways. 

AF: In episode 8, he airs his frustrations with Deborah over the phone when she tells him she won’t be coming to Palm Springs. What was that moment like for you to explore, especially with Marcus being such a diehard fan of Deborah’s?

Clemons-Hopkins: That was a lot of fun to express. Something we discussed early on while crafting this character is that he hasn’t gotten to where he is by raising his voice. He’s not gotten to where he is by being combative or challenging Deborah to that level of energy. This was the first time he’s thrown back what she’s been serving for years. 

That moment also encouraged him to recognize that he has some control here. Whenever you’re recognizing a force in your life, I think it’s very important that you realize the power that you also have. So, it’s the beginnings of Marcus stepping into that power and recognizing that he is more than an employee. He doesn’t work for Deborah in the ways he used to. This is a different business relationship and he is going to need to have that confidence and that strength within himself to move forward.

 AF: It’s such a relatable journey and that conversation he has with Deborah’s superfan, played by Tim Bagley, where he finally vocalizes this opportunity to look at his business relationship differently. Can you talk about filming that moment with Tim?

Clemons-Hopkins: First of all, Tim Bagley is brilliant and phenomenal. I’ve been a fan of his for years and years, and I was so excited for the opportunity to work with him. It was such a wonderful connection. Fans and critics of the show talk a lot about the intergenerational conversations that happen between Deborah and Ava. This is the first time that Marcus is involved in a genuine intergenerational conversation between two people of different generations. 

We’re currently living in a very real state of emergency for individuals in America and abroad, and I was interacting with a survivor of an era of history that was very detrimental to us as a people. Tim brought gravitas and humor to the scene and the tender truth of the situation where Marcus had the space to express himself while giving a timely lesson, saying this is life and how it works. 

It was a really great message on gratitude and on the understanding that just because you care for someone or have a love for someone or are a fan, you’re seeing them rise and expand, and it’s not something to be taken personally. It’s something to be celebrated. The fact that this entity that you love can spread these wings because of you, not in spite of you, was a really timely thing for Marcus to hear. 

I’m so grateful for that scene and happy that Marcus could share that moment with someone. It’s great whenever Marcus isn’t alone. 

AF: I was wondering about Marcus’s community because he’s managed to maintain a friendship with Wilson, but then he’s standing alone at the house party at Pride. I love what you’re saying about his world opening because it’s hard to find community. 

Clemons-Hopkins: I always wanted Marcus to have more friends and more community, and it’s something I talk about a lot. While I recognize the reasons for the lack of it, I’m so excited whenever he gets to have access to it. At the beginning of the season, there’s a nod to a better work-life balance in that work is busier. He still has time with his mom, his aunt, and Wilson. He’s doing a lot better than season two until the Hollywood types come in, and things go haywire. But to your point, I love that he was able to have that community moment and that connection. 

AF: As a gay man, I do really appreciate seeing this representation of Marcus’s experience, how he’s still finding his place, and the people to surround himself with. How has the inclusivity of this show, both in front and behind the camera, impacted you?

Clemons-Hopkins: I am still wonderfully surprised and overjoyed to hear that people are enjoying the show the way they are and that it’s reaching success. We’ve got these wonderful writers and Jean Smart, but we weren’t sure what the response would be in the pandemic streaming world. I’m really happy to hear people like yourself are finding identification with these characters. I’m also excited to watch this person build the world they need around them. 

Very often we’ll have characters who are, there’s nothing wrong with this, but we’ll have characters that are already famous and popular or fierce and expressive or already fully formed. This is me; get out of my way, and what have you? That’s wonderful. That’s necessary. I would venture to say there are far more of us who wake up in the morning, get dressed, do a job, and get coffee. There may be less glitter in my day than others, and those characters are just as valid and valuable. In a grander scheme, I hope it connects that notion of general, shared humanity. Because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to figure this out. We’re all trying to feed ourselves, feed our family, find somewhere to sleep, all these things. Sometimes, we’re absolutely fabulous while doing it, and sometimes, we’re perfectly fine in the suit we’re in. I’m happy that Marcus gets to explore and bring some balance into that world.