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How Carl Clemons-Hopkins & Hacks are updating queer visibility

How Carl Clemons-Hopkins & Hacks are updating queer visibility

Carl Clemons-Hopkins
Riker Brothers

"What I love about the world of Hacks is that it's more reflective of the world as it is," Carl Clemons-Hopkins tells Out. "I'm not sure if straight people exist."


It's time for the world to acknowledge that Hacks is the best comedy series on TV right now. As Jean Smart plays the legendary standup comedian Deborah Vance in what feels like the performance of a lifetime, she's surrounded by a cast of top-tier queer actors bringing to life very specific, oddly relatable, and totally hilarious characters who happen to be queer.

Carl Clemons-Hopkins, who is undoubtedly one of the most impressive actors on the show, brings to life a low-key, level-headed, and litigious Marcus — a character who, in an ensemble of so many off-the-wall performers, ran the risk of being labeled the so-called "straight man" in a comedy setting. But that's never been the case for Marcus or Clemons-Hopkins… oh, at all!

"I was kind of fascinated by Marcus," Clemons-Hopkins tells Out. "He's a person that's been in a situation and in surroundings that I don't think that I would ever be in. We have different superpowers, different ways of viewing the world, and different ways of handling things. But I was interested in how he values comedy and how he values Deborah."

The actor continues, "Something that we got to really explore in season 3 is, 'What is it about Deborah that attracts Marcus?' We also saw where she found him in his life. We talked about that a little bit in episode 8, the scenes with Tim Bagley [as Reggie]. Marcus was so different and so removed, and I know that there are larger-than-life figures and entities who have people like Marcus in their lives to help keep the machine running. It was such a great opportunity for a character exploration."

Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Jean Smart on Hacks season 3


Immediately after being introduced as Deborah's manager, advisor, and business partner in the first season of Hacks, Marcus embarks a captivating character arc that disentangles this person's identity — a storyline and performance that lead Clemons-Hopkins to become the first out nonbinary actor nominated for an Emmy Award in the entire history of the ceremony.

"We meet Marcus in season 1 in a similar place where we meet Deborah: they're on autopilot. It's easy to be the glue that keeps it all together when you're just doing the same things all over again," Clemons-Hopkins says. "But just as he's losing a bit of his stickiness, if you will, and more is being asked of Deborah and of Marcus… he's less able to put himself on the back burner. Focusing on what needs to be done becomes a bit harder when he brings himself into focus."

By the third season of Hacks — which aired its season finale on Thursday, May 30 — Marcus is not only grappling with his professional dynamic and personal relationship with Deborah, but he's also having to contend with diehard fans of the comedian. "I loved [that storyline] because we got to explore a lot about boundaries," the actor explains. "The issue of boundaries has been a through line with Marcus as far as his work-life balance is, and how he prioritizes Deborah."

They add, "Marcus has definitely been in therapy, and things are going pretty well, when we start the season. But that changes when he's challenged by the Hollywood types and by all the intrusions into the schedule. It's a really great modern parable about what happens when you're trying to live right and grow, and you get tested, and then what falls away? He gets one phone call and we're back to old patterns. We're back to shaky boundaries."

Carl Clemons-Hopkins

Riker Brothers

Hacks is known for tackling very queer storylines involving very queer characters in a way that is presented as something radically universal. Some of those themes come to the surface through Marcus' ever-changing relationships with people like Damien (Mark Indelicato) and Wilson (Johnny Sibilly).

"I would work with those two on anything, and the three of us have talked about this in different settings," Clemons-Hopkins says. "The three of them are such refreshing queer characters. The relationships and connections between them, I think, are relatively unexplored in film and television."

They explain, "There's a great work relationship between Marcus and Damien, which is almost a mentorship kind of situation. There aren't a lot of examples [in the media] of gay men in the workplace who don't have a love connection and also aren't antagonistic toward each other. It explores more of a real connection that I'm sure you may find in your workplace as well. There stories exist, and I'm glad that they're getting their due."

"The Marcus and Wilson relationship… first of all, working with Johnny, he's just phenomenal," the actor highlights. "I'm so excited to see him rise and do more things, on top of just being fun and brilliant and gorgeous. I really enjoy that we see them in the first and second seasons building up this romance, which then evolves into a real friendship."

Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Johnny Sibilly on Hacks season 3


Clemons-Hopkins adds, "The friendship with Wilson is not only necessary for Marcus because he was very isolated, but it's also helpful for audiences to see different types of gay and queer relationships that expand past hookups and clubs."

"Nothing against hookups and clubs… I think they're f*cking phenomenal!" they clarify. "But I love that this friendship is brewing, and how authentic it is. It's been beautiful to read it and to work on it. I'm happy that people are experiencing it, because it's one of the many stories that we have and still need to be told."

The situations described by Clemons-Hopkins are already very natural and common among queer people. Chances are that you're friends with former hookups and exes. Chances are that you make new friends who have slept with the same people you did. And while there are awful and toxic relationships that should obviously be discontinued, there are also wonderful people you meet and who don't need to be discarded from your life just because a love story didn't pan out.

"I think that especially happens if you end up living in major cities or end up having larger friend groups," the actor points out. "There's going to be some situation where someone said something, and I love that those don't always have to end in fights, or in marriage. Sometimes, it just ends with, 'That was fun, but that's not where we're going, so we're still cool.' It's really beautiful to see that on Hacks, because it's so true to life."

Carl Clemons-Hopkins

Riker Brothers

Our conversation keeps circling back to this recurring theme of Hacks: the exploration of queer specificity through characters that transcend familiar tropes. By focusing on Marcus' strengths and weaknesses as Deborah's manager, on his mentorship of Damien, and his need for someone like Wilson in his life, Marcus' queerness is visible and clear, but there is a whole universe of other character traits within it.

The same can be said about Ava and the other queer characters of Hacks. While their queer identities are never concealed, there's a brilliant, deliberate, and even funny disregard toward explaining who these queer people are and how they coexist. In a media landscape concerned with either weaponizing labels for inclusivity or burying them so deep that they're literally gone, Hacks continues to walk a tightrope that just feels right. And, frankly, by doing so, it challenges other shows to question why walking that line was even considered a "tightrope" in the first place.

"What I love about the world of Hacks is that it's more reflective of the world as it is," Clemons-Hopkins says. "I'm not sure if straight people exist. I think marketing exists. I think systems of power exist. We've been fed these 'social norms' and constructs that uphold the people who control money and power, but that's not all of humanity. And those of us who find ourselves in 'queer relationships' or with 'queer identities,' these aren't the prevailing facets of our humanity."

The actor adds, "The Hacks writers created these characters with so many qualities, their queerness being one of them, and it's a brilliant thing. There are so many ways into the characters and the story. All of the people in the world of Hacks who so brilliantly contextualize the tapestry of this ensemble, but whose adjectives — while they are present and respected — aren't everything there is to them… it's just a very true reflection of the actual world we're living in. Not the politicized world we're living in, but the actual human-filled world we're living in."

Carl Clemons-Hopkins

Riker Brothers

When asked about what they wish to see from Marcus in the fourth season of Hacks — which has now been officially greenlit by Max — Clemons-Hopkins shares a thoughtful response.

"I both want him to walk in his own power and recognize the abilities that he has outside of Deborah. I think he's on the verge of discovering that he's got to use those skills and abilities [while merging] them with how he was able to handle Deborah's expanding profile, and how he was able to redirect some issues with third-party vendors."

"But I also just want him to keep going on this journey," they add. "In season 1, Wilson started something within Marcus that has been blooming in a really beautiful and well-paced way. I'm excited to see him continue to bloom, continue to grow. And I also really want to see him f*ck some sh*t up, make some enemies, start some fights, get some conflict. As a scrappier person, I'm excited to see Marcus fighting and finding his strength."

A fully unleashed Marcus? "Yes," the actor says. "The time is now."

Hacks season 3 is now streaming on Max.

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Bernardo Sim

Bernardo Sim is a writer, content creator, and the deputy editor of Out. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.

Bernardo Sim is a writer, content creator, and the deputy editor of Out. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.