Oh snap! This toy brick builder connects the community to the craft.
No one is more surprised than Sam Hatmaker (above left, with building partner Jessica Ragzy Ewud) that he’s on a competitive LEGO building reality show.
The gender non-conforming gay contestant on Fox’s LEGO Masters is shocked that the show even exists, much less that he was selected to compete.
Hatmaker’s LEGO obsession began when he was a child when he received his first builder’s kit as a gift. The first set led to another and another and by the time he was an adult, he had amassed a huge collection of LEGO bricks which he stored in buckets in his home.
The bricks were unorganized, and stayed that way until he and a boyfriend were out and about, spending a lazy day looking at antiques. In one shop, they found a large metal cabinet with a hundred drawers and at his boyfriend’s suggestion, they purchased the piece and took it home so that Hatmaker could sort and organize his collection.
The project took months, and when it was finally finished, for the first time, he decided to design his very own build. The goal? The house from Golden Girls.
Images of the design went viral and Hatmaker was soon receiving attention for something that he’d loved his entire life.
“So I started making statues and weird characters, but mostly gay icons,” Hatmaker told SDGLN with a laugh. “Then, for my friend’s birthday. I didn’t know what to get him. So I was like, well, he likes Divine--which we all should--and I decided to make a portrait for him out of LEGO.”
Again, the project drew a lot of attention and so he began to make more using thousands of bricks to create portraits of Carrie Fisher, John Waters, and one of his personal favorites, Agnes Moorehead as Endora from Bewitched.
The more he built, the more attention and acclaim he gained and now, he’s found himself on television.
“I never even knew it was a possibility!” Hatmaker said remarking how the hobby has become something much more mainstream thanks to shows like LEGO Masters. “I’ve been going to LEGO conventions for years. People get together to show off their builds and talk about technique. Then, this past weekend I was at a convention in Portland, and it was totally like a comic-con.”
The show is a much different environment than he is used to, however. Not only is he working with a partner, which he’s rarely done before, but the teams are put under strict time limits for their builds, often having to create sprawling, complex models in under 15 hours.
And all the while, hosts Will Arnett who voiced LEGO Batman in The LEGO Movie, brickmaster Amy Corbett, and LEGO set designer Jamie Berard are walking from work station to work station, checking progress, making suggestions, and in Arnett’s case cracking jokes.
“It’s super stressful but super invigorating,” the LEGO artist explained. “When you work on projects at home, you take breaks, do odd stuff around the house, spend time thinking about what the next step of the project is going to be and what supplies you’re going to need. On the show you’re just going. You follow your instincts and push through to the end of the job in front of you.”
Hatmaker had no idea the impact just being his authentic self on television would have, and he admits he’s cried many happy tears since the show began airing with some of the responses he’s received from viewers.
He recalls a particular email he received from a mother whose gender non-conforming child was completely overwhelmed when they saw Sam on the show.
“She said during the first episode, their eyes just lit up when they saw me,” he said, his own tears apparent in his voice. “They were like, ‘There’s someone on TV like me!’ It’s just…it’s really powerful to see someone inspired just because you’re being yourself.”
At another convention he attended over the weekend, he says, another child broke through the line and ran up to him, throwing their arms around him. When he bent down to talk to them, they asked if he was a boy or a girl and he responded, “I don’t know. I’m just me.”
“They said, I feel the same way but I get teased a lot when I wear a skirt to school, and all I could think to say was I’m sorry. I’m sorry the world is like this but maybe we can make it better.”
Furthermore, Hatmaker wants kids and adults out there who are on the LGBTQ+ spectrum and are also interested in LEGO that there are places for them to meet online. Specifically, he mentioned a Facebook group called GayFOLs.
A queer spin on AFOL—Adult Fan of LEGO—the GayFOLs group is a safe space for LGBTQ+ people to share their LEGO designs and models with each other, something Hatmaker is particularly passionate about as some of the other mainstream groups were populated with homophobic and transphobic members.
“LEGO is for everyone,” he said. “I’m so excited to be on a show like this and to be myself and for people to see that LEGO is for everyone.”
LEGO Masters airs on Fox on Wednesday nights after The Masked Singer, and is available on Hulu for you to catch up on any of the season that you’ve missed.