Adapted from the British series of the same name, Shameless is the latest drama from Showtime that is already off to a successful start. The show follows Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), a booze-addled, working-class patriarch to a brood of six smart, spirited and independent kids who would be better off without his misguided idea of parenting. While Frank is off bar-crawling and carousing around Chicago, eldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) holds down the fort, taking care of the irreverent, endearing and resilient Gallagher clan, who are quite certainly a handful.
While at the Showtime portion of the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, actress Emmy Rossum talked about what attracted her to this television series, what she loves most about her character Fiona, making sex scenes fun and not taking them too seriously, and how much she enjoys being able to do and say just about anything on this show. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
EMMY ROSSUM: Everything about the opportunity attracted me. As an actor, you always look for things that will stretch you and that are different than you are, so that you can surprise yourself, and you want to surround yourself with the highest caliber of people that will make you look good. I just love this character. I love her fierce loyalty to her family. I love the extremities of the situations that this family is in and the outrageous stuff that they let us do. We’re lucky enough to be on a network that encourages that. I loved the opportunity to work with Bill [Macy]. I love that the character shows such duality. She’s so strong, but has this vulnerability underneath. I thought she was very much a modern woman.
Were you looking for something really gritty, or did they come to you and have to convince you to do something like this?
ROSSUM: I read the script and really liked it. I think that I obviously wasn’t the first logical choice because the other roles that I’ve played have been more glamorous, and period type with corsets, and musicals. So, I actually sent a tape from New York, where I was living, and they saw it and liked it. I flew out to L.A. and auditioned three more times, and then got the part.
What did you put on that tape?
ROSSUM: I remember that I actually walked to the place that I was going to make the tape and it was raining that day. My natural inclination was to take a cab or the subway and I just said, “Screw it, I’m going to walk.” So, I walked in the rain and looked a bit like a drowned rat and, clearly, it was perfect.
ROSSUM: It’s liberating. As an actor, and especially as a young woman, there’s so much pressure to look good all the time and it really detracts from what our job really is about, which is portraying a different person. So, it’s very liberating, as a young woman, to have somebody be like, “Oh, you didn’t sleep last night? Great! You look like shit. It’s perfect.”
Is Fiona really happy, or is she suppressing a lot?
ROSSUM: I think you’ll get to know more about her. They’re not depressed people. They live in a depressed financial environment. A lot of people would wear anger, depression or aggravation as their first layer, and they don’t. They very much understand what’s really important in life. It’s about, “Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have the ability to eat all your meals? Do you have somebody that loves you? Are you able to care for somebody else?” That is the basis of human existence, and they have that. They’re resilient. It’s survival of the fittest, man.
ROSSUM: Absolutely. I think that’s what we are going for. Life can be very funny and very tragic. Everyone has stuff that they’ve been through that makes up whatever fire it is that they have in their gut, but nobody goes around wearing that as their outmost exterior, all the time. So definitely, when things happen and the tougher life becomes for them, we will see those sides come out of them. But, these aren’t depressed people. They are definitely struggling to live and eat, and all of that stuff, but these aren’t people who feel sorry for themselves, or who really want to give in to that anger. They are can-do people with a very positive attitude. I think that’s what’s so cool about them.
Are there any moments of triumph coming up for this family, or are they just always struggling and getting by?
ROSSUM: No, there are definitely pay-offs and new people that come in and help and allies that they gain. Definitely, super-positive stuff is going to happen, but shit happens too.
Will there ever be an explanation about the child of another race?
ROSSUM: I think it’s cool that nobody in the family really cares. They are just a family and they love each other, and it doesn’t really matter if they share 100% of the genetic material with each other. They are in it to live and love each other, and take care of each other. A good person steps up to the plate and says, “This is a child, and I need to take care of this child,” and then does it.
How do you like working in Chicago?
ROSSUM: I like it. I don’t mind it. We shoot a lot outside in Chicago too, so it just gives that real vibe of the grittiness of the area.
Have you seen the British version of the show?
ROSSUM: No. In fact, when I got my test deal, our director, Mark Mylod, who is partners with Paul Abbott who did the original series, said, “Don’t watch any of it. Just go onto YouTube and watch the sex scene in the kitchen on mute, so you have an idea of how much you’ll be showing, but you don’t want to be influenced by any delivery or anything.” So, that’s all I’ve seen.
ROSSUM: I feel like we get so used to seeing the pretty version of sex that doesn’t actually really look like any sex I’ve had. You get the Hollywood girl with the blow-out who looks really pretty on the satin sheets. That doesn’t really happen. So, I think that when you’re going to show real people and real feelings, in a gritty situation, to glamorize it or be concerned about how you look during those situations would be foolish. And also, I feel like, as an adult, a lot of how you feel about yourself and what your inner workings are can be revealed in a sexual situation. As an actor, that’s fun to play.
How do you feel about doing love scenes with Justin Chatwin?
ROSSUM: I feel good about it.
Did you guys do anything to break the ice, prior to your first sex scene together?
ROSSUM: We had actually done a movie together before – the fabulous Dragonball: Evolution. That being said, we are actually very close friends. It was funny because I was the last addition to the cast. He was cast and Bill [Macy] was cast and the whole family was cast, so it was just exciting to me to know that I might be working with somebody that I was already comfortable with. And, he’s very handsome.
How does your friendship help, in developing these characters?
ROSSUM: A lot. During our love scenes especially – and you’ll see later on that there’s one in a swimming pool – we’re literally wearing nothing. He has a sock on and I have this thing that I have invented, with the wardrobe and make-up department, that I like to call the “vag patch,” and it’s a strip of rubbery stuff that gets adhered to you. It’s a little triangle. And, it hurts to take it off. We’re in very close proximity. Actually, I remember for our pilot, Justin said that he wanted to fill his sock with sand, so it would hold everything down, just in case anything happened. So, we have a lot of fun and we laugh a lot and we don’t take anything too seriously. We’re very comfortable with each other. It’s awkward if you do, and it’s awkward if you don’t. It is what it is.
ROSSUM: You’ll have to tune in. There is one surprise, but he’s definitely not who we think he is, even now.
What do you do to keep in shape for this?
ROSSUM: I dance. I do ballet. I take ballet classes four or five times a week.
Can you put your leg up on the bar?
ROSSUM: I sure can. In fact, there will be a scene at the opening of Episode 11 where I have my legs over my head and I sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Is there one scene coming up that you’re really excited about viewers getting to see?
ROSSUM: I really like a scene in Episode 2 where Steve (Justin Chatwin) messes up and Fiona slugs him. I punch him out.
ROSSUM: Very much, in all of my relationships. I think that I’m learning with her that me time is important. In the past, I haven’t made that decision.
What do you most love about playing Fiona, and is there anything you wish you could change about her?
ROSSUM: I would change nothing about her. She’s definitely the darker side of me. I would try to make healthier decisions than she does, but I think that she’s doing the best that she can. I really love her.
Will viewers get to see more of Fiona’s work life?
ROSSUM: Yes. She has at least three jobs that we’ve seen so far – the motel, the food truck and the arena – but all of her jobs are just filling in. As the episodes go on, we’ll see her try to find a more steady job.
What does she want to do? Does she have dreams?
ROSSUM: Of course, yes. I don’t even know what her dreams are because I don’t think that she has time to think about what they would be, and she’s sacrificed so much that, when she actually goes into a real work place, having maybe completed high school and definitely not having a college education, her options are very limited. I think that will be very frustrating to her. We’ll see her working in a Hooters sports bar type of place too, that’s pretty demeaning.
ROSSUM: Oh, yeah, just because of the license that we get to really just say anything and do anything. And, we hope that, slowly but surely, we can offend anyone. We don’t want to leave anyone out.
How has it been to work with William H. Macy?
ROSSUM: Wonderful! He sings with and plays his ukelele on set, and it’s great.
What do you want to do next in your career?
ROSSUM: I hope we get a chance to explore further with these characters. We’re almost done shooting the first season, so I hope the audiences will embrace us and we’ll get to do more. And then, I’m just trying to be fluid with it and see what happens and what opportunities come up.
Were you at all concerned about how people would react to this family, and was it a relief to find out that the premiere did so well?
ROSSUM: Of course. I think people are either going to love it or be completely offended, and we welcome both. As long as people have a visceral reaction to something you’ve created, I think that’s cool.
What’s going on with your music?
ROSSUM: I’m taking a break from it right now. I’m just focusing on the show.