Season 5 of the Showtime series Shameless, which has already been renewed for a sixth season, finds the Gallagher family dealing with the upsides and downsides of personal growth. Fighting demons both personal and genetic has become old hat for the Gallaghers, who have learned to make lying, cheating and stealing into a currency to help them survive. And yet, through it all, they still have an obvious love for each other that helps make it all bearable.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Emmy Rossum talked about the journey she’s been on with this character, what she’s loved about getting to play Fiona Gallagher for five seasons, knowing who her character is now, always being excited to read the unpredictable scripts, pulling Fiona out of last season’s downward spiral, her knack for hasty decisions, her biggest downfall when it comes to men, and that damn Jimmy-Steve (Justin Chatwin). Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: You’ve taken such a journey with this character. When you think back to where everything started, could you have ever imagined that it would take quite the journey that it has?
EMMY ROSSUM: No. It seems like somehow it just gets better, which is exciting. This is just the point where it should be falling off, and it’s not. Season 5 feels like it’s really getting strength. Our writers keep digging, in that way that is an archeological character dig. It’s really fun, and the stories keep getting better. I have no idea what to expect, so it’s always exciting. I could never have predicted the darkness that would be in store for her, last year. This year, we’ll provide some levity, but there will be some interesting twists with the characters.
What have you loved about getting to play this character as long as you have now?
ROSSUM: I’ve loved getting to investigate the grey areas of morality, getting to watch her succeed and then fall so spectacularly from grace, and the love and loyalty that the family has to each other, in their messed up way. I think the intent is one that’s always really positive, to make it, to succeed, to get a leg up in the world, even if they way they do it is sometimes really negative. It’s a fun show, and it’s fun to play. I love navigating the levels of the character that they give me to play. It’s really fun.
Do you feel like you very confidently know who Fiona is?
ROSSUM: Now, I do. Just when I feel like I can confidently say that I know who she is, they’ll throw me a curve ball. What’s fun about playing a character for this long, especially one in her 20s, is that she’s really finding herself. She’s mentally very restless and can’t quite figure out who she is. She’s trying to put herself in context, in terms of who her parents are, who she should be, who she could be, and who she was and who she wants to be. She walks that fine line between wanting to be a good person and wanting to do the good and right thing, by herself and by her family, morally. She also knows that she has the addict mentality in her blood, and in her nature and her nurture. It’s fun to walk that line.
This show really hasn’t been afraid to go there, with any and all of the characters, which makes it very compelling to watch.
Was it fun, as an actor, when you get to know your character so well, to play that downward spiral, or were you happy to know that there would be some light at the end of the tunnel, at some point?
ROSSUM: I was happy that she started Season 5 in a really positive place, but I was very nervous during the shooting of Season 4. We did spend a lot of time talking about what the drug behavior should look like and feel like, how self-indulgent it should be, and how much of a mess it should be. I kept wanting to push the physicality of it further. I wanted to make sure she looked as bad as possible, drawing in darker circles and things like that, that would really push it further. I wanted to de-glamorize it. One of the things that I love most about the show is that we’re not afraid to put it all out there, and be messy and sloppy and blue collar, and not be an aspirational television show.
What would you say Fiona’s mental state is, at this point? Will she continue to hit roadblocks?
ROSSUM: I think she was in a bit of a rut with Jimmy-Steve, and she’s a little confused about why he disappeared. We’ll see her trying to stumble towards maturity, but stumbling and falling, as she moves in that direction. She’s still busy making some pretty hasty decisions. She’s in a good place, but this is the first time she’s experiencing rejection and she’s going to bounce back from that in a very strange way. Ultimately, she is stumbling towards a maturity and an understanding of herself. It will be really interesting to see whether or not she’s strong enough to resist the pull of Jimmy-Steve.
The ankle bracelet forced her to think about consequences for awhile. Can she continue to do that for herself, on her own?
ROSSUM: When I picture her, I always picture her with a bloody lip. That’s my idea of her. She’s smiling with a bloody lip, feeling victorious that she threw that punch and got hit back. That mentality is definitely going to have to change, if she wants to get out of the neighborhood. That’s really the question. Does she want to get out of the neighborhood? Does she want more for herself? We’re starting to see Lip realize that maybe he does want more for himself. Maybe he does want to make more of himself. Maybe he does want a legit job. He doesn’t want to haul cement. What would it feel like to leave the family? Fiona has had a lot of opportunities and has self-sabotaged, every step of the way.
What would you say her biggest downfall is, when it comes to men?
ROSSUM: Herself. Her biggest downfall when it comes to men is thinking that they’re the answer. The problems that she makes for herself very rarely have anything to do with the men she chooses. That’s why sometimes she’s not even suited to the men that she’s with. Last season, Mike, the guy at the cup place, couldn’t have been more wrong for her. He was a lovely guy, but for a nice, normal guy. Not for her. And maybe Dermot Mulroney’s character is a better option for her. He has some years on him, he has some experience on him, and he has an addict mentality. He’s clearly in recovery, but he’s holding that up, so maybe he would understand her more. Maybe it is Jimmy-Steve. Maybe it’s this fellow she married, although I’m not sure about that. It’s showing another impulse to distract, to create chaos, and to have secrets. I think that she has to stop distracting herself with guys, all the time.
What has Dermot Mulroney added to the show, this season?
ROSSUM: I think he’s an incredible actor. I’ve loved him for so many years, so it’s really fun to have him playing with us. He really fits in, really well. It’s an interesting character to watch what he’ll go through this season, with his sobriety and custody of his kid, and how that will threaten his sobriety. Fiona will either be an instigator or a savior, in that moment. She has to make that decision.
You’ve said that you campaigned to bring the Jimmy-Steve character back. Why did you have to campaign for that? Shouldn’t that storyline have been a given?
ROSSUM: You’d be surprised. I feel like people are split into two really defined camps – people who are really ready for that to be over, and people that felt it was unresolved. Being on Twitter, live tweeting some of the episodes, I get direct feedback from people. A lot of people felt like, if they didn’t see him shot in the head, and they just heard gunshots off camera, that he wasn’t dead. They definitely didn’t bring him back because I asked, but I think my putting a bug in their ear, every once in awhile, helped. So, when they punked me and brought him back without me knowing, it blew my mind. I was pretty happy. I was very surprised by his storyline this year, and not in a shock value way. I was just surprised by how their relationship has changed and grown.
Shameless airs on Sunday nights on Showtime.