by jill sieracki | February 3, 2011 | People
In television’s early days, people gathered around the tube to watch I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners and Leave It to Beaver, and later to get the “warm and fuzzies” from the Cosbys or the Keatons. Now prepare to meet the Gallaghers, Showtime’s rendition of the hit British television series Shameless, which could make Al Bundy look like Father of the Year.
“The prettier version of a modern family would be Modern Family, which I freakin’ love and laugh my ass off at every week,” says Emmy Rossum, who stars as Fiona Gallagher. “But the dynamics of our [Shameless] family are that no matter how bad it gets, no matter how messed up we all are, we love each other and we’re going to get through it together.”
Cinephiles who’ve been crushing on perennial “good girl” actress Rossum since her breakout role as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera (opposite a then unknown Gerard Butler) will get a serious shock to the system seeing the 24-year-old New York native—Shameless’ leading-lady (“lady” in the loosest sense of the word). “I haven’t usually been cast as such a feisty character in the past,” she says. “So it’s really fun to play such an opinionated woman who has such an internal vulnerability. The Gallaghers are unabashedly in-your-face; this is who we are and if you don’t like it, suck it. They can hardly pay the bills, but they’re fiercely loyal and have so much fun—and they really, really love breaking the law.”
William H. Macy's Shameless Brood
Her family of cons is led by Oscar-nom William H. Macy as the brood’s alcoholic, narcissistic patriarch. (Read Michigan Avenue magazine's interview with the star here.) In the show, which has already garnered fawning reviews from TV critics, Rossum plays a randy 21-year-old who has to run the family when her dad checks out of fatherly duties, often to hang out with a companion (and future love interest) played by audience favorite Joan Cusack. “There’s something that pulls this family together all the time, and that’s the load that Emmy has been given to carry,” Macy says. “She is the workhorse of our series. She’s in almost every single scene, and she’s got two distinct roles to play. First is her relationship with the new boyfriend, Steve [played by Justin Chatwin]. And it is so sexy; they’re such a winning couple. But because the mom has left and the father—my character—is an addict and an alcoholic, she’s the mom; she keeps the family together. And she’s doing it magnificently.”
Besides finding her character to be “kick-ass, deep, fun and unexpected,” Rossum was attracted to the role for its reprieve from the corsets and pancake makeup that peppered her early years as a member of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The baldness of Shameless, however, does allow her natural stage presence to shine; not many of the actresses manufactured by Hollywood could pull it off, since it requires Rossum’s enormous, watery brown eyes and heart-meltingly feminine features to have a starring role.
“We pretty much get no hair or makeup at all,” she says. “They frizz out my hair a little and rub mascara around my eyes, and that’s it. I love the no-vanity aspect of it. It’s really liberating from having had so many years of period costume drama.”
Emmy Rossum In the Nude (Nearly)
In fact, Rossum’s Shameless wardrobe could be considered somewhat shame-ful (if you’re opposed to seeing a beautiful girl in her birthday suit on TV, that is). “It’s like, OK, time to take my top off,” she says about her sex scenes with Chatwin, who also appeared with Rossum in Dragonball: Evolution. “The whole thing is so silly that if we weren’t so comfortable with each other, it would be really uncomfortable. It’s definitely an acquired experience. You look over, and the camera guy is very politely averting his gaze in between takes.”
At least one famous fan thinks she’s a natural at going au naturel. “They’re so easy to look at,” says Macy of Rossum and Chatwin. “I love this one scene that they did that was very sexy, and then the drawer slammed on his fingers while they were making love. I just thought that was hysterical and perhaps a metaphor for our whole show—it’s always two things at once.”
Rossum’s enthusiasm for the script has the actress more than willing to embrace her character’s skin-baring moves. And she has every reason to be confident—the American version of Shameless has the same creator, Paul Abbott, as the seven-season original UK series, which boasts one Bafta Award (England’s version of the Emmys) and four additional nominations in the Best Drama Series category. Plus, the show helped launch the career of film star and Golden Globe nominee James McAvoy.
“It doesn’t make sense that the character would wear a bra and care at all about what she looks like when she’s having sex,” Rossum says. “Sex is meant to feel good, and she wants to feel good. Her life is so shitty in so many ways. Some people use alcohol, some people use gambling—and some people use sex.”
But while the newly single Rossum (she broke up with Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz last fall) has no apprehensions about pushing the envelope on-screen, her life is substantially more PG off, especially when visiting Las Vegas. “My uncle actually lives in the suburbs of Vegas, so I’ve spent time there but not so much on the Strip,” she says. “I dig Vegas. It’s really fun and I love the energy, but it’s more of a family place to me. I don’t know anybody who talks about Vegas that way, but I go for sushi in the minimall when I’m there. I’m like the un-Strip Vegas person.”
photographs by Thomas Whiteside. Styling by Lee Harris at The Wall Group. Hair by Hallie Bowman at The Wall Group. Makeup by Christy Coleman at The Wall Group. Manicure by Beth Fricke using OPI.
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July 1, 2015