Eight seasons later, Emmy Rossum’s Fiona still heart of ‘Shameless’
LOS ANGELES—Eight seasons later, Emmy Rossum’s Fiona remains the heart of “Shameless,” and it’s going strong as ever. She’s now also directing episodes of the show about the dysfunctional family of Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), an alcoholic man who’s a single father to six children—which includes eldest Fiona—all learning to take care of themselves.
Wearing a dress by Alessandro Dell’Acqua, the singer-actress talked about her long-running Showtime series (produced by John Wells), costars led by William whom she calls Bill, husband Sam Esmail (“Mr. Robot” writer-director), turning into a director, and a musical project she’s been dreaming of.
Excerpts from out chat:
What has been your experience like working and being with the same people for many years? It’s amazing. I do feel like I grew up quite a lot. We did the pilot when I was 23, and I just turned 31.
So, it feels like a very large, long chapter of my life. I’m an only child. A number of the kids on the show are only children, too. There must be something about being an only child that made us bond with each other in a very real way.
In what ways does Fiona resonate with you? I do come from an academic environment that’s not at all like this, although I did have a single mother and an absentee father. So, that longing for that parent really hits me hard and something that I use a lot in the material. Playing the character has loosened me up personally.
The show is going strong at eight seasons. Do you plan to hang on to this character as long as you can, or do you see a point where you think it would be time to walk away? The good thing about a story like this is that it’s infinitely minable. We’re still having fun and finding surprising things about the characters.
The show had such a strong footing on Showtime and now with its rebirth on Netflix, it seems to have a much younger audience than ever before. There are 12- and 13-year-olds who are starting to come up to me much more than they ever did before.
Fiona seems to be the heart of “Shameless” and one of the reasons why people love the show. But her moral compass has shifted slightly. Can you talk about that change? Last season, she formed the relationship with June Squibb’s character, Etta, in the laundromat. We saw Fiona start to lose her moral compass a little bit when she put Etta in the old folks home in order to sell the laundromat. There are a difficult decisions that she’s been asked to make, and she hasn’t had the best role models to teach her right from wrong.
What’s interesting is that the loyalty, the moral compass only refers to their own family in the show, their own blood. Outside of their family, there’s not a lot of morality about how they treat people.
So there’s always been this poverty mentality of, the system is not helping us, no one is helping us, we will fight and steal whatever to stay alive, to keep our electricity on, to keep our stove heating our house during the winter because there are children whose mouths need to be fed and there’s no other way.
The show has been on for a long time. Is there already like a family relationship among the cast? It does feel very much like a family. Everything else about this business and going from project to project can feel so transient. The relationships can feel so fleeting and temporary, but this show has given me incredible meaning, just in terms of connection. A lot of the crew is still the same ones we’ve had since the pilot—also the hair and makeup, the wardrobe department and some of the camera guys.
What kind of life lessons did you learn from being on the show? There’s a lot to be learned from Fiona’s storyline about determining what it is that you want in your life and not being afraid to ask for it. For a long time, Fiona was OK going along and taking care of everyone else. For the first five seasons, what we love about her is that she is selfless, giving and nurturing. She’s somehow simultaneously a mother, a sister, but also a lover and very sexually liberated.
Then, she realizes that as the kids are growing up, she has to start prioritizing herself.
I learned through Fiona to ask for what I wanted, even if it wasn’t conventional.
How has the fan reaction changed over the years in Chicago where you shoot the exterior scenes? We usually have a few stragglers of people who follow the crew around. I’ve never seen anything … like when we were in Chicago. There were three or four hundred people behind a barricade right outside the Gallagher house.
People bought the rights to sit on the porch opposite the house on Airbnb. Not even the house. Just the porch to sit on for the week and watch. It’s this rabid, wonderful fan thing that has happened.
Can you sum up what Season 8 is going to be like? Season 8 is reflective of what’s going on now in society in this country—gentrification, how difficult it is to climb the economic ladder, how we don’t give people the tools, the education or the mentoring skills to be able to do that. This season will comment a lot on the person in the White House.
In the episode that I was lucky enough to direct, Frank is shuttling Muslims who are from the seven banned Muslim countries into Canada in kind of a reverse Underground Railroad situation.
The episode also deals with Ian confronting a minister who has a conversion church that’s trying to turn gay kids back straight.
It’ll both be comedy and tragedy, which is why I think the show is unique and fun.
Your husband, Sam, was too shy in an interview. We’re working on that.
Will we ever see you in “Mr. Robot”? I don’t think so.
You started with the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus. You sang in theater, released an album and starred as Christine in the musical film adaptation of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Do you have any musical projects coming up? Even though I’m a Jew, I love Christmas music more than anything. So, I was thinking that’s something that I would like to do next—make a Christmas record.
Are there plans for you to sing in the show? It’s a very specific plan to have me not sing, because I don’t think that they (show producers) think Fiona would be a good singer.
What else is next for you? Over this hiatus from the show, I did two films. I made a film with Liam Neeson called “Hard Powder” for a Norwegian director, Hans Petter Moland.
I did a movie for David Wayne called “A Futile & Stupid Gesture” that’s about the rise of the comedy movement in the ’70s, with Will Forte.
And, I’m working on writing something.
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