Redheaded Debbie has always been the sweetest of Shameless's six-kid Gallagher clan. She'd put pillows under her drunk dad's head, scrape together money to pay bills, and lovingly babysit her brother Liam. But now, in the Showtime series' fourth (and darkest) season, we see her as a 13-year-old brat who refuses to listen to Fiona and instead takes the advice of mean girls. She's also dating a 20-year-old arcade rat, and that's not okay, even if he does refuse to sleep with her. We spoke to Emma Kenney — who, at 14, is apparently too young to have even heard of My So-Called Life — about her character's bad behavior, blushing around co-star Jeremy Allen White, and cute famous guys like Ansel Elgort.
I saw you on Chelsea Lately and you were so funny.
Thank you. I was so nervous. I was literally shaking beforehand. But it was really fun.
You expressed your love for Harry Styles.
Oh my God, yeah. He actually follows me on Twitter. He watches Shameless. I was crying when he followed me. And I didn’t even tweet him asking him to follow me, so it was pretty great.
Was this after he saw you on Chelsea?
No. He followed me two summers ago, actually.
Wow! So, Debbie is going through puberty on the show. Is that ever a little embarrassing to play?
Yeah, to be honest. Like, in the last episode, Debbie got her period. That was pretty awkward. I was so uncomfortable. I was like, “WHAT?” That scene where she ran out to her bathroom was really weird to film because I’m around a bunch of grown, crew-member men, you know? I was like, “Hey. [Awkward laugh.]”
This season is so much darker, don’t you think?
It’s a darker mood, for sure. Frank’s liver is failing, Fiona got arrested, Liam has brain damage. Ian came back and we don’t know what’s going on with him yet. I feel like Debbie’s is the most positive of the story lines, even though it’s kind of depressing. But, you know, she’s not dying. Nothing really bad or scary is happening to her other than she has an older boyfriend. And that’s not that strange in modern-day times. Even though it’s kind of illegal. But, it’s definitely a lot darker. I was even noticing with the music in this season, it’s just kind of grungier than previous seasons. But I do love the music.
What kind of music to you love in general?
I love Lana Del Ray and I’m really into Lorde right now. She’s so good; I love her music, especially “A World Alone” right now. I also like Panic at the Disco. I love One Direction. I like Eminem.
I would think he’s too old for you.
No, I love Eminem. He’s kind of a poet, but he’s a rapper. Fun fact about Eminem: When he was younger, he used to read the dictionary to get ideas for his songs and stuff. I thought that was interesting. I once tried to read the dictionary. It didn’t work.
You tried to read a word a night or something?
No, I tried to read the dictionary. A couple of summers ago, to improve my vocabulary. I read one-and-a-half pages and was like, I’m done. No. Bye. This is not happening. It’s so boring! I don’t get how you read the dictionary. It’s literally 600 pages of torture. I don’t understand. Oh my God.
You’re a good student, though?
Yeah, I’m getting all As right now. It’s a little hard. I’m a little behind right now, but hopefully I’ll get caught up soon.
Can you relate to Debbie’s rebellious phase at all?
Not really. I’m pretty much a goodie two-shoes. Debbie’s not mature — her personality’s mature, but she’s not making mature decisions. I have a lot of friends whose choices aren’t that mature, so I kind of just pick it up from them. Like I have this one friend who I kind of shaped Debbie’s character arc around this season.
Does she know that?
I don’t think so. I don’t think I ever told her that. I probably should. Or maybe not. That could offend her.
You tweeted recently that you just “pulled a Jennifer Lawrence” and fell on your face. What happened?
I tweeted that — I tweet a lot. That was so awkward. I got up from my chair and somebody touched my shoulder, I guess, and it freaked me out. And my foot got caught in the chair and I tripped and fell on my face. And there was an awkward silence, all of the noise stopped. And I was on the floor, face down. And then I awkwardly got up and it was not graceful at all. I was blushing for an hour. It was bad. It was not good.
Aw. I’m a blusher, too, I understand.
Oh my God, even if someone’s just saying hi to me I start to blush. It’s so annoying and embarrassing. I can’t talk to anybody. When I was 9, when the show first started, I had the biggest crush on Jeremy [Allen White], who plays Lip — I haven’t even told him that. I hope he doesn’t read this. I obviously don’t have a crush on Jeremy anymore, he’s like my brother, but even today, I’ll talk to him and I cannot not blush. It’s so annoying.
Does he notice?
Oh, yeah. He’s a really nice guy, so he doesn’t say anything. But it’s so obvious that my face is bright red, randomly. We’ll be talking about a book — a book, no, Jeremy, doesn’t read. We’ll be talking about music or whatever and I’m just blushing. It’s so embarrassing. I always make up an excuse: “Oh man, it’s so hot out today.”
Oh God. Back to when you were talking about falling on your face — it reminded me of that episode of My So-Called Life, when Angela face-plants in the mud.
I haven’t heard of that show. I don’t know why.
Wait, you haven’t heard of My So-Called Life?
Oh, okay, you have got to watch this show. It’s 19 episodes, Claire Danes.
Ohhh, I have to check that out. I’m watching Gossip Girl right now.
That’s a good one. But My So-Called Life, I’m telling you, it will be so inspirational.
I’m gonna watch that, for sure. I still have to watch Teen Wolf. Everybody’s recommending it. I haven’t even had a chance to watch the first episode. But Dylan O’Brien, I mean … I loooovvve Dylan O’Brien. He’s so hot.
What else is he in?
To be honest, I don’t really know he’s in. I haven’t actually seen him act. But I’ve stalked his Twitter and stuff. I’ve stalked him on Google; I Google photos of him when I’m bored. And he’s perfect. I’m also obsessed with Ansel Elgort, oh my God.
Are you dying to see The Fault in Our Stars?
I was at the movies on Friday night with my friends and a preview of it came on and I was crying. He’s so perfect. The day that they announced he got cast as Gus, I was like, this is exactly how I pictured Gus to be. So. And he is in Divergent. And he was in Carrie. And I can’t. He’s my phone wallpaper and he has been since June, probably. Just Google “Ansel Elgort” and you will literally not regret it. His face? He’s so perfect.
I love your enthusiasm. Okay, though, I should probably let you go now to do your homework or something.
Yeah, I’ve got a lot of homework: Spanish and journalism and bio. And then I’m gonna take a shower and then I’m gonna eat more food. And then I’m gonna go to bed.