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Emmy Rossum on What to Expect From Season Two of Shameless

Emmy Rossum
Emmy Rossum. Photo: John Shearer/Getty

We’re not sure where you’ll be watching the season two premiere of Shameless this Sunday, but Emmy Rossum will be screening it over at William H. Macy’s house — or, as she puts it, Bill’s. Their characters sit at the head of the show’s fictional, barely-getting-by Gallagher family: He plays Frank, the alcoholic father who isn’t actually a head at all. She’s Fiona, the eldest of six who’s raising his kids and occasionally having hot sex on a washing machine. We spoke with Rossum to find out what bad-girl behavior we can expect from Fiona this season, now that her car-thief boyfriend Steve went see-ya-later to Costa Rica. Plus, what’s going to happen when the series’ adolescent actors hit puberty, and who does the cooking at Bill’s?

Last season you guys were wearing gloves in the house it was so cold. This season takes place in the summer. Can we expect bathing suits inside?
I know, it was kind of a shock when I found out we were shooting in the summer. I immediately called our wardrobe girl and we had a powwow about what we were gonna do, because we’re so used to sweaters that are oversized with holes in them and fingerless gloves. So the look of the show has kind of changed. But we’re also seeing that the Gallaghers do better in the summer, financially. They all have jobs and they’re sexy and sweaty and fun and everything that goes along with being overheated in the summer. Especially Fiona, who’s acting out.

Because Steve left for Costa Rica. He’s out of the picture, at least for the most part, when the season starts. What side of Fiona are we going to see?
The Frank side; the real Gallagher side. She gets messy and makes some mistakes. She’s in her rebound phase. She initially is dating this guy Adam, who’s kind of a Steve 2.0, but a more grounded, less crazy version of Steve. That makes him not as interesting to her, so she’s not putting all of her eggs in that basket. I think we’re just going to see her trying to figure out who she is and what she wants.

You said we’ll see her “Frank” side. Do you think she’s a lot more like her father than she wants to admit?
I think we’re all a lot more like our parents than we want to admit. And I think that’s an interesting side of her. [Later in season two,] she really messes up and finds herself being chased in true Frank style; she finds herself hiding under a table and her dad gets under the table next to her and he has never had a prouder moment. It’s such a revelation to her that if she’s not careful, she has an instinct to make a wrong decision.

You were living a totally different life than Fiona when you were around her age. You were a young opera singer, you’d starred in Phantom of the Opera. Did you draw from anyone or anything to understand her experience?
Some of it’s patterned on my upbringing and how I was raised by my single mom, and my mother’s instincts in terms of child raising, being really strong and fierce but really loving, in a way that is unusual. But also imagination. I’ve never had siblings, I didn’t grow up in a big family; it was just me and my single mom. And hectic family dysfunction was actually something that I craved. So being in this environment is like me getting to live out my personal childhood fantasy, in a weird, messed-up way.

Last season you put your legs behind your head and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.” How does a scene like that even come about?
[The creators] were like, “What’s something funny that you can do?” And I actually said I can put my legs behind my head and sing “Happy Birthday.” Because that’s something that me and my friends used to do when we were in gymnastics class as kids, and I can still do it. I was doing it since I was 8 and 9. They used to call me Gumby. Very bendy. And they were like, “Okay, that’s perfect.” Then I found I was going to be singing the National Anthem. And then I felt like, Okay, now I’m really going to hell.

We didn’t get to hear your actual singing voice, though.
No, it was fake Fiona. They also make me — whenever I dance in the show, I’m not allowed to really dance well. They make me dance trashier, not as coordinated. Because I was a trained ballerina. If I start to move, they say I get, like, swan arms and everything’s way too lyrical and it takes you out of Fiona.

Do you ever miss that more formal, elegant world?
Yeah, I do miss that. And I’m hoping that I can make a record that’s a little more classically driven.

Oh, you’re thinking about making another record? When?
I don’t know yet. I’m just kind of looking at songs and thinking about things.

Do you ever think about what type of music Fiona listens to?
Yeah, in fact, in the first season, I wrote out some hand-written lyrics and put them around her room. There was some Passion Pit and M83, kind of like electro-pop-ish kind of stuff. And then more singer-songwriter stuff like Josh Radin. I thought she would have two sides of her.

You talked last season about the pranks you guys would pull on set. Any new ones from this season?
No, I think we kind of peaked in our first season and were like, We’ve gotta stop. We’re getting out of control. Also, the kids [Ethan Cutkosky, who plays Carl, and Emma Kenney, who plays Debbie] are growing up, so we can’t hide as much from them as we could the first year, when they were 9 and 10 and things were just going over their head. They’re like 11, 12 now, and we’re really careful around them, about what we expose them to.

The show itself must expose them to a lot.
They’re in our table reads and they know that we do nudity scenes that they’re obviously not party to. But they don’t watch the episodes. They only watch select versions of their scenes. Or if they do, we cover their eyes and plug their ears. Like, we’ll all watch the episode together on Sunday night at Bill’s house this weekend and the kids will be there, hopefully — because they go to school — but, yeah, we’ll watch it all together.

Oh, that’s so fun. You’ll go to William H. Macy’s house.
Yeah. And Felicity — we call her Flicka — she’ll make a roast chicken and potatoes and she’ll have her fresh olive oil and we’ll all be drinking mojitos and watching our show. It really is like a family experience.

Since you mentioned that the actors who play Carl and Debbie are growing up, is there concern that they’ll get too old-looking to keep playing their characters? Is there a plan for handling that?
I think that’s something the producers are talking about, maybe shooting the seasons back-to-back. I mean, I don’t know what you can do. You don’t want to have situation where it’s awkward and you come back and the character seems five years older. Like, it was clearly a decision on Modern Family to have Lily be, like, 7 years old this year. You know how last year she was an infant, they just adopted her? And this year, she’s like 4. So I think that can be a little disconcerting for audiences. But clearly that was a choice and they wanted her to be more of an actor and comic point of the show, and so I think it completely works on that show. But if you have a situation where the show does go on hiatus for a year, and then the kids come back and they have breasts and an Adam’s apple, it is a little weird. So I think we’re just trying to suppress their hormones as much as possible!

Emmy Rossum on What to Expect From Season Two of Shameless