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Jeremy Allen White on Shameless, Mad Men, and Loving Sam Rockwell

Jeremy Allen White. Photo: Getty Images

The Gallaghers are finally back together after a surprise visit from family services landed the five minors in foster care. But are things looking up for the Shameless siblings? Of course not! Now they may be losing their home to a crooked cousin. If only Lip Gallagher would accept that he’s a genius, finish high school, and go to MIT, then maybe he could make bank and give everyone a better life. Instead, he gets into fights, refuses to take the SATs, and sells drugs — all while showing off how smart he is and alienating his girlfriend, Mandy. He’s the Will Hunting of Chicago. We spoke to Jeremy Allen White, who plays the high-IQ rebel, about his character’s bad attitude, what will happen now that his evil ex Karen is back in town, and why more people don’t talk about his very good show (which airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime).

Lip seems especially stuck this season, and more so than Fiona and Ian, who at least try to get ahead. Do you want to see him finally snap out of it and take his SATs?
I’m very torn. I have a lot of respect for Lip, and if he wants to live in that neighborhood, where he feels secure and knows the people, and if he wants to raise a family and live there, good for him. But at the same time, he does have these incredible abilities and would be very capable of getting out, going to college, probably getting a very good job. It’s a pressure that I don’t think Lip is quite ready for. He’s still a kid, he’s still in high school, and I think he wants to be allowed to be a stupid teenager. And this pressure to have everything figured out is putting him into a tailspin.

He hasn’t been treating Mandy very well, either, and she’s been trying so hard to be there for him.
[Dog barks.] Oh, sorry.

Is that your dog?
No, I’m just walking around my block, and it’s a very dog-friendly area. They’re just yapping at me. With Mandy, I just don’t think Lip has ever been in a relationship where he’s been supported by the opposite sex. It’s kind of the healthiest relationship Lip’s ever been in, and that makes him very uncomfortable. Having another person’s love is kind of too much for him right now. And I think Mandy’s feelings for him are very true and very loyal, and he’s used to this terrible, terrible relationship that he had with Karen, and that became the norm for him.

But he’s really mean to Mandy. I’m just worried that he’s turning out to be sort of a dick with women.  
I mean, yeah, he can be. He’s 17 years old. He doesn’t have it figured out. He doesn’t know how to express his feelings. He doesn’t know how to be vulnerable with the girls in his life yet, and so it’s easy for him to switch back to this aggression and to try to push these people away who really do care for him. And I think that’s what we see happening. I don’t think he necessarily thinks he deserves their love. It’s a situation that stems from his feelings for his mom. I know that going to the whole Oedipus deal is a bit lame, but I think it really is the situation with Lip: His mom left him at such a young age, and so his relationships with women are incredibly strained.

Now Karen is back, who is the worst. Can you find anything sympathetic about her? I think she’s the only character who is truly a bad person.
She’s a scared girl who was probably abused by her father, whose mother has never been able to really connect with her. The way the rest of the season goes, it’s kind of perfect: Lip finds a way to forgive Karen without having Karen be a big part of his life anymore. He’s able to see her as this scared, scared little girl, and he’s able to forgive her all the terrible things she’s done. I think — I think — at the end of the season, Karen and Lip will get their clean break.

I’m always telling people how much I love Shameless, because it bothers me that people don’t talk about it more often. Why do you think it doesn’t have the same buzz as Girls, for example?
Yeah, it’s something that’s interesting. I mean, Girls: I love Girls, I watch Girls. But it’s a show that’s very coastal. People in New York and people in L.A. and people in San Francisco will watch it. But I think in Middle America, for the most part, it probably isn’t watched as much. I think Shameless is more of an everyman’s show, whereas as great as I think Girls is, it’s got a smaller audience.

I also wish Shameless would get more Emmy recognition. Does it bother you and the cast that it doesn’t?
It’s something that we struggled with a lot, I think, when we finished the first season. We were definitely thinking that we would be at least getting nominated a bit more and having a bit more consideration for the awards. But as our show continues on, I don’t think it’s, you know, gonna happen — I don’t think we’re going to get much more attention, if it hasn’t happened already, which it hasn’t. But, yeah, of course I think everyone would like some. At the same time, we have a show that a lot of people enjoy, and they enjoy it enough that we get to keep on making it. So we have to be grateful for that.

You said a while ago that you wanted to meet Michael C. Hall. Have you yet? And who is the new celebrity you want to meet?
I haven’t met Michael C. Hall yet. But, I don’t know. I think a lot of the people I really admire, it’s almost that I wouldn’t want to meet them. I just feel like your imagination — keep it in your head, you know what I mean? Not to ruin anything. I mean, I love Sam Rockwell, like, so much. I think he’s one of the best actors acting right now, and I think he’s incredibly underrated. And even though he’s doing great roles and doing perfectly fine, I still think he should be given more sought-after roles. I just think he’s the best. And I have some friends that are friends with him, and I’ve been asked if I’d like to meet him before, and I’m kind of like, I don’t know, I don’t know if I want to. You know? I don’t know if I could handle it.

Steve Howey [who plays Kevin on Shameless] was on New Girl recently —
Oh, yeah, I saw him on New Girl.  

Is there a guest appearance you’d want to make on a TV show?
I’d love to do something on Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire. I really like period stuff.

Would you want your character to be an ad man on Mad Men?
Doesn’t have to be. Who came onto the show for a while and was a writer? Oh! Zosia Mamet. She did, like, a five-episode arc as a lesbian writer who kind of fell for Peggy a little bit. I think something like that — I wouldn’t have to be an ad man. Literally, just being on the show, doing something — I mean, I would die. I think it’s just a great show.

Where do you think Don Draper’s character is headed?
Donald Draper?

Don Draper. Why are you calling him Donald?
[Laughs.] That’s his name.

No one calls him Donald.
I call him Donald. But I’m behind. The last episode I saw was when Jared Harris killed himself.

You have until April 7 to catch up. So I’ll let you go do that, I’ve kept you on the phone long enough. Thanks for the time and for Shameless.
Yeah, awesome, thank you so much.

Jeremy Allen White on Shameless, Sam Rockwell