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The Sunday Conversation: Emmy Rossum

The star of Showtime's 'Shameless' says playing the nonglamorous Fiona has been a welcome change of pace for the onetime opera prodigy.

January 15, 2012|By Irene Lacher, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Actress Emmy Rossum.
Actress Emmy Rossum. (Kirk McKoy, Los Angeles…)

Emmy Rossum, 25, returns to Showtime for the second season of "Shameless" as Fiona, the eldest sister and mother figure of the scrappy, law-skirting, non-working-class Gallagher family. Already a performing vet at 25, Rossum's latest gig follows a childhood launch as a member of the Metropolitan Opera's Children's Chorus and starring roles in the 2004 film "The Phantom of the Opera" and big-budget disaster movies including "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Poseidon."

What will we learn about the Gallaghers this season?

We're going to see the Gallaghers in summertime. It's a different ambience; it's hot, sticky, summer fun, and also when it's hot, tempers flare. So there's violence and sexuality in a way we've come to know only the Gallaghers do it. Fiona is working in a nightclub as a waitress, and the kids are running a day-care service that Fiona pretends to front, but the kids really run it. And Lip and our neighbor, Kev, are running an ice cream truck where they don't sell ice cream as much as they sell weed and beer and cigarettes to kids who are over the age of 13.

Do they check IDs?

I think they raise their arms and see if they have hair under them.

Fiona got her heart broken at the end of the first season, and we see that as this season picks up four months later, she's onto the rebound phase. So she's a little boy-crazy and acting out, and she is going to make some mistakes because of it, and there's a moment in Episode 4 where Fiona is being chased by a woman with a baseball bat, and she's hiding under a table next to [her alcoholic father] Frank, and she realizes she is becoming Frank. It's Frank Gallagher's proudest moment and Fiona Gallagher's worst nightmare.

One thing that's interesting about Fiona is that except for a couple of nightclub scenes, she isn't even remotely glamorous. And that's unusual for a young female lead. Did that appeal to you about the character?

Yes, it did appeal to me to have a character who isn't in the least vain. As an actor, your own personal vanity can be a massive pitfall in terms of making a character believable. I feel more in this character to have my shoulders hunched and be in tattered clothes and have my hair knotted than I do when I'm dolled up.

How minimal is the makeup?

There isn't much – just a little mascara and pimple coverage, if there is any.

Is that part of your career strategy, not to get typecast as a young hottie starlet?

I actually don't think I have a strategy. I think in terms of instinct, if in my gut it feels like the right character, if I feel it's a story that needs to be told. Of course in retrospect it was an excellent idea to go do something that was not glamorous, because I think people did see me as princess-y after "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Poseidon" and big-budget movies. Looking back on it, if it was a strategy it would have been a really good one. It happened that I ended up emotionally attaching to a character that I was the right age for when they were casting it. This show had also been around for a couple of years. There was another incarnation of it at HBO with Woody Harrelson in the William H. Macy role, so I wouldn't have been the right age for it at that time. So much of Hollywood is luck.

You've said that you relate to Fiona's anxiety about her father. What did you mean?

I think Fiona has more deep-seated issues about her mother than her father. She feels a sense of abandonment and anger that her mother left her and her family and forced her to become an adult before she was really ready. So she's underdeveloped in a lot of ways – intellectually, in terms of her education, and she's overdeveloped in a lot of ways, sexually and in terms of paying bills and doing the everyday mundane tasks of staying alive. I can definitely relate to — I just realized I was completely avoiding answering your question, because I suppose it's a sensitive issue. I have a difficult relationship with my father, so that's something I can definitely draw on, but my father is nothing like Frank Gallagher. I get a lot of Fiona's strength and her parenting style from my own mother, who was very strong and fierce but also incredibly loving and did things in a unique way and had a very close relationship with me that was playful, like Fiona has with her siblings.

You announced on MySpace in 2008 that you were working on your second album and still searching for your sound, so what's going on with all of that?

Well, three years later I think I've figured it out. But it takes time. I was on a label for a while right after "Phantom of the Opera," and then I released a record ["Inside Out" in 2007] that I loved, that I think lyrically was very representative of me, but sonically it was something that was not completely authentic to me, so I'm trying to be more authentic, and I'm going to start working on a new music project now. I think it's going to be stylistically a little different, maybe a little closer to my roots.

I'm on a TV show, which I'm so lucky to be on. It pays my rent, so I don't need to make a ton of money on music, and music has always been my first love. I'm not in this business for fame or money. That's something I learned from being a kid at the Met. The kids weren't unionized. We made 25 bucks a night and there were horses onstage — no joke — that were making $800. So when you're valued, at least monetarily, less than a farm animal, you realize you're there because you really love it.

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