I spoke with the wise-beyond-her-years, gifted, and adorable young actress Emma Kenney, who stars on Showtime’s Sunday night hit SHAMELESS. Kenney plays Debbie Gallagher, the once young and innocent daughter of the crazy family, now turned rebellious teen. She spoke to me about what it’s like on set, her characters drastic changes, and what it’s like balancing high school and Hollywood.
SHAMELESS is very inappropriate for kids, have you ever watched a full episode?
Emma Kenney: Yeah, I actually have, this is probably the first season I’ve been able to watch all of the episodes. This is the first year I’ve been able to watch the entire episode, but I mean I don’t really even watch it now that I’m allowed to because I feel like I read the scripts I know what’s going to happen.
Your role has expanded so much since the show started, this season in particular Debbie is dealing with very adult and complex issues, how did you approach playing her character this year?
I think it’s kind of just like growing up; it’s a coming of age character and a big change for Debbie this season. So I guess I am kind of dealing with the same situations I would be going through, just in a different manner. If I were in Debbie’s situation I would be doing everything that she is going through in a different way, and I am.
Is it challenging or embarrassing at all on the show for you that your character is dating a much older guy, is that difficult for you as an actress to do that?
To be honest, yeah. It was very uncomfortable when I first met the guy and he’s like 26, he’s really nice and it’s not uncomfortable that way it’s just the age difference. The age difference is very, very massive, but it is a story line and there are people who do that, who are dating an older person, who is a lot older while the other person is younger. I think it’s really bringing the truthfulness to it so, as long as you’re playing it in the proper way and you’re not making fun of the situation that some people go through then it’s not really a problem and it’s just kind of how you deal with it.
Did the producers or writers tell you anything prior to you getting the new scripts and having that adult storyline, did they brief you at all?
Yes, they did back in June. We were on hiatus, coming into season four and I was off and I went to LA for a couple of weeks and I saw John Wells, our producer and he was saying “Emma, next season Debbie really grows up, she gets quite the boyfriend” and he didn’t really say anything else about it.
Last Sunday’s episode was so touching, when Debbie finally broke down and talked to Fiona about her problems, will Debbie find happiness this season or is she destined for more heartbreak?
She doesn’t give up with Matty(James Allen McCune) she keeps on pushing and trying to get him to love her. So I think her happiness will be with her friendships and with her friends, like Holly (Danika Yarosh) in that kind of situation but honestly, this is a very, very dark season as you’ll begin to see next episode. Episode 5 is definitely the darkest stuff that we’ve ever had in the shows run. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but you’ll see that stuff like that drains the happiness from especially Debbie, actually especially Fiona (Emmy Rossum) but Debbie definitely included in that mix.
There are a lot of amazing actors in the cast, William H Macy, Emmy Rossum, Joan Cusack. Do they offer you any advice about the business being you’re a young actress?
They don’t give literal advice like “you should play this scene like this” kind of advice, just really watching them interact and in between scenes it gives you a really strong manner about how to act, and being, on set, and just being an actor and character relationships and all of that. Especially Joan Cusack, just the name, she is literally an idol and she’s such a great actress and such a nice person, as well as Bill and Emmy, they’re all fantastic. I ’m so lucky and blessed to be able to work with them.
Are there any Gallagher family members you wish you could have more scenes with?
Hopefully Lip Gallagher (Jeremy Allen White) he’s my favorite character, and Jeremy is the nicest guy, he’s so funny. I love doing scenes with Jeremy and Lip is my favorite character, so for sure him.
Is Ian (Cameron Monaghan) going to ever come home, do you think we’ve seen the last of Steve (Justin Chatwin)?
For Ian, you’ll have to watch and see! But for Steve, I honestly hope so. Cause I love Justin Chatwin, he is genuinely the nicest guy so I’m crossing my fingers that he’s not dead.
In ten years where do you see Debbie?
She would be 23, so hopefully Debbie will have just graduated from college, I feel like Debbie will go to college, kind of like the whole situation with Lip. I feel like Debbie will take college, and her studies more seriously and definitely work harder. So I hope Debbie will be graduating from college and starting a life of her own and moving out of the Gallagher neighborhood. But if she’s not then I probably see her kind of like a Fiona figure, she would probably have Liam and still stay in the Gallagher house and take care of her family, future husband, and kids.
If you never started acting what could you see yourself doing?
Right now, I would be just going to regular high school, but when I’m older I have really weird jobs that I would want if I wasn’t an actor. One being an astronaut and the other being a detective, I’m really interested in space and all of that.
Do you currently go to a regular high school?
I do! We actually wrapped filing on season four yesterday, we film in Chicago next week and then after that I go back to school. I’m a freshman this year!
Is that stressful at all, balancing school and shooting in L.A. and Chicago?
I wouldn’t call it stressful, it’s just kind of difficult because I do have to spend time on my studies because I do want to be able to get all A’s. I mean a little bit to be honest, but I love filming and I love traveling so it’s really the best of both worlds I can’t complain.
Is there anything that you hope happens to Debbie, their anything you would love to happen to her?
For personal reasons I really want Debbie to do an action scene, like a badass. Like I want her to get into these fight scenes and have a lot of action scenes and running away and stuff, I kind of want all of that just for personal reasons. I feel like it would be really fun to do action scenes, it’s kind of my goal. But for character reasons I hope Debbie goes back on the straight and narrow and she goes back to old Debbie in a teenage life. Like I don’t want Debbie to stop wearing makeup and doing typical teenager things, but I want her to care more about everything else and not be so self centered.
You can watch SHAMELESS, Sunday’s at 9PM on Showtime. And you can follow Emma on twitter @EmmaRoseKenney
Victoria Nelli loves TV so much that she is paying $30,000 a year to learn about it in College. When she’s not learning about TV she enjoys writing about her favorite shows, interviewing anyone in the industry that will let her, and ranting about how underrated Parks and Recreation is. She is very much aware of her Netflix addiction, and no she will not be seeking help anytime soon. You can follow her on Twitter @VictoriaNelli