I spoke with the brilliantly talented Emma Kenney, who plays Debbie Gallagher, about the new season of Shameless. Emma’s insight on her character was astounding. You’ll see Debbie in a whole new light. I love how she broke down her character and shared her method on how she relates to her. I could listen to her discuss Debbie all day. Emma is a remarkable young woman. Not only is she a talented actress but she also has an eye for fashion. I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun it was to interview her. Do not miss a single episode of Shameless, Sunday nights on Showtime.
Lena: I have to say that you are incredible on the show.
Emma Keeney: Oh, thank you so much. I have so much fun filming it.
Lena: I can imagine. Debs is one of my favorite characters. The scene where Debbie broke down and beat Frank (William H. Macy) with the bag of soap was heartbreaking.
Emma Keeney: Thank you. That was a crazy scene to film. Not everyone can say that they got to beat up Bill Macy with a bag of soap. It wasn’t actually soap, a little fun fact. It was just a pillowcase full of little foam squares. We did one take where we had not really hard soap but bags of soap to see if we could get more out of it. Bill said not to hold back but hit him at full force so I did and I was so worried that I was going to hurt Bill. He yelled that one got him in the eye and I was so upset but he was laughing and said he was just messing with me. [Laughing.]
Lena: I was going to ask how many bruises you left on him. [Laughing.]
Emma Keeney: No bruises. [Laughing.]
Lena: Are you surprised that it took Debbie so long to lose her patience with Frank?
Emma Keeney: I’m not surprised because I think that Debbie was trying to hold on to that feeling of hope for a real family, like a really good Martha Stewart kind of one, to happen. I don’t think I was surprised about the time that it occurred. I think the actual Lincoln Log cabin, Debbie’s project, that Frank crushed was kind of representative of their relationship. How it was crushed and shattered after being wobbly and staying up for a while. I think that it finally just came crashing down with all of the emotions of her entire life, just crashing down, and finally getting all of that respect and dignity that she needed.
Lena: Good answer. Out of all of the Gallaghers, you are probably the most responsible one, only behind Fiona (Emmy Rossum). What is it like portraying a young woman with so many responsibilities?
Emma Keeney: I think it’s different and similar because I’m thirteen, so I guess I don’t have that many responsibilities, but I still do have some responsibilities. I have to make my bed, and do my chores, and do all that kind of stuff. I don’t have nearly as much as Debbie. What I do to portray that is I guess I base it on my one friend who is sort of similar to Debbie. I kind of use that as a base point, I guess as a replica, in a way. She has a lot of responsibility to help hold down her household, so I kind of base it on that.
Lena: Poor Debbie, she even has to run the daycare.
Emma Keeney: I know, that was so much fun. I always have a blast filming those. It was really fun having all those kids on the set.
Lena: It must be a crazy day on the set when that happens.
Emma Keeney: You couldn’t image. There was literally like fifteen kids, but they were all so cute. They were around four or five and I love kids. I was babysitting, so it was really fun to be able to watch the kids and hang out with them all day.
Lena: Were they well behaved?
Emma Keeney: They were, they were great. They were really, really sweet so it was fun.
Lena: Have you ever worked with animals?
Emma Keeney: Not really. We did one promo shot for the show where it was me and Cameron Monaghan, who plays Ian, we were chasing a chicken around on the ground. That was terrifying. I never thought I would be scared of a chicken. It’s cute but I was so scared I was going to hurt him because his head kind of wobbles around and you can’t really tell where the neck is. I was holding it and it jumped and I was so worried I was going to choke it but I held it and it scratched my arms. It was okay. I would really, really like for the Gallaghers to get a dog. Oh my gosh, that would be amazing. I would love that.
Lena: What would you like to see Debbie do in the future?
Emma Keeney: In the future, I would like to see Debbie break out and get outside of Chicago. Now you can see that Debbie is trying to go into the future and trying to get into a good college. But I think that there is also well, look at Lip (Jeremy Allen White), he started off like Debbie. He started off being so driven with such a good work ethic, but look where he is coming out; he’s so rebellious. I think that Debbie, in the future, is going to be going down in that direction. I don’t really want her to. I want her to stay on the straight and narrow but I think it would be interesting if Debbie doesn’t go that way. I kind of want to see what she would be like, if she would be kind of fake rebellion or if she would be full force. I’d be interested to see that but I do hope that she stays clean and stuff.
Lena: Do you ever wonder what Debbie would like to do for fun?
Emma Keeney: I know, you don’t really see Debbie having that much fun. It’s always work, family, and serious. You will see, this season, Debbie trying to make friends. You will see her in a very awkward and uncomfortable manner. It doesn’t really come out the way that she wants to. Things get pretty emotional.
Lena: What is the most fun that you have ever had on the set?
Emma Keeney: In Chicago, oh my gosh, we have the best time in Chicago. I love the bonfires. We didn’t do one this season but in the pilot we had one. I remember the pilot, the first bonfire that we ever did, I think it was the first season that we shot in Chicago all together. It was everybody, there were about two hundred extras with all of our crew bundled up in jackets and there was coffee and heaters. That was so much fun. There was this big car, in the middle of everything, just burning and on fire. It was exhilarating; it was crazy. I’ve never seen such a big fire so close up before, so that was kind of scary but it was cool. We had a blast. That was really one of the times that we all got to know each other. We started bonding and that kind of stuff. Another time on set was back in 2009, about a month before we started to shoot the pilot, the day after we found out that we all booked it we were on such a high, we were so excited. We came to Warner Brothers and we saw that stage and we saw everything being built. We took pictures together and we all played Guitar Hero together in the Gallagher living room. That was were we all first met. Then the other day we all went to play mini golf, it was so much fun.
Lena: That sounds like a blast. I love that you guys actually film in Chicago.
Emma Keeney: I love Chicago. It’s my favorite city.
Lena: What have you learned about acting and yourself while you’ve been working on the show?
Emma Keeney: Good question. I guess with Debbie, I don’t want to play her as myself, so I guess I’ve kind of, I don’t know how to explain it but once you get your first character in mind you try to get little characteristics and you kind of build them up on your own. You take little stories, little tidbits, removed from your everyday life and you base them on other families or characters that you know, even people from books. You do that and then you put them together to make a totally different character that you haven’t seen before. I think I naturally wanted to do something that was different. You don’t want to be copying somebody. I think that it’s fun to try to produce somebody else through my own emotions. When I say that I mean in the scene where Debbie cries, I cry that same kind of way. It’s kind of like these little tidbits that I’m basing on this whole new idea, if that makes any sense.
Lena: Yes, it does. That’s a wonderful approach and an astute answer.
Emma Keeney: Thank you.
Lena: Can you talk about working with the cast?
Emma Keeney: Working with the cast is incredible. I love them all. We have been working together for four years now. It’s crazy how time flies when you are having fun. We are really just one big family and it’s so much fun working together. I have a blast coming to the set every day. We’ve all become really close so it’s great.
Lena: Who on the show is the most like their character in real life?
Emma Keeney: Oh, I like that question. Probably, Steve Howey, who plays Kev. He’s not stupid at all, though. He’s so smart. He’s just so hilarious. He’s so funny. He does the monkey face, I don’t even know, it’s just so funny. He’s the best.
Lena: He even really hurt his foot.
Emma Keeney: I know, he hurt his foot. It’s better now, which is good.
Lena: That’s good. I remember watching the new season wondering when he hurt his foot. I couldn’t remember if I missed it last season and then it was explained… a slip and fall.
Emma Keeney: It was a real life injury and I don’t remember how, but I think it was basketball. Yeah, he hurt his foot playing basketball. It’s better now.
Lena: I loved how they made fun of him on the show and made it into a slip and fall accident.
Emma Keeney: I know, it was funny.
Lena: What is coming up for Debbie? What do we have to look forward to? What are you really excited about?
Emma Keeney: I am. This has been a really different season for Debbie. She is experiencing a lot of new things and you will be able to see Debbie growing up. Last season was kind of the prep, the prequel to, I don’t know how to describe it. The audience sees Debbie really growing up. She is more of a loner. She doesn’t have that many friends and she’s very awkward and shy around people. You’ll see that this season she is trying to make friends and she will go into an area with a bunch of kids. You’ll see that and it doesn’t come out the way that she wants it to. She’s experiencing new things and meeting new people. She spends this season just growing up and really turning into a teenager. That’s really fun. It’s really fun to play her being a kid for once and not being so workaholic.
Lena: I’m going to be interviewing Madison, who plays Molly.
Emma Keeney: Oh, I love her. She’s so cute. She’s adorable and so much fun. I just loved having her on set because normally there are no kids. There is Ethan, but he’s a boy. It was really fun to have a girl on the set. I remember that we took the golf cart, the first day that she came, and we were driving around Warner Brothers.
Lena: Is it weird growing up onscreen? Do you still get to have your personal time?
Emma Keeney: I do, I do. It’s kind of weird. In episode three you get to see Debbie have her first kiss and that was super awkward. I’m not even going to lie; that was like the most awkward scene I’ve ever done. Everybody worked hard like Mark Mylod, our director, Steve Shill was there but he couldn’t make it to Chicago to shoot the outside scenes, where the kiss takes place, so Mark Mylod, who is our producer and director, did that scene. I’ve known him forever so it wasn’t as awkward as I assumed it would be. It was good but pretty awkward. I’m not going to lie, but whatever, what is done is done.
Lena: It has to be strange being in the public eye all the time.
Emma Keeney: I know, it’s a tough thing to get used to but it’s pretty cool.
Lena: I have to say that you have great fashion sense. I was looking at some of your outfits, in twitter pictures, and I would like to raid your closet. You have exceptional taste.
Emma Keeney: Thank you! Oh my god, I love clothes. I love all that stuff.
Lena: Do you pick out all of your own clothes or do you work with a stylist for events?
Emma Keeney: I pick out all of my own clothes. I love to go shopping; I’m obsessed with it. I love Kate Spade. I’m totally in love with her. I’m big into accessories. I’m in love with rings. I remember last week I would not go a day without wearing some sort of ring. I literally had a ring on every single finger. It was kind of distracting but it was awesome. I love rings. Last week I went to the Nanette Lepore L’Amour opening, it’s a new fashion line for JCPenney. I had so much fun at that. I got to keep one of her L’Amour dresses and I’m absolutely in love with it. You’re going to have to go to JCPenney and buy one when it comes out.
Lena: Yes! You have wonderful taste.
Emma Keeney: Thank you.
Watch Emma in Shameless Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.