They're rude. They're crude. And they've got attitude. Dysfunctional families are all the rage on TV, but the Gallaghers of Showtime's Shameless manage to top them all. This libertine clan from the south side of Chicago is always behind on the bills and one step ahead of the law, but somehow — in their fourth season of chaos and calamity — they're still holding it together. Barely. TV Guide Magazine sat down with the stars who play the three eldest Gallagher kids — Emmy Rossum (Fiona), Jeremy Allen White (Lip) and Cameron Monaghan (Ian) — to talk about sex, drugs and...family values.
TV Guide Magazine: Even though the Gallaghers are wildly screwed up, in a weird way they're as solid and sturdy as the Waltons. How do you explain that?
Emmy Rossum: They have their own set of values and rules. Not the traditional ones, like "Don't have underage sex" or "Don't drink" or "Don't steal." Their values are more like "Be loyal" and "Do steal if it's for the family" and "Do drink if you're suppressing pain."
Jeremy Allen White: They have an extraordinary survival instinct. Their dad, Frank [William H. Macy], is a hopeless, alcoholic, drug-addicted bum, and their mom, Monica [Chloe Webb], abandoned them years ago, but no one is wallowing in self-pity. Anger, yes, but no self-pity.
Cameron Monaghan: In a strange way, their parents' dysfunction forces the kids to be functional. They stick together. They know that if one falls, the entire unit falls.
TV Guide Magazine: Then why are they all so damn self-destructive? Fiona is in jail. Ian is AWOL from the Army. Deb [Emma Kenney] is 13 and desperate for sex. And Carl [Ethan Cutkosky], who loves his explosives, is an accident waiting to happen.
White: Normalcy is very scary for them.
Rossum: So is making money and doing well.
Monaghan: They've grown up in such a screwed-up, adrenalin-fueled environment that they crave mayhem.
Rossum: They live for chaos. Fiona certainly does. At the start of this season, she has a good job and a good man, Lip's in college, Ian's in the Army. Everything seems to be going well, and she can't handle it. So she proceeds to f--- it all up — on her terms.
White: And now things are so f---ed up that Lip — who has the emotional capability of a 14-year-old — will have to step up and be the responsible one in the family.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you think viewers, in a sick way, enjoy seeing all this self-sabotage?
Monaghan: No one wants to see Leave It to Beaver anymore. The audience wants struggle and pain and anguish.
Rossum: And no one wants to see the Gallaghers win the Mega Millions. We'd have no show!
TV Guide Magazine: Where do you think the Gallagher kids will be in 25 years?
Rossum: At least one of them will be dead. Probably Carl, from an explosive accident.
Monaghan: If you had asked me last season I would have said Deb had the best chance of survival. Not this season!
White: I hope they're all still around in 25 years, still sitting around the Alibi. In a way, I'd like them to all grow up and be like Frank.
Rossum: [Laughs] Whaaat?
White: Not with the excessive drinking and drugs but with his extraordinary ability to keep going no matter what. His life force is intense!
TV Guide Magazine: At this point, are you shocked by anything in the scripts?
Rossum: I am completely stunned by where Fiona is heading this season. She's exhibiting some real Frank-like behavior. I never thought she would get this low. I also thought it was really wild that she refused to give her dying father a piece of her liver. That made me kind of uncomfortable.
Monaghan: Just as Fiona is becoming more like Frank, Ian is becoming more like Monica, which I never saw coming! He's also going to be dancing in a strip club, and that really threw me for a loop. This whole season is crazy. I was confused that Ian — who was such a stable rock in the family — comes back from the Army very different, weirdly disconnected from his siblings, very impersonal. But you're going to find out why.
White: I was shocked when Lip still wanted his girlfriend, Karen, even after she had sex with his father.
Rossum: [Laughs] We like to keep it in the family!
White: I didn't know how to play that without making my character seem like a psychopath!
TV Guide Magazine: Ever encounter people who are outraged by this show?
Rossum: Never in person. They save their vitriol for the cloak of the Internet.
White: I think it was very smart of us to show a d--- in our first episode. Anyone who wasn't OK with that would have tuned out right then!
Monaghan: Our opening credits show us all in the bathroom. My character is [masturbating] on the toilet. Doesn't that sort of, uh, warn you? [Laughs] If you're the type who is easily offended, this is not the show for you! We always find that line we shouldn't cross and then we leap over it. It's what we do.
White: Actually, we get the opposite of outrage. People say, "Our family is just like the Gallaghers!"
Monaghan: I hear from a lot of kids who are gay but they're not yet open to their families the way Ian is. They get encouragement from that.
TV Guide Magazine: We have to ask: What's it like doing all those rowdy sex scenes?
Rossum: At first I was scared s--tless. In fact, I was so drunk for my first sex scene, I don't even remember shooting it. But now it's no big deal. That's because we're so comfortable around our crew and, after a while, you get fearless. I've done pretty much everything on this show. I've thrown up, I've been peed on, I cut the toe off a dead woman. [Laughs] Now, as an actress, there's nothing I won't tackle!
Monaghan: I'm incredibly comfortable in the sex scenes with Noel [Fisher, who plays Ian's closeted bedmate]. We're good friends. We crack jokes. You make it work. If we didn't have such team spirit on the set, those scenes would be difficult to shoot, but they never are.
White: It's the people the Gallaghers have sex with who I feel bad for! We know everybody on set, but those poor actors have to show up and get naked in a room full of strangers.
Rossum: Per our union, we have the right to say, "I won't do that scene." There's a specific rider for every situation that involves nudity or simulated sex. They literally come up to us and say, "Sign this."
TV Guide Magazine: Have you ever refused?
Rossum: Only once. They wanted to open Season 2 with Fiona in bed, alone, topless. I said, "No way! She always sleeps in little T-shirts and boy shorts. It's not a sex scene. There's no reason to be naked, and we're not doing it." And they were like, "Oh, OK." There's never any pressure or ramifications.
White: The sex on our show is great because it's so realistic. It's never some epic thing like on other shows...
Rossum: ...where everyone is bathed in golden light showing off their perfect, rock-hard bods.
White: Our sex is dirty.
Rossum: And messy.
White: [Laughs] And, with Lip, it usually lasts 11 seconds.
Shameless airs Sundays at 9/8c on Showtime.
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