Paul Abbott’s successful British series Shameless was inspired by his own complicated life growing up in a working-class family with 10 children. Now teaming up with John Wells (ER), he has re-imagined the series for an American audience.
William H Macy stars as Frank Gallagher, the head of a working-class family in Chicago during the challenging times of today’s recession. Emmy Rossum plays his oldest daughter Fiona who, with a drunken father and a mother who is AWOL, is left the task of keeping her five younger brothers and sisters on track.
William, this character is so relentless, whether he’s partying or ranting and raving down the street. Is it exhausting to play?
William H Macy No. It’s a relief. He’s one of the greatest characters I’ve ever gotten to play. He is absolutely a narcissist, unapologetic. He’s shameless. I should be paying them it’s such a good role.
What attracted you to this role, Emmy?
Emmy Rossum Everything. As an actor, you always look for things that will stretch you and to play something different than you have and to surprise yourself and surround yourself with the highest caliber of people that will make you look good.
I just love this character. I loved her fierce loyalty to her family. I loved the extremities of situations that this family is in and the outrageous stuff that they let us do because we’re lucky enough to be on a network that encourages that.
And I love the opportunity to work with Bill and I love that the character shows such duality. She’s so strong, but has this vulnerability underneath that I thought she was very much a modern woman.
Bill, you are less grubby in your previous productions. Do you enjoy this more casual Bill Macy that we’re seeing?
William H Macy It takes hours to make me look like this (he laughs). The wife [actress Felicity Huffman] digs the hair. Not so crazy about the beard.
Do you enjoy not being the moral center of the series?
William H Macy You’re wrong; I am the moral center of this show. I’ve got the role of the century here. I am having so much fun. I love every part of it. I look really cool on the motorcycle with my hair like this. I’ve got the most outrageous things to do, great writing, outrageous stories. They’re true. You know what I mean? They’re all true stories to the human condition. There’s love at the bottom of every single episode. Wait till you see some of the stuff we do. It’s amazing. It stops us on the set every once in a while. We just think ‘That was shameless.’
What I’m saying is, if I read this role Bill Macy isn’t the first actor that would pop into my head. It’s totally out of character for you. Did you do it to stretch yourself?
William H Macy I’m too old for that. No. It was just a great job with great writing and with John Wells.
From what I’ve seen, your character, Emmy, has a level of tragic anger underneath this bubbly I-can-do-everything surface. Will we see more of that as the series goes on?
Emmy Rossum Absolutely. I think that’s what we are going for. Life can be very funny and very tragic, and I think everyone has stuff that they’ve been through that make up whatever fire it is that they have in their gut. But nobody goes around wearing that as their outmost exterior all the time.
When things happen and the tougher life becomes for them, we will see those sides come out of them. But these aren’t depressed people. They are definitely struggling to live and eat, but these aren’t people who feel sorry for themselves, or who really want to give in to that anger. They are can-do people with a very positive attitude, and I think that’s what’s so cool about them.
There’s a long history of drunks and potheads in cinema and TV. Do you have a favorite?
William H Macy I grew up watching Red Skelton do his drunk, Clem Kadiddlehopper. I’ve got some other favorites, but I’m having a senior moment and I can’t come up with a single name.
But it sure is fun to play someone who is toasted all the time. My whole career, I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time speaking for the little guy, the disenfranchised. And whether you like it or not at this moment, all across the country, a lot of people are really toasted right now, drunk as skunks, and I speak for them. I am the spokesperson for people who like to start the day with a couple of brewskies.
Why are drunks so loveable as characters?
William H Macy Sometimes they’re not. Frank is not sometimes. Frank can say outrageous things that are true, but you are really not supposed to say them.
Would it shut down the series if Frank became involved in a DUI fatatlity?
William H Macy What a buzz kill [he laughs].
Emmy Rossum We don’t actually think he drives. We don’t own cars!