Truly one of the most nuanced and honest actresses of her age, 18-year-old Emma Kenney is a force to be reckoned with. Over the past 8 years on Showtime’s Shameless, we’ve seen Kenney tackle issues such as abandonment, neglect, and teen pregnancy with a sense of grace and poise you would expect from a veteran actor—not someone just 13 at the time. After a night of binge-watching The Real Housewives, Kenney caught up with us to chat about growing up on screen, being a teen in Hollywood, and the future of her character Debbie.
Cliché: You started acting at age 10. When did you know that this was something you wanted to pursue?
Emma Kenney: I’ve always been a fan of film. I used to watch weird ‘60s movies with my mom, just like classic ones growing up. I grew up on Alfred Hitchcock; he was my favorite director and his movies just seemed like so much fun. I’d always make knock-off movies at 8 years old with my friends. I would try to make them so suspenseful.
We’ve all watched you grow up on Shameless. What has that experience been like?
It’s been cool growing up on the show. Growing up in an industry is kind of an experience in itself. I’ve been on the show since I was 10 years old and it’s been a total family dynamic because the entire cast and crew have taken us under their wing. A lot of people think because of the content of the show it might have forced us to grow up fast, but I don’t think that’s true. We’ve grown up in a positive way.
How do you balance being on a show and then having a normal teenage life?
It’s an interesting dynamic. You have to pick and choose what you do and who you surround yourself with. You have to make sure people aren’t in it for the wrong reasons, you know what I mean? LA can be kind of sketchy in general, so you have to work hard to find your inner circle and good people you can hang out with. I love to go to the beach and do adventurous things. I’ve been wanting to travel more.
It’s been cool growing up on the show. Growing up in an industry is kind of an experience in itself.
Well, you get to travel a bit, right? You also shoot in Chicago?
Yeah, we shoot there twice a season at the end of every six episodes. Chicago rocks and it feels like a vacation. The entire cast and crew go; it’s the best week. We just eat so much food and go out for group dinners. It’s a really great time.
I saw on Emmy Rossum’s Instagram the crowd that was drawn to your sets the last time you were in Chicago on location. What’s that experience like?
Yeah, it never used to be like that. It was pretty crazy. Before the show hit Netflix, it was kind of an underground, indie show. But, since then, we have attracted a whole new audience and the show has tripled its viewers. It’s been nice to meet so many people, too. I’ll admit some of it was a little scary and overwhelming, but that’s a great problem to have. I love interacting with all of them whenever I can!
Do you have any specific fan encounter that comes to mind? Any time that was particularly funny or moving?
Honestly, I love when someone comes up to me and says they relate to the show. Obviously, I don’t love when they say their dad is an alcoholic or something, but it’s nice to feel like we’ve touched someone’s heart. I always leave feeling good after that because I don’t want anyone to think we are making fun of poverty or the south side of Chicago. Some people consider it to be a comedy, but the entire cast thinks it’s a drama. A dramedy, maybe.
So, in season 8, where do we find Debbie?
We have amazing writers and they have given me such hard stuff this season. I have a lot of cool scenes and I get to check off a few ticks on my actor’s bucket list this year, but I can’t give away too much. In general, she’s a lot more motivated this season and is working hard. She just sees everything in a much more positive light and knows what she’s trying to accomplish.
Aside from Debbie, do you have any scenes or arcs from other characters from the series as a whole that, as a fan, you were excited to see unfold?
Honestly, every character has such beautiful arcs. I like Ian’s arc a lot. I love Lip’s arc. I think they are both beautiful. I love how we saw them as young Gallaghers, but not as young. We started in the mix of their rebellious age and those are really tender moments in a person’s life. I think the viewers have a special relationship with both Lip and Ian.
Fast forwarded to [hopefully] a long, long, time from now: it’s the series finale. Where do you hope to find Debbie?
I want for Debbie to be in a positive light with a good man—not someone who is going to screw her over, like Derrick and other guys she’s been into in the past. I want her to have a good living environment for her, but more importantly Frannie. I just want her to find peace with herself.
Honestly, I love when someone comes up to me and says they relate to the show…it’s nice to feel like we’ve touched someone’s heart.
You also just landed a spot on the Roseanne revival! Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Well, I used to watch the original on reruns because I wasn’t alive when it was first on. [Laughs] I just started watching the full show and I’m loving it; it’s so funny. I just came back from a network run-through of the first episode and it was just like watching an episode of Roseanne. It’s so well-written and the actors are so great. It’s been such a good experience.
So, is it weird to immerse yourself in a different ‘TV family’ because you’ve been a Gallagher for so long?
It’s not weird, but it is different. This is a whole different situation because these people, the original cast, have known each other for almost 30 years now and I’m just coming into it. But everyone has been so welcoming and it’s only my first week. I’ve never done multi-cam before and it’s a totally different ball game. We had our first living taping on October 13!
And you’re filming the two shows simultaneously?
Yup! I spend my mornings at Warner Brothers with Shameless, then race over to CBS for Roseanne.
Is it difficult to switch between characters?
I’ve grown up with Debbie so that character is more simple for me to play and I can just sort of slip into her because so much of me has been invested into her. But this new character I’m playing, Harris, is brand new. I’ve been writing a lot in the character’s voice—I have playlists and stuff—and just sort of getting to know her and start fresh. I’m excited to grow with her as well and for everyone to see a new side of me.
Read more Entertainment Interviews on ClicheMag.com
Emma Kenney Chats Season 8 of ‘Shameless’: Photographer: Quavondo, Assistant: Johnny Martini, Hair: Ieva Radina, Makeup: Erik Torppe, Stylist: Michael St. Michael