Emmy for Michigan Avenue

17. srpna 2011 v 20:53 |  Emmy 2011

Leave it to Chicago and Showtime's Shameless to provide Emmy Rossum with the role for which she's become best known: Fiona Gallagher, the oldest daughter in one of the most insanely, entertainingly screwed-up families in recent television history. But how does an actress with a face so innocent she looks like a Disney animation figure come to life get cast in such a gritty, sexy, poverty-class Chicagoan role? "In [the producers' minds], it was definitely not a slam dunk," Rossum tells me. "It was against type. I had to audition [several times]. But anything worth getting is not going to be easy. I was so thrilled to get the part."

A Talent That Endures
From singing with New York's Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus at the age of seven to performing with the likes of Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, from a recurring role on As the World Turns to catching the eye of the independent film world in movies such as Songcatcher and subsequent starring roles in major Hollywood blockbusters, Rossum is a veteran entertainer with an impressive resumé-yet she's a few months younger than Lindsay Lohan, with a much better sense of self and about one one-hundredth the drama.

I've seen a lot of promising actors come and go. With some, you think they should enjoy the short run they'll have before they become really difficult trivia questions. With others, such as Emmy Rossum, you feel as if they're not going anywhere: Talent endures.

I remember a lavish Oscar party in the mid-2000s, before the economy collapsed in bits and pieces like the buildings in a Michael Bay film, when 1,000 people would pack soirées where you couldn't take two steps without encountering an A-lister. My date for the evening was from an Eastern European country and was not the world's biggest pop-culture fan. She would recognize a Bruce Willis or a Janet Jackson, then say to me, "That man talks so fast but he is nice. What does he do?" after meeting Quentin Tarantino. At one point in the evening a girl glided by, impossibly young and with a gorgeous smile, wearing a strapless red dress augmented by a ruby necklace and earrings. "She is a star?" said my friend, more as statement than a question. "Not yet," I replied. "But she will be."

Rossum was 18 at the time, fresh off a small but pivotal role as Sean Penn's character's daughter in Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, then playing one of the resourceful souls battling the effects of a global-warming natural disaster in The Day After Tomorrow-and giving a captivating performance as Christine opposite Gerard Butler in the big-screen adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, a pitch-perfect bit of casting given Rossum's timeless beauty and her years of opera training. Cut to 2011. Rossum, still just 25, continues to do movies, ranging from the big-budget disaster-flick remake Poseidon to the immortal Dragonball: Evolution. She is a gifted singer/songwriter and has released two CDs, including a collection of Christmas tunes. She has the elegant looks that made her a natural choice to play a young Audrey Hepburn in a TV movie, and a natural sweetness that makes you wonder if she wakes up and says hello to the bluebirds on her shoulder.

A Perfectly Shameless Performance
But Rossum's best role to date, the part that has gained her well deserved acclaim, the show that drew thousands to Comic-Con International this past July, is decidedly against type. Rossum plays Fiona, the heart and soul of the dysfunctional and dirtpoor Gallagher family in Showtime's Shameless, which was adapted from a hit British series and showcases Chicago settings rarely seen on TV or in movies. It's a multilayered part, the most challenging role of Rossum's career, and I've yet to see her strike a wrong note as Fiona shifts from sexy to bitchy to exasperated to her primary gear-that of the eldest daughter thrust into the role of single parent because Mom has disappeared and Dad is once again embroiled in an illegal money-making scheme or is passed out on the floor.

There's No Shame In Emmy Rossum's Game

I caught up with Rossum just after she had returned from Comic-Con in San Diego, where she was joined by costars William H. Macy (who plays the booze-soaked Frank Gallagher), Justin Chatwin (Fiona's criminally inclined love interest) and Shameless executive producer John Wells for a panel discussion. Rossum told me nobody dressed up as a Shameless character à la the rabid fan boys who dominate Comic-Con-but "five thousand people showed up and they were super positive about the show."

Fiona Gallagher is one of the richest female characters on television, and Rossum knocks it out of the park every episode. "She's everything an actress aches to play," says Rossum. "Daughter, mother, lover. She's at the center of this big soup. As a child, she never really had the chance to grow up. She's streetwise but not world wise."

There are myriad pockets of Chicago, north, west and south of the posterperfect skyline, that are worlds unto themselves. The residents know the turf on which they grew up. They know their block and the next block over, and perhaps a few blocks on either side-and that's it. I've known people like the Gallaghers, who are so confident in their comfort zone and so lost outside that range. That's Fiona. She's so tough but not so tough, so giving and nurturing to her younger siblings, but so emotionally unavailable to others. "There's this unfortunate phrase from hip-hop. I just heard it on the radio: 'hit it and quit it,'" says Rossum. "Usually it's the men who 'hit it and quit it.' But that's Fiona. She is not a relationship person. She's more like a guy than a girl in that respect. She's more comfortable having sex than kissing."

At times Fiona's antics and the adventures of the Gallagher family stretch credulity, as Rossum readily admits. "Fiona does some crazy stuff. But we get so many letters from people saying, 'That happened to me.' There are very few shows about low-income families that aren't poking fun and succumbing to the stereotype about hicks. We try to make it much more interesting than that."

Originally from New York and now spending most of her time in Los Angeles, Rossum hadn't spent a lot of time in Chicago until Shameless brought her here last winter. "It gets cold in New York but there's a whole other level of cold in Chicago," she says. "We were here during 'Snowmageddon' and actually had to shut down filming for a couple of days at the end of the first season. But the people in Chicago are so welcoming. It's such a film-friendly city. We'd be shooting in the cold, and people would say, 'Come in and get warm.' The areas we shoot in are pretty rough, some of the grittier neighborhoods, but people for the most part opened their doors. We're representing the city of Chicago [with this show]. Chicago is massive, but it has a flavor all its own."

As Rossum's recognition factor increases, I asked her about the nature of fame in the social media era-and the fact that one can become a household name not through the traditional formula of hard work plus talent plus opportunity plus good fortune, but by being a televised train wreck. "Reese Witherspoon said it best [in her 2011 MTV Movie Awards speech about sex tapes and reality stars]. She was very blunt and honest about it. Reality stars…they're not worth thinking about. I'm not sure what they do.

"Fame is a strange thing. There were always reporters [looking for dirt on celebrities], even back in the day, but there was still some anonymity, a sense of mystery. But there aren't a lot of secrets now, with TMZ, Access Hollywood, all these things feeding the public's demand for more information," Rossum says. Like many in the business, Rossum has her own Twitter account, with more than 120,000 fans following her. She provides glimpses-but just glimpses- of the real Emmy to her fans. "I try not to Tweet when I'm drinking," says Rossum. "Don't drink and Tweet. There were a couple of moments when I thought, Maybe I shouldn't have said that. But everyone's human, we all make mistakes. A little bit less mystique, I'm OK with that."


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