If Emmy Rossum has become a more shameless performer, she admits she has “Shameless” to thank.
A classically trained singer since childhood, Rossum, 26, started her Hollywood career playing sweet-faced good girls in films like “Phantom of the Opera,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Poseidon,” until she eventually realized she was painting herself into a creative corner by specializing in sunny, even-tempered roles. Then the darkly comic Showtime series “Shameless” gave her a heroine with rougher edges in Fiona Gallagher, the responsible sister in the show’s barely-hanging on clan who nevertheless makes her own share of missteps.
The series significantly shifted Rossum’s perception in Hollywood, allowing her to sink her claws into juicier roles – including the villainous enchantress Ridley Duchannes in the film adaptation of “Beautiful Creatures,” the first book in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s bestselling young adult Caster Chronicles series.
How was playing the witchy bad girl?
So fun, man! I read the script a couple months before we went into production. It was sent to me for the role of Ridley, and I loved it. I thought she was so fun and dynamic and such an attention hog, even of me, as a reader. She just kept stealing my eye and kept stealing my imagination, and I loved her. The way I auditioned the character was with the spirit of the book, which is very similar to the spirit that is on screen now, but it was definitely with the intention of being more akin to the way she was in the book which was blonde and pink hair and kind of a Harajuku girl in daisy dukes with a lollipop. I was very keen on the lollipop. Richard [Lagravenese, the screenwriter and director] was not so keen on the lollipop because he felt like it was very ‘Lolita.’
As an actor, how freeing was it to just be as bad as she is – almost anything you do is going to be delicious – but also got to explore the more innocent version of her in flashback?
It was fun to play both sides of it, especially because the flashback is exclusive to the movie. That doesn't exist in the novel. It was really fun for me to kind of inhabit both sides of it, pre- and post-claiming Ridleys, but for me, the character was the evil, but kind of brand of her evil is almost a little comical and humanized because you understand where it's coming from, a place of disenfranchisement from her own family, the kind of need to act out, the kind of need to have attention and to have all these boys kind of fawning after her because she couldn't feel good about herself, really underneath it all.
Are you up for sequels if this first film catches on?
Yeah! Why not? I love her journey. I read all the novels. I love all the journeys that she takes through that. In the second one – spoiler alert – she loses all of her powers. So she's really pissed. She's not that cute anymore. She's not powerful, and no guys are like tripping over themselves for her. So who is she? Who are you if you don't have the most defining factor of yourself? So she takes Lena on a trip to the underworld. It's very 'Thelma & Louise.'
You have so many different looks and so many different costumes in this movie. Did you have a favorite?
I mean I loved the blonde that was kind of patterned after Marilyn Monroe in 'River of No Return.' It was all very much patterned on old Hollywood sirens, movie stars. There were six different wigs. Although I did dye my hair blonde because originally, we thought we might use my own hair, but it ended up to be all wig, so I dyed it for nothing. It was really fun. In fact, I think it put me in a different head space, personally, because even in my everyday life, wearing the long catty nails and being blonde generally just kind of changed my way of thinking and moving.
You have an album, “Sentimental Journey,” that debuted recently. What attracted you to interpreting the classic American Songbook?
I grew up with these kind of songs and hearing them in my house – ‘Sentimental Journey,’ ‘Summer Wind,’ ‘The Falling Leaves,’ ‘Many, Many Tears To Go,’ ‘The Object of My Affection.’ I was raised by a single mom, and she liked this kind of music. So when she would go away on trips, she would leave that for me to play. And she sang songs like ‘Apple Blossom Time’ to me as a bedtime lullaby, so that's one of the songs on there. Besides hearing classical music where I worked at the children's chorus at the opera, this is the kind of music that I heard as I grew up.
Coming to Hollywood, there are a lot of people telling young actresses what to do and what not to do – the “right” pathways. Was there a period like that, or have you always walked your own path?
I finally feel confident enough in myself to actually just kind of be pretty bare and just be who I am, but I think I found a lot of comfort in the safety zone of playing good girls for a long time. That's done. I think 'Shameless' made people see me a little bit differently. I just finished a movie with Hilary Swank called,’ You're Not You.’ She plays a woman who has ALS, and I play her live‑in caretaker, but my character also has a pretty big drinking problem, kind of sleeping around problem with married people, so I'm definitely pushing the limits of where I can go in terms of what goes against maybe the way I look.
Do you feel like you had that edge before “Shameless,” or did the show bring that out?
I definitely have that in me, but I think everybody has everything in them. You have the ability to kill. You have the ability to love. You have so many things and emotions within you, that it's just a question of feeling comfortable enough to access them. And I think being in this environment like ‘Shameless,’ in this family environment, I really felt comfortable enough with the people around me to start really pushing myself really hard into different areas of characters and into not having to feel like I was a likable character at all times. And I think that that was a big breakthrough for me.
When I did ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ I asked the producer what my intention as a character in the movie was. And he said, ‘Be nice. Be the nice girl.’ And I just thought, ‘Okay. Maybe that's all I am’ because I got cast as that over and over and over again, and eventually, I thought, ‘Well, screw that.’ I'm going to do something different, and I'm going to play unlikable and prove that – I'm going to find that humanity under each one of these characters that are aggressive, that are boisterous, that are in your face. I'm going to find the reason that they are that way. Like in ‘Shameless,’ or with this crazy, campy, witch character that I'm playing, I'm going to find the humanity underneath it all and make it more complex than just what I had to do when I was 17 when my only initiative was to be nice.