Eye on Emmy: Shameless' Emmy Rossum on the 'Difficult' Scene That Triggered a Panic Attack

Shameless Season 3 SpoilersShameless‘ leading lady has an Emmy — in her name.

But next month, Emmy Rossum, who plays broken tough girl Fiona Gallagher, could also have “Emmy nominee” attached to her moniker.

In the Showtime series’ third season, the actress took her character to new depths as she fought for guardianship of her siblings and lost her boyfriend — for good. In fact, it was such a “challenging” year for Fiona that one scene even gave Rossum a panic attack.

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TVLINE | The Emmys consider Shameless a drama, but the show really does have genuine moments of comedy. How do you think of the series, genre-wise?
It’s in a strange sweet spot that doesn’t really fall in either place. Because of the weight of a lot of the subject matter, like alcoholism and poverty and growing up with MIA parents, I feel like it does fall into the drama category, even though it is a little bit farcical at times.

TVLINE | Do you have a preference in regard to what you like to play?
I don’t try to play it for laughs — ever. I always try to play for the reality of the moment. Some of the darkest things in life, the most dramatic, actually make us laugh because laughter, just like crying, is a release of pent-up energy. I definitely gravitate towards the drama a little bit more. But I enjoy the funny, too.

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TVLINE | You’ve lived with the character for three years now. Is she still as exciting for you as the day you started playing her?
More so, because she’s evolved and grown and matured. [This past] season was the most challenging, dramatically, for her with everything that she went through with foster care and almost losing the kids. It’s definitely made her grow up, and now she’s as much of a parent, legally, as Frank. It was definitely a challenging season for me and really a lot of fun with the material they gave me.

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TVLINE | What do you think was the defining moment for her this year?
Probably in the courtroom when she stood up and finally said aloud the things that her father had done to her and they talked about the emotional ramifications of that. This isn’t a person that talks about her feelings a lot. Needing to stand up in a court and say, “I’m abandoned, and my father doesn’t love me and doesn’t take care of us” is a very difficult thing to do for anyone, especially someone as guarded and fierce as Fiona. To be that vulnerable in public… That was a big moment for her to win against Frank and to earn that maturity.

Shameless Emmy RossumTVLINE | One of the biggest shocks this season was watching her journey with Jimmy and how their relationship crumbled. How do you feel about the way it came apart?
They weren’t very well matched to begin with. They come from two totally different worlds, have different priorities in life, and even though they had this heat and this love, I feel like it wasn’t meant to be. I feel like neither of them were coming to the table with their hands fully exposed.

TVLINE | What was it like filming the last scene between Fiona and Jimmy not knowing what Justin Chatwin’s future was on the show? 
Honestly, I had a panic attack. In the coffee shop, I had to go and sit down on the floor, and Justin had to give me juice. I have become so attached to him and to the characters being together. There’s such a transference between the actor and the character, at least with me, that I really felt like I, Emmy, was losing him, Justin. Even though I knew that I can drive over to Venice and see him whenever I want, I really felt like I was losing a piece of myself in losing him in the show. It was incredibly emotional and difficult for me. I feel like we really grew up together in this show. We both had never done shows before. We had been friends from before [Rossum and Chatwin both starred in 2009’s Dragonball: Evolution], and it’s been such a good ride. I hoped against hope that he’s not dead. [Note: After TVLine spoke with Rossum, the show announced that Jimmy is indeed dead and that Chatwin will not return to the series.]

TVLINE | Outside of that relationship, do you have a favorite one to play?
I like Fiona and Lip’s relationship, because Lip is the character who could become most like Frank. For Fiona, being the protective mama lion that she is, it’s very scary for her to see how much she sacrificed for her younger siblings and to think one [who] is so talented that he’s getting a free ride to an Ivy League school is maybe going to piss that away to sit around on a porch and drink.

Shameless Emmy RossumTVLINE | What was it like acting out that scene with Frank in the hospital? We don’t get to see that side of your characters’ dynamic very often.
Frank is very rarely honest with anyone, including himself, and Fiona is very rarely patient enough to actually have a conversation with him. When we see him in the hospital, basically having gotten a diagnosis of very ill health, bordering on death, from these doctors, the little girl comes out in her, and she doesn’t want him to die. Nobody wants their parent to die. But at the same time, they hate and love each other. So it’s… interesting to see someone who is so addicted, that even when facing death, they’re not sure if they want to get clean.

TVLINE | Have you learned anything from William H. Macy in terms of acting?
To just be in the moment and not to over-prepare. I’m still heavy on preparation and thinking about every single which way I could do anything before I get there. But being opposite somebody who is as strong as he is, and as most of our cast is, it’s very empowering to just exist and be in the space with the other person and play. He’s very unafraid, and that’s very inspiring as an actor.

TVLINE | You have a uniformly great cast so I’m probably going to put you in a tough position, but is there anyone who you feel is long overdue for some awards recognition?
Joan [Cusack is] the only one who’s really been rewarded. I don’t know. I feel like our cast goes so deep. And you’re right, we’re in a tricky spot. We were definitely a little more dramatic this year, much more dramatic, so we might fit in the category better, but you can just never tell. We just have to keep working and doing our thing and telling our stories. You can’t hold your breath for anyone to pat you on the back. You have to know inside that what you’re doing is adding something to our community. If something else comes out of it [like] accolades, that’s great. But if it doesn’t, I’m enormously fulfilled by the opportunity to play this character.