Shameless‘ Season 4 finale on Sunday night was certainly worthy of its “Lazarus” title when, in the closing credits, Justin Chatwin made a surprise return as the previously presumed dead Jimmy/Steve.
What brought on the unexpected plot twist? Will Chatwin be back next season? And was Frank supposed to die this year?
TVLINE | At what point did you decide Jimmy/Steve was still alive?
[Laughs] The audience kept telling us that they didn’t know what had happened at the end [of last season with the character], so we thought, “I don’t know, maybe we’ll take advantage of that and go with it.”
TVLINE | You had said at a panel that that was the end of Jimmy/Steve. Was there anything, storyline-wise, that made you change your mind?
Oh, I’ve changed my mind lots of times. The Julianna Margulies character on E.R. was dead at the end of the pilot… You follow what the audience is interested in. Since we had the option of doing something else that the audience was certainly telling us they were interested in, we decided to do it.
TVLINE | How important was it for you to end the season with that huge shock? Could it have easily gone the other direction, without that additional scene?
Oh, sure. We felt the season was very complete without it. We just thought, it’s always good to remind people why they want to come back the next year, particularly since on all of the shows on pay [cable] and many of the shows on basic [cable], the separation between when you’re on the air can be nine months. You want people to still be intrigued when they think about it later.
TVLINE | So how did Justin’s return come together?
I called him and asked him if he wanted to come back and do a scene, and he said, “Sure.” [Laughs] We’ve all stayed really friendly, so it was an easy call to make, and he happened to be available, which was great.
TVLINE | Was it all put together pretty close to the day of production?
I didn’t put it into the script, but it was written a month in advance. We had to make sure that Justin was going to be available – he was doing some other things – and had to schedule it. A few people within the production were going to shoot it. The writing staff, everybody knew about it for at least a month. Maybe it was six weeks. I asked them to keep it quiet because in this day and age, it’s hard to keep things quiet that are surprising for the audience. It’s always fun when you can do it.
TVLINE | Not even your cast knew he was coming back. How did you manage to pull that off?
We shot it on the Saturday of our last Chicago trip before everybody else came, and we put him in a different hotel. And people enjoyed being in on the secret, so the people who were in on the secret were excited about keeping it secret.
TVLINE | What did Justin think of the twist? I imagine he might have accepted his character’s fate.
I can’t say exactly, but he was excited about the idea of doing it. We’ve all become good friends and have enjoyed working together, so I think he was delighted to be able to surprise everybody.
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TVLINE | In what capacity are we going to see him next season? Is he back as a series regular?
You’ll just have to come and watch.
TVLINE | Was there ever any consideration this year of having Frank die? In some scenes, it seemed like that’s where it was going.
[Laughs] We couldn’t really kill off Frank, could we? I love that character.
TVLINE | Fiona had a great dramatic arc, and so did many of the other characters. What is your take on the show now competing as a comedy at the Emmys?
Well, I think it’s funny. The show is flat-out funny. There are lots of big laughs and comedic performances. The difficulty is always with these shows that live in the middle, which are a little more like what our real lives are — I know that sounds a little ridiculous when you’re talking about Shameless, but I actually think there’s a lot of day-to-day truth in what we do on Shameless. [It has relevance] to many, many people’s lives — and we laugh a lot in those lives.
The dramatic category has become full of very serious dramatic programming. There really should be some kind of a middle category of realistic ways in which we live our lives that aren’t flat-out half-hour comedies [and also] that aren’t very serious dramas. Generally, we’re better off and more perceived to be a comedy than we are a drama. But the best comedies always have dramatic elements. Just look at Nurse Jackie over the last couple of years.