Emma Kenney stars in the TV series Shameless.
Emma Kenney stars in the TV series Shameless. Frederic Charpentier

Shameless star on growing up in front of a TV audience

EMMA Kenney is a typical teenager in many ways, although she is living an extraordinary life.

The 15-year-old is part of TV's most dysfunctional family: the Gallaghers from the comedy Shameless.

Now in its fifth season, the US version of the British original follows the six Gallagher children as they struggle to look after themselves while their alcoholic father lives in a perpetual stupor.

When I ring Emma in New York, her mum answers and can be heard in the background urging her to stop texting because there's a journalist from Australia on the phone waiting to interview her.

But when she does finally come to the phone she's bubbly and engaging, talking a million miles an hour.

Starting on the show at the age of 10, Emma has in many ways grown up alongside her character Debbie.

"I've experienced a lot while being part of the show," she tells APN.

The cast of Shameless, from left, William H Macy, Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White and Ethan Cutkosky, back row Cameron Monaghan, Emma Kenney and Brenden Sims.
The cast of Shameless, from left, William H Macy, Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White and Ethan Cutkosky, back row Cameron Monaghan, Emma Kenney and Brenden Sims. Contributed

"I did always realise it was just a TV show and that it wasn't really happening, but as I grew up I actually realised this wasn't just a TV show where I was playing a character, that it was representing real families.

"It represents poverty in Chicago and poverty in many families in the country."

Viewers have watched Debbie go from a sweet girl who would gently place a pillow under the head of her passed-out father to a moody teenager who, last season, dated a much older guy.

"The bad teenage things that I'm not personally doing I get to experience through Debbie," Emma says.

"I get to live in both worlds. My mum loves that."

Emma raves about her on-screen father William H Macy, who directs an episode in the latest season. Last month Macy won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his portrayal of deadbeat dad Frank.

"He's always giving pointers," she says.

"I really loved working with him as a director. He gave very specific direction ... Bill gets it because he's an actor."

Starring in a hit show also has its perks. Emma, like any teenage girl, can hardly contain her excitement when I mention her high-profile Twitter follower: Harry Styles from One Direction.

Emma Kenney, left, as Debbie Gallagher in the TV series Shameless.
Emma Kenney, left, as Debbie Gallagher in the TV series Shameless. Contributed

"Oh my gosh I love him," she says.

Emma also has ambitions to be a filmmaker. At the age of nine she was the youngest filmmaker accepted into the New Jersey International Film Festival.

"When I'm 18 I'm going to move to California with my best friend, that sounds so typical," she says.

"I want to go to film school.

"When I'm older I want to work more with that and see where that takes me, but (right now) acting is still my number one."

And Debbie still has plenty of growing up to do.

"This season is more of an uplifting season generally for all of the characters," she says.

"We get to see Debbie kind of dabbling with a boyfriend, maybe, or a love interest.

 "She's maturing and growing in herself and getting more confidence."

Shameless airs Wednesdays at 7.30pm Qld, 8.30pm NSW on Foxtel's SoHo channel.


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