In 2011, Showtime launched an adaptation of the British series Shameless, showcasing a family and community unlike any other on television. A passionate fan base soon tuned in every Sunday to see the NSFW adventures of the Gallagher clan: degenerate patriarch Frank (William H. Macy), protective oldest child Fiona (Emmy Rossum), genius Lip (Jeremy Allen White), religious rebel Ian (Cameron Monaghan), spunky Debbie (Emma Kenney), troublemaking Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), their sex-crazed neighbors Kevin (Steve Howey) and Veronica (Shanola Hampton), closeted bad boy Mickey (Noel Fisher), and the not-so-friendly neighborhood Russian prostitute Svetlana (Isidora Goreshter).
The rebellious lower-class Chicago family has survived both its own members and the vagaries of the changing TV landscape, becoming one of Showtime’s longest running series—and maybe its most beloved–and is now hitting the illustrious 100th episode milestone.
“You know that cliché saying that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success?” says Howey “That’s exactly what we experi- enced. It took eight seasons and then it was like, ‘Boom. Huge.’”
The Gallaghers are set to lose one of their own when Rossum departs at the end of season 9, but before that happens, EW talked to the cast about their memorably deplorable run so far.
Nine years ago, a group of young unknown actors and an Oscar-nominee were thrown together and became a family.
EMMY ROSSUM: I read the script and I knew that this character and world was special. I wanted the part so bad. On my third audition, they didn’t give me notes, they said, “Let’s do this.” I’ve never gotten a part in the room, and I lost it. I was jumping up and down, and very emotional and cursing. [Director] Mark Mylod said, “See, I knew she was right.”
ETHAN CUTKOSKY: I was 10 years old, living in Chicago. My mom and I flew out, not expecting much. By the second audition, we got a contract. I remember running around the hotel, screaming with Emma [Kenney].
SHANOLA HAMPTON: My first memory is auditioning opposite Steve Howey and him being so tall and me being so not tall and thinking there’s no way they’re going to cast us both. So in one of the audition scenes I literally climbed him like a tree.
STEVE HOWEY: She got up there pretty quick. I was like, “I should hold her so she doesn’t fall.” That’s how we ended the scene. And they’re like, “I think we got our Kev and V. If he can hold her, they can f— on camera.”
ISIDORA GORESHTER: The role was presented as “Russian prostitute, no lines, full nudity required.” It was one of the worst auditions of my life. And then I got the job and had this moment, like, “I don’t want to be the actress who has no lines, gets naked and has to do this crazy sex scene.” My manager said, “Just have faith, you never know what can happen.” I think it was a really good decision.
CAMERON MONAGHAN: I’d never seen content like that before. It was shocking and interesting and vulgar, but also poetic and crude and beautiful and all of these things that we’ve come to learn Shameless is. I read with Jeremy [Allen White] and we had the scene where Lip confronts Ian about being gay and I remember going all out and grabbing him around the neck and sort of strangling him and it getting very intense, very quickly.
JEREMY ALLEN WHITE: I had already been cast so I stayed in the room and I went, “Yeah, I think that’s the guy.”
WILLIAM H. MACY: Around the third day, Mark Mylod said, “We’re sending you to play miniature golf.” I’m old and cranky and I said to myself, “What the f— is this?” We get to the first hole and Emma, who was 9, hits the ball and it bounces out. Then she hits the ball and it goes off in the driveway and then she hits another… everyone is going, “That’s okay, do it again!” I’m standing there for 20 minutes, so I walked up and brushed Emma aside and said, “I’m playing through.” She didn’t fall, but it was more forceful than I thought. I got to about the third hole and thought, “I’m an idiot and Mark Mylod’s a genius — I just discovered who Frank Gallagher is.” I unlocked it the second I pushed her off that putting green.
The series’ debut on Netflix before season 7 took it from consistent sleeper to bona fide hit.
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER JOHN WELLS: I guess when you move to a service that has 100 million subscribers then maybe a few more people will see it.
NOEL FISHER: I realized what was happening through social media. I was just randomly checking Instagram and I had several hundred thousand followers that I had done nothing to earn. That was the moment where I was like, “Oh, something is going on here.” That’s when I knew that the show had struck a nerve.
MACY: It was not subtle. I can drink a lot of beer and not pay for it if I wanted to.
ROSSUM: By season 5, there were crowds behind barricades in the Chicago neighborhood that we shoot in. People were Airbnb-ing porches so they could watch [filming].
MONAGHAN: Because Chicago has so much pride for its city and stories, the Gallaghers have become a sort of mascot for the scrappiness of the city.
Almost every script has at least one scene where the actors ask, “Can we do that?”
WELLS: The original one that there was a lot of hesitation about was Frank sleeping with Lip’s girlfriend and then allowing his son to urinate on his head as he was trying to apologize. Being able to have that actually work was where we got our confidence in believing what we could pull off.
MONAGHAN: I remember John saying the words “Gay Jesus” and me going, “Boy, I think some people aren’t going to like that one.” [Laughs].
MACY: Truthfully, I fall on two sides of this line. Sometimes I read them and go, “That’s bizarre — can we do that?” And it usually turns out that we can. There are other times that I go, “We can go so much farther!” When Frank’s running from the police and submerges himself in an overflowing porta potty, that’s burned into everyone’s brain. It wasn’t scripted that way, I pitched it to John. They had to buy a porta potty and rebuild it so that I could submerge myself. But that was me pushing. John kept saying, “Are you sure?” And I said, “Oh my god, it’s so funny.”
ROSSUM: Digging up our mother’s dead body to retrieve the meth that I had buried below her in order to give it back to the drug dealer who was going to kill us… that was pretty intense. You read these things and go, “This is too much,” and then we shoot it and go, “This is too bizarre, we have to ground this,” and then you watch it and it works wonderfully.
WHITE: I still can’t believe I did [this]. There’s a pretty teacher who lived in the neighborhood and had slept with an underage student. Lip wanted to sleep with her and she realizes I have pubic hair and she doesn’t like that because she’s into young kids. So I had to get rid of everything and they put fake hair down there so that she could shave it during the scene. I just rolled with it at the time, but that’s such a crazy thing they had me do.
EMMA KENNEY: One of them was definitely Frank was cutting off Debbie’s toes. Even the way they wrote it in the script was so vivid and gory. It was also just very simple and Bill brought so much to that scene. The way he lit the cigarette from the stove after he lit it up to burn my toes off, that was improv — he’s such a genius.
HAMPTON: It really hit me with the story line of my mother having Kev and V’s baby and we were in essence doing a threesome. I said, “There’s no way this is going to work, this is gross.” And it really, really surprised me. Don’t misunderstand, it was still gross!
HOWEY: I’m laying there and I have Shanola Hampton sitting on my face and Vanessa Bell Calloway straddling me and all I can think to myself is, “Dreams do come true.”
Hitting 100 episodes after 9 seasons, five Liams, and two Mandys.
WELLS: It took seven years to get this show made in the first place. We were just hoping they wouldn’t shut us down before we finished the first 12 episodes. I take none of it for granted, ever.
ROSSUM: It’s really a privilege. We feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to investigate these characters and to continue to do so.
MACY: It’s a gift on so many levels. I’ve learned so much about acting in these past 100 episodes. Everything about Shameless has been a mitzvah to me. Plus, there’s no assholes! Every show has an asshole. We’ve gone nine years, no assholes.
KENNEY: It just makes me feel so proud — 100 hours of television! That is insane.
CUTKOSKY: Coming out of high school right now, I didn’t really expect any of this, so it’s something that you have to be very appreciative of, appreciative of the family that I’ve created and how much I’ve been taught by all this.
MONAGHAN: We’ve gotten to do 100 episodes of this thing that we love doing and that we care about. It’s this strange mix of comedy and drama and everything we didn’t know if people were going to like, and the fact that they continue to like it and the audience has continued to grow over the course of 100 hour-long stories is pretty phenomenal.
WHITE: It’s very special to have spent this much time with these people. Other than my family and a few close friends, this community has been the most consistent thing in my life.
HAMPTON: It doesn’t really have words. Because we are a family and people see it onscreen and they say that, but nine years later, we still love each other.
GORESHTER: Even if it was just one or two episodes, being a part of a show like Shameless is life changing. Knowing that I’ve been able to be a part of just a minor breadcrumb of the whole loaf is just really special and something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.
HOWEY: I could give the bulls— political answer, but the reality is that I’m not surprised. They talk about lightning in a bottle and what makes a great show—well, you’re f—ing looking at it.
Another 100? Despite Rossum’s impending exit, all involved (including the actress) see no end in sight.
MACY: When you get to season 9 and you think of [whether] to keep going, it’s daunting. It’s hard not to think of: “What would my life be post-Shameless?” And part of it is very frightening and part of it is very exciting. She’s young, and I think she’s made the right choice.
ROSSUM: I will never be saying goodbye to Fiona. [She’s] a part of me and has been like every character is a part of you and you’re a little bit part of them.
WELLS: I’ve done a number of shows in which I felt like characters that could never be replaced left, beginning with George Clooney on ER. In the original British series, Fiona left after two seasons and they did nine more…. We feel like we still have a lot of stories to go.
MACY: There are kids, and as they grow up it opens up a brand new world of plot possibilities.
ROSSUM: I think the show could quite honestly go on forever.
Shameless airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.