Shameless boss talks midseason finale, Cameron Monaghan's exit, and Emmy Rossum's final episodes
Sunday’s “Down Like the Titanic” marked the midseason finale of Showtime’s hit series, which will return for seven more episodes on Jan. 20. And it was a busy hour: Fiona returned to the Gallagher house after her personal and professional lives fell apart; Lip is possibly in a new relationship; Frank is all in with off-her-meds Ingrid; Debbie is the best little sister ever; Kev and V are adopting; and Carl is, crazily enough, studying! (For a full recap, go check out EW’s Shameless shameless rankings.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we get into the finale, I’d love to talk about the previous episode, which was so wonderfully done. For how long did you know Cameron was leaving? And did you build Ian’s Gay Jesus arc knowing that this is where it would lead to?
JOHN WELLS: It was very beautifully written and directed, so we were lucky to have that. And it’s always just fun when you get to do those. We built the Gay Jesus story without knowing that Cameron might want to leave, but it dovetailed well into it when he decided that he wanted to take some time away from the show. I had an awareness of it as we started to plan out this season that he was thinking about doing some other things. We’re still hopeful that he’ll continue to do more as we go forward, but he’s trying to decide what he wants to do next. When you’ve been on a show for nine years and you started when you were 15 years old, I think there’s a natural desire to want to leave your family; you grow up with your family and wondering what the rest of the world looks like. But I’m certainly hopeful that he’ll want to continue to be on the show.
I know all fans, including myself, were delighted with the final reveal of Mickey (Noel Fisher) and Ian being cellmates. From the moment Cameron said he was leaving, did you know that you had to try to get Noel? Like, in your mind, was Mickey always the endgame for Ian?
Yeah, absolutely. We’re as big of fans of that Mickey and Ian story as the fanbase is. We do it as much for us as we do it for the fans of the show, because they’ve just been great together. It was a matter of trying to get into Noel’s schedule. We love Noel, he’s been a pleasure to work with, it’s such a great character and so fun to write and we knew that people who enjoy the show would certainly respond to him being back. He was great to come back and do a day for us. Again, having done a number of these ensemble shows with wonderful casts, you cast talented people and then they’ve got all these wonderful opportunities, so it’s a regular challenge, but he was happy to do it.
Last time we spoke, I asked you about Emmy’s upcoming exit and you mentioned how you’ve gone on without characters that you thought you could never lose before, like when you were at ER and George Clooney left. Now with two Gallaghers about to be gone, what would you say to fans that maybe think it’s better to just wrap up the show?
The story I always tell is that in the original Shameless for British television, all of those characters were gone within the first four years. Fiona left quickly and then Lip left relatively soon afterwards. We hope that the audience cares enough about the characters that they want to continue to watch, but also, just in the basic storytelling, you’re telling stories about families and people leave and then they return. And I think you need a certain amount of that to maintain basic narrative integrity or then it starts to feel false that everyone is still living next to each other and completely involved with each other’s lives. So it’s both a little frightening and I think it reenforces the reality of how we actually live in families now, certainly in the United States, where people come and go, they try other things and return, and that’s what we’re trying to replicate in the storytelling. You miss the actors, love the actors, wish Emmy would do it forever, certainly wish Cameron is here for a long time, and at the same time, every time someone does decide to leave it opens up all kinds of other storytelling opportunities. So it’s a balance. It’s a tricky thing; you don’t want anybody to leave, but then it starts to feel false if some of the actors don’t choose to leave. [Laughs] You don’t want to lose your friends, but sometimes it can become invigorating for the show and for the narrative that you’re trying to write.
The last two episodes have seen Fiona’s life fall apart, personally and professionally. You spent the last few years building her up and then just quickly tore her back down. What was appealing to you about that direction? And was the trajectory of that affected at all by Emmy’s decision to leave?
No, no. Emmy really agonized about what she wanted to do and so we were well into all this storytelling before she made a final decision that she was going to go. So, no, the idea was always that it’s very difficult to break out of your social economic class in this country, even if we love to say that anybody can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, it’s much harder than that. And we felt that there was a certain amount of hubris with the character and that Fiona was beginning to fly a little too close to the sun and so we wanted to show how people get knocked back down. We’re very excited in the second half of the season to explore that before Fiona actually leaves the show.
So what should we expect for Fiona in Emmy’s swan song?
I don’t know, how would you feel as a 28-year-old going back to live in your family house? [Laughs] I think you can imagine that she’s going to have some real struggles with what’s happened to her, some anger and frustration. With of all the things that we satirize and the humor and the outrageousness, we try to show how family pulls together, because no matter how flawed we all are, family can be a huge part of what gets you through life. You can kind of anticipate that going forward.
Moving past Fiona, what else can you tease for the second half of the season? You’ve set up a lot of story lines, including Kev and V adopting, new relationships for both Lip and Frank.
Lip is definitely trying to figure out whether he has a new relationship or not, and what happens when you’re having a relationship with someone who isn’t as damaged as all of the other people who you’ve had relationships with. Does he enjoy someone who is more of an adult? He’s growing up and trying to make decisions about what he wants from his life. We’re really having fun with Debbie and Carl and their impending adulthood and watching them grow up. It’s been one of the great joys of the show that we’ve cast Ethan [Cutkosky] and Emma [Kenney] as children and now they’re young adults and watching them and what they and the characters are going through. And then Frank is always going to be depended upon to make the wrong decision with anything that is presented to him.
This season has two more episodes than all of the previous years and it’s the first to be split in half, so what went into that decision and how did it affect the plotting of the season?
We did not know when we started writing or plotting the season that Showtime was actually going to separate the year. You will notice that we pick up pretty much only as if it’s a few weeks after the end of episode 7, so we really just approached it like one season. I can say that we’re all sort of geared towards 12 episodes over here, which is pretty hilarious since I used to do 22 episodes all the time for broadcast network television, so we got around to episode 10 and realized that we had four more to go and we all kind of looked at each other like somebody had added eight more miles onto a marathon. I ended up writing the last two episodes for that reason, everyone was a little gassed. Going forward, I think we’ll be doing 12 and my guess is that they’d air in a row.
One very random question: Will we ever find out what happened to Kassidi? Or is that like your Russian in the Pine Barrens? I frequently think, “Wait, does Carl wonder if his wife is dead?”
[Laughs] We have not yet resolved that question. She might actually be wandering off in the Pine Barrens somewhere; we haven’t decided.
Shameless returns to Showtime on Jan. 20 at 9 p.m. ET. Read our full recap of Sunday’s episode here.