Emma Kenney of ‘Shameless’ is all grown up and killing it
If you’ve been a fan of Shameless like most of the world, you watched a bb Emma Kenney grow up throughout the eight seasons of the show. Now, she’s officially eighteen, and she’s got big dreams to star in a movie in Paris and go to film school.
Even though Emma has been a main character on a hit show in Hollywood for the past eight years, she’s still a normal teenage girl who crushes on sk8r bois and shops frequently at LF. Emma is also very serious about cutting out animal products from our diets, and is a close friend to many animal organizations and shelters. Check out our interview and photoshoot with the actress below, inspired by the ladies of the 50s that she is obsessed with.
(Dress from Realisation Par, bag from Le Birkin Basket)
You’ve been on the show Shameless for a long time now. Not all shows last that long. Did you expect to be signed on for that amount of time when you first accepted the role?
No, y’know I started the show when I was 10, and my mother and I both kind of figured it would go for a few years, maybe two years. And it just kind of kept on going, it just didn’t end. And now I’m 18 and I’ve turned into an adult on it, so it’s really cool. I’m so blessed.
Tell us a little bit about what it’s like to grow up on a show. You basically had a second family, right?
Yeah, it’s weird! It’s kind of interesting because I’ll get people that come up to me on the street and they’ll give me hugs and say, “I watched you grow up!” And my mother’s always like, “Whaaatttt…don’t touch my daughter.” [laughs] And I’m a little taken aback sometimes but I have to think about it, like, these people did literally watch me grow up on television, whether I know them or not!
Do you think that the people you’ve worked with have shaped you as an actress at all, and if so, how?
Yeah, for sure! I’ve learned SO much from everybody I’ve worked with. I’m very curious, I always ask questions on set — not just to the actors, but to the crew and production as well. There’s so much that goes on in the making of a set and it’s very cool to me. I want to go to film school. But yeah, I’ve learned to be on time, how to be prepared for a scene, how to act on set, through the entire cast. I really look up to the people I work with on Shameless. Everybody had a lot of history and a lot of knowledge.
When it’s time for Shameless to be over, how hard is it going to be to say goodbye to a show that has been such a huge part of your life?
It’s gunna be hard for sure, but we’ve all created such a tight bond that it’s not going to be a goodbye with each other, it’s just going to be a goodbye to the Shameless family era. I think it’s definitely going to be rare for all of us to work together ever again after the show, which sucks because we’ve created such a great working dynamic together. But we’ll obviously stay in touch.
What are your feelings about Deb as a character?
I’ve grown up with the character. We’ve grown up together in a weird unison, but opposite ways. It’s very odd. It’s been a lot of life imitating art and art imitating life. The writers and their experiences, and the character we’ve created as a whole. I care about the character, and I’m a little bit defensive over her. I’m very protective over Debbie, as almost like a little sister or a friend. A very personal relationship.
So obviously everyone associates you with Deb, but actors aren’t always like their characters. Are you anything like Deb, though?
No. I mean, in a way, I guess. I suppose there are certain similarities. Sometimes if I meet people, they’ll be like, “Oh, you talk just like Debbie!” And I’m like, yeah. That’s just my voice [laughs]. People also tell me I look so different in person, and it’s like of course I don’t look the same as Debbie does, I don’t have a baby on me, I wear makeup in real life — as superficial as those comparisons are.
Character driven-wise, though, Debbie and I are very different because I think we’ve just had different experiences growing up. But, there are still natural human emotions that are similar. Debbie and I cry the same way, we feel the same sadness and all that, because it’s just me. There are similarities, but just different circumstances.
(Top from VDV The Label, pants from Breelayne Official)
Did you ever have a crush on anyone on set?
Yeah, I had a huge crush on Jeremy [Jeremy Allen White, her co-star and brother on the show] growing up, when I was like, ten. The first season. And Justin Chatwin. But, not anymore [laughs]. Now they’re like my brothers. It’d be weird. Now I’m like repulsed by them. Kidding. I love them.
What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened on set?
We have a lot of funny experiences on set. I don’t know. I think this season in general, has been a really funny one, because we’ve been on this show for eight years, so we’re all just so close that we are just like, let’s make it exciting and bring something new to this. So now we’re just like, stupid on set. We obviously take our jobs seriously, we’re very professional when the cameras are rolling and shit, but in between we’re just stupid. Like Jeremy, Cameron, and I do this thing — I fully take credit for starting this — but we’ll bounce on our toes Backstreet Boys-style and go “Woo!” Like, “Let’s get ready, boys!”
What was your favorite scene or episode to film and why?
Ok, so episode three of season 8 is SO good. It’s one of my favorites. I did ADR for it yesterday, audio digital recording, which is where you fill in sound if there’s dialogue that has sound going over it or whatever. So I saw a ton of footage from the episode yesterday, and like, I don’t watch the show myself, but this episode was so good that I was begging the sound guys to show me more scenes. And we had a lot of crazy night shoots for this episode, a lot of work leading up to it, and it felt great that all that hard work had paid off.
(Top is vintage Jean Paul Gaultier, skirt from Breelayne Official)
Wait — you don’t watch the show?!
I don’t know, I just don’t like to watch my own work. It puts me in my head and I start over thinking it — and on superficial levels. When I was young, I watched back footage where maybe I was insecure and playing the character in a superficial way where I was literally posing in a scene. And it’s like, damn. That’s not acting. So I don’t like to look at it anymore. Maybe it came with age or maturity, but now, I don’t let superficial things block me or get in my head. I’ve learned the tricks to avoiding that, and for me personally, that involves not watching my work.
Where are you from? How did you get into acting?
I’m from Brooklyn. When I was four years old, I started in an acting class, and I got a manager through one of the showcases at the end of the classes. I was sent out on auditions, and for the most part I was just doing student films at NYU. Actually, I did a student film when I was really young, which had a lot of blocking choreography — not dancing, but a lot of movements and motions and following marks. And that was kind of the moment when I was like this is so cool and fun and I love doing this. And last night I had a night shoot until 3 a.m. and we filmed a similar scene, and it reminded me of that, and I was like, wow I really still love it.
Do you go to regular school? How is growing up in Hollywood different?
I graduated high school in May, actually. At first I was going to public school in New Jersey when we weren’t filming. I would wrap in LA, then fly to New Jersey and I went to school there. I stopped going there my sophomore year, because the kids were mean and would kind of judge me. Sometimes even the teachers would be weird.
It was a very judgmental dynamic. I wanted to be chill and be friends with people, but they were just mean naturally. They would take pictures of me and shit — just stupid, mean, teenage things. I’m still friends with some people out there, though, that I’m still in touch with. But then I came out to LA and I graduated from an actor school in Malibu, and it was cool because we all grew up doing events and stuff together, and then we walked in graduation together.
You seem to have a tight group of friends. How did you all meet, and how do you maintain the friendships when you all seem so busy!
I actually met most of my friends in LA through Ethan, who plays Carl on the show and who is basically like my brother in real life — he’s my best friend. I’m kind of introverted. My personality is extroverted but I don’t like to go out often, and I like to do my own thing. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up.
Ethan pretty much just introduced me to all of my friends now, and we’ve just made a friend group from that. My friends are really good people. They have their heads on straight, we all support each other, and we all want the best for each other, which is the right friendship. And it’s so find to hard out here! I’m so happy that my friends will always be there.
You’re pretty outspoken about being a pescatarian. Why is cutting out animal protein important to you, and what do you want people to know about it?
I just think it’s unethical to eat meat. It’s just unnecessary. And some people talk about how much they love it and they’re just not gunna give it up and that sucks. But I think that if everyone even made a small effort into y’know, not eating meat even one night a week, it would make a huge impact.
(Vegan dress and faux fur stole from Breelayne Official)
What’s the easiest first step towards cutting out animal protein?
I think small steps. You can research, Google it, get a bunch of books. A lot of people thing going vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian is more expensive, but it definitely doesn’t need to be. Actually, it can be cheaper. You can buy a box of pasta for $2 which will give you multiple meals.
I just don’t think it’s good [to eat meat]. You’re just eating negative energy and fear; I just don’t think it’s ethical. I eat fish because I’m extremely anemic — basically if you touch me, I bruise. They have to airbrush me every day on set. So I have to eat fish. And then, I eat cheese as well, because honestly I just love cheese. Meat’s also just not good for you. If you want to do it for selfish reasons, then stop eating it because it’s bad for you.
You’re anemic. The symptoms of that are pretty crazy, and being iron deficient is scary especially at a young age. Is that something you’re outspoken about?
I’m severely anemic. I bruise and bleed so easily — I’m bleeding right now! Bro, I’m falling apart! My skin is just sensitive. I had thick skin growing up and now I have thin skin [laughs]. Favorite hashtag #anemicactresslife. I mean I talk about being anemic publicly a lot. But no, I mean take your iron pills if you’re deficient. Don’t not take your pills.
You don’t seem to take yourself seriously on Instagram, and I think that’s what a lot of your fans love about you. Is social media just not your thing or do you just like to have fun with it?
I love social media, and I love having fun with it. Everyone always makes fun of me because I’m always Snapchatting and Instagram story-ing, but it’s just fun to enjoy your life and remember it. I love stalking my own Instagram. I’m always doing it. My captions are so dumb I just write whatever comes to my head. I just don’t care! As long as you’re spreading positive energy.
Were you ever bullied growing up for having red hair? If so, what did you learn from that?
Yeah, in New Jersey the kids would be mean to me, shouting Debbie at me. I don’t know. I don’t even remember all of it. It affected me in the moment but it didn’t long-term affect me, because I realized it’s literally so stupid. If kids are being mean to you because you’re working hard and doing what you love, it’s stupid. Do your own thing and do good for yourself, and those things won’t affect you.
(Top and pants from Breelayne Official)
Who are your biggest female inspirations and why?
I really look up to Emmy Rossum. I truly do. She’s been a great role model the entire time I’ve known her. She’s got an amazing work drive and work ethic, she’s taught me so much about how to carry myself on set and in this industry, how to carry myself in a proper, strong way. Emmy fought for equality and equal pay on Shameless because she was being paid less than Bill Macy, our male lead, which makes no sense because she’s our female lead. Naturally, they should get equal pay, and Emmy really fought for that. I also look up to Shanola Hampton. They both have taught me so much about being positive and being a strong woman and a strong actress.
What advice do you have for young girls who don’t feel like they fit in?
I’ve never felt like I fit in. I’m weird, outspoken, and odd. But that’s what’s fun about life. You find your friends eventually. You WILL find people who get you and understand you for you. Growing up kind of sucks. I’ve found the people who love me for me, as cliché as that sounds, and it’s amazing. If you get bad vibes from someone, just don’t hang out with them. There’s just no point.
How do you deal with any hate that you get, IRL or online?
I make a joke of everything. Maybe that’s not good? And sometimes I’ll respond to people online with something stupid.
What do you think you’ll be doing in the next five years?
I’m about to start a new show, Roseanne, and I’ll also be filming Shameless. So I’m going to be apart of these two amazing shows, which is so rad, I feel so blessed. I’m really grateful. I also want to travel, and go to film school. I just turned 18, so I literally have my whole life ahead of me.
Tell us about your dog!
Oh my gosh. My dog, Charlie, is a German shepherd terrier mix. She’s a girl, but we all call her Charles as a joke. It’s just so funny because she looks like a Charles. She’s also so spoiled. I adopted her from this spot on La Cienega, called Saving Spot Rescue, and she was just a baby when I got her, around 3 or 4 months. She was from Compton, and they brought her into this shelter. Charlie is amazing, she’s a Scorpio, she’ll be one on October 30th. And I just love her, she’s so cute. She didn’t have a lot of confidence at first. Whether you’re going to adopt or buy a dog, there’s always that shy period, though, so why not just adopt? I personally say adopt.
Favorite item of clothing you own?
Lowkey my Gucci loafers.
Dream item of clothing that you don’t own?
The Chanel combat boots.
(Faux fur coat from Breelayne Official)
Dream role to play?
I have so many. I want to do an action movie, a Hunger Games style movie, I want to do a 70s period piece. I really want to work with Gus Van Sant, he’s my favorite director. I want to work with Gia Coppola. I want to do a movie in Paris. There’s so much that I want to do. I hope I have time for it all.
Favorite vegan restaurant?
Would you consider yourself an old soul or a new soul and why?
Old soul. I have a weird theory about life, I feel like there’s nine lives in a soul, and you’re 9th life is a cat, where you’re just chilling and you’ve lived all your experiences. Cats are such weird aliens. So I feel like I’m on my 8th life, and next I’ll be a cat. I feel like I’ve been here for a minute.
Coconut milk or oat milk?
Where do you get your coffee?
Since this shoot is 50s themed, who is your favorite 50s lady and why?
I’ll be basic and say Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall.
Favorite color to wear with your red hair?
I love a forest green.
What do you look for in a partner?
Commitment, kindness, and trustworthiness. And I like skater boys. Or surfer boys. Yeah, that’s hot [laughs].
Yes or no to fuckboys?
NO. Hell no.
What’s something no one knows about you?
Then people would know it.
Favorite boy band growing up?
Favorite animal organization?
PETA, Mercy for Animals, or Best Friends.
How can someone reading this help support those organizations?
You can donate to the organizations, or adopt, or even just bring awareness to them. Then definitely trying to go a meal a day or a meal a week with no animal products.
Photos by Adela Pfaff
Styling by Mallie Koczon
Makeup & Hair by Isabella of Bellas Bombshells