She has acted on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and plays a main character on Showtime’s “Shameless.” Aside from acting alongside Emmy Rossum and William H. Macy, she has also received acclaim over her filmmaking. Emma Kenney plays the complex character Debbie Gallagher on “Shameless.”
And she is only 12 years old.
Raised in New Jersey, Emma recently got an apartment in Los Angeles as a place to stay when shooting for the show. “My Dad quit his job at the New York Post so he could let me film ‘Shameless,’” said Emma, “my parents are making tons of sacrifices for me.” Emma’s Dad now works at Fox Sports LA, while Emma goes back and forth between coasts.
Blast Magazine had the opportunity to talk to Emma about her life and career:
BLAST: When did you start acting?
EMMA KENNEY: I started acting when I was about five. And I just did improv classes. I didn’t actually do it to be an actor, I just did it for fun. When I got into acting, my manager came to one of the improv showcases and talked to my mom and said, ‘you know, I would like to represent your daughter’ and then my mom asked me and I said, ‘why not, I will give it a try.’ I didn’t think much of it. But then I got into the swing of things and started to like it.
BLAST: Do you still do improv?
EK: I love improv. Definitely, yes. My acting teacher is Diane Hardin. I have an improv class with her and it is so much fun. We do this game, it’s my favorite, called ‘emotional family,’ where four people – a mom, a dad, a son, and a daughter – are all at a dining room table, and we have to pretend that we are eating food. Then someone from the audience will randomly call out an emotion or a scene that the family is. So maybe they will call out ‘criminal’ and then we all act like we’re criminals. So then maybe we will be on the floor or something. And then someone else in the audience calls ‘freeze’ and we ‘freeze’ and go back to a normal family and have to be like ‘wow, I wonder why I am on the floor? Oh, I am on the floor because I dropped this batch of pancakes.’ So it is really, really fun.
BLAST: Has it helped you with acting for “Shameless”?
EK: Definitely because everything in the whole show is not one thousand percent scripted. They don’t, for like a breakfast scene for the show, say, ‘Debbie takes a bite of pancake, now. Debbie puts pancakes back.’ We all work with the director beforehand before we do the scene. In the rehearsals, the director will say, ‘okay, I want you to come up here and put the pancakes down and then come back, take a seat, and grab your orange juice.’ Technically it is improv because it is not written in the script.
BLAST: As well as being an actor, you are also a filmmaker?
EK: I am! I directed this movie called ‘The New Girl in Town” and I entered it into a few film festivals. I became a finalist in the New Jersey International Film Festival. But I have made a bunch of other movies too.
BLAST: Do you prefer acting or directing?
EK: Probably acting just because I have been doing it for longer and I am kind of better at the craft than I am at directing. But I like both. But if I had to choose, I would probably pick acting.
BLAST: What’s your favorite television show?
EK: “Pretty Little Liars.” I am obsessed with that show. I read all of the books that are out and it is such a good show. It’s amazing.
BLAST: What do you like to do in your free time?
EK: I like to ski and play tennis and I am starting field hockey this spring, but I don’t do a lot of sports. I am not very athletic. I like to write. I love to read. I like to hang out with my friends. And also on my flip video camera whenever I am with friends, we will always make a movie, whether it is comedy, or drama, or suspense.
BLAST: In ten years, where would you like to be?
EK: I will hopefully still be acting. Hopefully be in a movie. If I was not acting, I would love to be a detective. I love murder mysteries and all that type of stuff. I would definitely want to be a detective.
BLAST: What’s you favorite murder mystery?
EK: This sounds kind of crazy, but I just love Alfred Hitchcock movies. I have only seen a few of them, but I love them. I just saw ‘Psycho’ two weeks ago and it’s really scary. I love scary movies though. I saw ‘Rope.’ I think I’ve seen one more, but I don’t remember.
BLAST: Let’s talk about “Shameless.” Describe Debbie
EK: Debbie is the middle child in the Gallagher family. She’s smart. She is sweet, innocent. Kind of more little girlish, I guess. But this season, she is totally different. She is grown up more, growing up way too fast. She is getting into boys and makeup and clothing. I don’t want to think she is going down the wrong path, because I know she’s not. She has a lot of common sense, but she is trying to be something that is not best for her to be doing. But she thinks, ‘why if everyone else gets to grow up, why can’t I?’ She is also more cynical and frustrated and angry and mad at the world that she’s in. She doesn’t care about Frank or Ian or really anybody other than herself this season.
BLAST: Is there any overlap in character between Emma and Debbie?
EK: Really no. Other than we’re both really good in school. Nothing, I am completely different from Debbie.
BLAST: What’s you favorite subject in school?
EK: Writing. I love to write. I really like to write short stories and scripts. I have written tons and tons of movie scripts on my laptop. I have written short length movies and full length movies and action movies and scary movies and everything.
BLAST: What’s it like working with William H. Macy?
EK: It’s so fun. Bill is such a great guy. I learn so much from him every day, not just verbally teaching me, but more just watching him. Like there was this scene, an emotional one for him. And I remember thinking, ‘how do you get in that type of a situation and then two seconds later when they call cut, you’re back to your old Bill.’ I just remember thinking, ‘Whoa, how is that even possible?’ But he also does verbally teach you stuff too. Like I have the tendency to talk very, very fast. Bill will be like, ‘slow down’ and I will be like, ‘thank you.’ Because if I didn’t slow down, I would have one line the whole scene and it would all be mushed together.
BLAST: What’s it like working with Emmy Rossum and the rest of the cast?
EK: We are all really close, like a big family. Other than being close, they all do teach me stuff. They don’t teach me stuff just to be nagging, but they also teach me how to be a good person and how to be nice and how to treat people with respect. We’re all a really big family and we are all close.
BLAST: What is your favorite part of acting on ‘Shameless’?
EK: The cast is my second family, so I guess it is a part of that. But it’s also just that I am having such a learning experience. It’s weird that I have had my first job since I was ten years old. But it’s also cool because I have been acting forever – well, not forever – but it’s cool because I finally booked something. It’s also fun to be in Hollywood and getting to meet all these veterans and working with such amazing people and I am learning so much at this age. I’m having such a blast and I am really grateful.
BLAST: What’s next for you?
EK: Nothing at the time. But hopefully, I really want to do a movie. My dream movie is to do an action movie. Where I am being chased down the streets and doing back flips and doing all this really crazy action stuff.
BLAST: Why not a detective film?
EK: That’s a cool type of movie to do too! I think that is a good idea. I definitely want to do that too now.