‘Shameless’: Teen Star Emma Kenney Says Her Character Should Wait To Have Sex


“She definitely should wait until she actually cares about someone -- and is older than 13!”


Emma Kenney in 'Shameless'

Shameless LogoDebbie Gallagher should wait to give up her virginity.

That’s what Emma Kenney thinks, anyway.

“Debbie is way too young,” the high school freshman says of her boy-crazy alter-ego on Showtime’s over-the-top drama, SHAMELESS.

“She’s only 13!”

SHAMELESS — which was just picked up for a fifth season — follows deadbeat alcoholic and freeloader Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) and his six children as they do whatever it takes to get by in the slums of Chicago.

One of this year’s key story lines involves Debbie’s obsession with a college-age pizza delivery driver named Matty, who has (so far) declined her sexual advances.

“Thank God the guy is not mean or a pervert and isn’t taking advantage of her,” Emma tells me.  “He is 20 years-old, so the situation is very inappropriate.”

“She definitely should wait until she actually cares about someone — and is older than 13.”

Emma Kenney and James Allen McCune in 'Shameless"

FORBIDDEN LOVE: ‘Walking Dead’ alum James Allen McCune (L) guest stars for seven episodes as the object of Debbie’s affection during season 4 of ‘Shameless’. (Photo: Showtime)

Emma, of course, has no input into what happens with her otherwise kind-hearted character.

“I wish I did. I would probably have One Direction come on the show,” she jokes. “Or have an action scene.”

“But we have great writers. A lot of the story lines are based on the writers’ real lives. One of our writers, when she was 14, she dated a 25 year-old guy, so that is where that came from.”

Emma — an A student who runs track six days a week and dreams of one day living in Tokyo — told me more about her life (and Debbie’s) when we caught up earlier this week.

What do you think about where Debbie is at right now and some of the choices she has been making?
She is a teenager. And everybody makes bad choices as a teenager. That is what Debbie is doing right now. She doesn’t have the best peers around her. Even [big sister] Fiona is going to prison and doin’ coke and stuff. She doesn’t have any good influences around her to keep her head on her shoulders. And I think that is going to continue to happen for her for the next few years.

When you were younger, were you allowed to even watch this show?
Not really. I would sort of watch my scenes. But I didn’t even really want to do that. To be honest, I don’t even really have an interest in watching it. Shameless is not a show I would watch in my spare time. If I wasn’t on it, I probably wouldn’t have an interest in it, to be honest. But I do read the scripts and I am interested in the story lines and stuff. And I love playing Debbie. I have been able to see full episodes as of, really, this season. This is my first year to be able to watch the full episodes.

Were you comfortable with the story line about Debbie wanting to have sex?
When I first read the script, it didn’t say that he was 20 years old. It just said he was older or bigger or something. I thought he was gonna be 15 or 16 or maybe fat. But he’s not 15 and he’s not fat! So [I was uncomfortable] a little bit. It was kind of confusing. But it is a TV show and it is Debbie’s life, not mine.

Do your parents have to approve the scripts?
We have really great show runners, John Wells and Mark Mylod. And my parents have a really good relationship with them. At the beginning of this season, John and Mark had a meeting with my parents. They said that if there were any story lines or scenes that my parents didn’t want me to be in or be exposed to, they would cut them out or change them. My parents didn’t have to do that at all.

Do your parents let you date at 14?
Yes and no. You know how parents are? We haven’t really had a sit down conversation about it. So I just kind of live my life. I don’t really talk to my parents about that kind of stuff because it is kind of awkward, you know?

You have one thing in common with Debbie — you are boy crazy, too…
I definitely am.

Do your crushes change from week to week?
No. I kind of add people from week to week. I have literally been obsessed with One Direction since I was in the 7th grade. Ansel Elgort is my newest. He is my number one right now. He is going to be in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and that is my favorite book. I am so excited for the movie and he is literally perfect.

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Why did you even decide to get into acting?
When I was 4 or 5, my mom and dad always used to sign me up for classes. I did karate and gymnastics and swimming and guitar. And they also signed my up for improv classes. I still do it now. When I was 7 or 8 I got a manager and started going on auditions. I didn’t really book anything except commercials. And I did a lot of student films at NYU and Columbia. Then when I was 9, I got my first audition, for Shameless.

You must be getting a lot of offers now?
It has been kind of a dry spell. I feel like this is a dry age, 14. Most of the good characters are 14 or 15, but they don’t really cast 14 or 15. They go for 17, 18. And I can’t go out for 10 or 11 year-old anymore because I look too old. So it is kind of an awkward, dry spot.

Would you ever move to L.A.?
I don’t think so. I don’t really like L.A. I prefer New Jersey. But when I am older, I want to live in New York and Tokyo. Tokyo is so cool. I really like the culture and the environment. It is so pretty there. I also love anime movies. I think they are so cool.

Do a lot of kids ask you for advice on how to get into the business?
It is mostly when we have extras on set. Their parents will come up to me and be like “Who is your manager? How do you get onto the show?” Not really kids. I have never actually been asked for acting advice from a kid.

What advice would you give them if they asked?
I feel like everyone says this, but really just to get all the experience that you can get. Do school plays. Do acting classes. Watch really good movies and get pointer from the actors. There are a lot of really great movies from the 1940s and the 1960s. I watch a lot of Alfred Hitchcock movies… Really just to get any experience that you can. Even if it is making movies with your friends. That is what I did. I still do that now. My friends and I will write scripts and film them on a flip video camera. We still do that. We did one when I was 11 and put it on YouTube. “The Show Goes On.”

SHAMELESS airs Sunday nights at 9:00 PM ET on Showtime.

Do you watch? Leave us a comment below.

Sean Daly

Editor-In-Chief at TheTVPage.com
Sean Daly is a veteran entertainment journalist.His work has appeared in People, Us Weekly, The Toronto Star and other top publications. He was the west coast TV reporter for The New York Post from 2008 - 2013. Sean is the author of Inside AGT: The Untold Stories of America's Got Talent and Teen Mom Confidential: Secrets and Scandals From MTV's Most Controversial Shows.

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