Step into the Gallagher home on the Burbank, Calif., set of Showtime's "Shameless," and one is immediately impressed by the attention to detail.
The interior is vintage early 20th century Middle America. The off-white eggshell walls are dinged and dented. The moldings around the doors and windows are covered in glossy, light-green paint, with the brush strokes visible. In the bathroom stands a vintage 1920s porcelain pedestal sink complete with rust stains. And in the kitchen, the refrigerator is beaten up and the paint chipped.
"It's very important that it all feels like a house, that it feels cozy, that it doesn't feel fake," Emmy Rossum, who plays eldest daughter and de facto mother figure Fiona Gallagher, tells Zap2it. "That's why when we were in our rehearsal process, we actually used the fridge as our fridge. We would make lunches for the kids out of there, and it was all kind of real feeling. Nothing is new. It's all aged and messed-up looking. Even the table is messed up, and it's got tape on it."
Season 3 of the hourlong comedy about the South Side Chicago family that manages to get by despite dysfunction, addiction, poverty and prosecution gets under way Sunday, Jan. 13, with several storylines continuing from last season. One concerns Fiona, who at season's end was settling into a domestic situation with on-and-off boyfriend Steve/Jimmy (Justin Chatwin) now that he's free of his marriage to Estefania (Stephanie Fantauzzi).
Sitting on the afghan-covered couch in the living room of the Gallagher house, Rossum explains, "He's kind of taken on the role of Mr. Mom, which is very strange for Fiona, and she's not sure how she feels about it because he's not the sexy, mysterious car thief that he was that she fell in love with.
"He's now Jimmy- - where'd Steve go? So it definitely takes a little getting used to, and they're having growing pains in their relationship, and obviously he hasn't always been the most trustworthy guy, and she has issues of trust, as it is, with men, and so I think we're seeing some of that. But they really love each other, so they're really trying to be happy and make it work. It's like a real relationship."
Over in his trailer on the Warner Bros. lot, William H. Macy reveals that his character, besotted family patriarch Frank Gallagher, will have his challenges this season, including getting thrown in jail for robbery, where health problems caused by decades of alcohol abuse begin to show themselves.
"Withdrawal and sick," Macy says. "They gave me a list of what Frank has done to himself, but I guess years of alcohol abuse [have taken their toll]."
Macy says he never imagined he'd have such fun playing the eloquent, opportunistic Frank, a character he says is "unfortunately closer to me than I would like to admit."
"It's been astoundingly funny -- and fun," he says. "I had no idea I would love doing a series as much as I have loved this. I love getting to revisit the character. I love Frank. It's my job to fall in love with him, of course, but I just find him so refreshing and so optimistic and hardworking, and I love his take on the world. I love -- it sounds odd to say, but I love his suicidal tendencies. I love his let's-burn-the-candle-at-both-ends attitude. I respect it; I really do. There's a good argument to be made for living your life that way."
Macy says that most weeks during the six months it takes to shoot a single 13-episode season, he'll work a four-day week. But Frank tends to speechify, and Macy notes that the heavy lifting often comes in when he has to memorize Frank's long-winded and comically eloquent diatribes.
"On some days, I'll have a phone book to recite," he says, laughing.
"I see him in the mode of the serious drinking Irish poets," Macy says. "Frank's a poet. No one knows it, but he'll tell you."
Outside the studio, Zach McGowan talks about how he brought his character, dimwitted sex addict Jody Silverman, to life. In Season 2, Jody was forced to find alternate living arrangements after getting the boot from wife Karen (Laura Wiggins), and that meant taking up with Karen's mom, Sheila (Joan Cusack). In Season 3, Jody and Sheila continue parenting the Down syndrome girl Karen gave birth to and rejected at the end of last season, while more of Jody's past comes to the surface.
"He's like a dog, always wanting to make the people he's with happy," McGowan says of Jody's innocent nature. "He's super loyal. It's weird to say he's super loyal and he's married to Karen and is sleeping with her mother. But in the way that Jody sees it, Karen had kind of [rejected him].
"You know, if you're a dog and you send the dog out into the woods, then the dog finds a new owner, and that's kind of Jody. He's a very simple man, and he just wants normalcy, kind of, and he just wants to have a family and a life, but he's got this sexual addiction that kind of rears its head and makes it hard for people to deal with him. And so how I brought him to life was really trying to stick to the honesty of who he was ... . It's really a part that required me to have a lot of fun."
All the actors say this is a true ensemble that works well together and really does get along. Much of that seems to flow from Macy, who moves about the set, chats easily with cast and crew, and appears truly happy to be there.
"Having worked on a lot of different shows myself," McGowan says, "it's very rare to have a male lead like him who is so on top of his job and his role as a coach/leader of this show, and he very much fills it. I kind of see him as the tribal elder of the set. He's always got words of wisdom, and he's always leading by example."
Photo/Video credit: Showtime