Born in the United States and raised in England, Emma Greenwell was familiar with the original British version of Shameless, but not up-to-speed on the critically-acclaimed programming on Showtime when she auditioned for Shameless in its second season. With her casting as Mandy (a different actress played the role in season one), the character took on a street-smart edge while also showing the damage that comes with a lifetime of abuse.
Connected to the Gallaghers through her sometime boyfriend Lip (she lived at the Gallagher house most of season three) and her best friend Ian, who is also the not-so-secret lover of her brother Mickey, Mandy craves the love that centers the Gallaghers amid the craziness.
DivineCaroline: Mandy Milkovich is only a teenager, but she has experienced so much in her life in terms of exposure to negative things. What intrigues you about the character?
Emma Greenwell: I'm intrigued by the idea that she has gone through so much. On some levels she's incredibly mature, but she hasn't had the emotional support to develop otherwise. She finds it very hard to form a healthy relationship, because she has never experienced that. I think that played out in season three in her relationship with the Lip character. She's so experienced yet such a baby in other ways.
DC: You're playing scenes you wouldn't be asked to do as an actress if you weren't over 18, but you've got to play them as a teenager. Is that an interesting challenge?
EG: As an actor, I am never comfortable with [nude scenes]. It always feels weird, and I always feel self-conscious. What does work with Mandy is she uses her sexuality as kind of a weapon, but she is insecure. She acts like a sexual deviant, when really she's a little girl crying out for attention, and that's the only way she knows how to get it. I hope that me being a little bit nervous plays out in those scenes, because Mandy is nervous as well.
DC: Is there some sort of preparation you go through to get in her head for a scene?
EG: I grew up very different from the character. But I've met those girls and I've seen them in real life and also represented in film and on TV. She doesn't really have anything or anyone to rely on. It's a survival instinct she goes into. That's why she's such a lovely character to play because she follows her instincts, almost like an animal. She's just trying to survive. That's what I focus on before each scene.
DC: Mandy has always been on the show, but her character has become more important each season. How interesting and exciting has it been for you to experience this evolution of Mandy?
EG: It was really exciting. I think I was originally booked for four episodes and that turned into eight. Becoming a series regular was amazing and unexpected. It's been really fun discovering more about the character and getting into that role.
DC: How would you compare the British and U.S. versions of Shameless? They started out similarly, but the U.S. version developed its own storylines.
EG: I've met Paul Abbott, who created the English show and the American show with John Wells. He said he really enjoys the American version, because when he wrote it in England, he didn't want the characters of Fiona and Steve to leave after the first season. The American version has allowed him to really play out the stories that he had in mind.
DC: What do you think Mandy sees in Lip?
EG: She sees a way out for her and for them. She also sees him as someone who can protect and care for her as well as someone that she could—in her ideal world—be with. He's smart and intelligent—book smart and street smart. I think she feels very safe with him.
DC: How do you keep Mandy sympathetic after she did this terrible thing of hitting Karen (Lip's ex-girlfriend with whom he was still infatuated) with a car?
EG: To be honest, I don't try to keep her sympathetic. Shameless, all the characters, someone like Frank, for example—they're meant to be bad people. I think the sympathy comes from the audience understanding where they come from and why they were pushed to do what they did. Mandy running over Karen was done to protect someone that she loves and cares for deeply. It's about survival and doing whatever it takes. She's not thinking about the consequences in the moment.
DC: What is it like to play scenes with interesting young actors like Jeremy Allen White, Cameron Monaghan, and Noel Fisher? Each is so different.
EG: It's been such a pleasure getting to work with all of them. Noel is wonderful to work with. He takes it very seriously, but he also goofs around. It's amazing watching him in scenes. He's one of those actors who tries different things, so each take is very different. He builds on his performance layer after layer on each take; he keeps you on your toes. Cameron is a great guy, super sweet. Jeremy is incredibly talented. All three are fantastic.
DC: Shameless is so much more than its outrageous trappings. There is deep content about love, family, and friendship. As an actress, how do you balance that need to be over-the-top, but also touch people emotionally?
EG: I have to give that to the writers. I think the writing has this amazing balance between heightened comedy—almost farcical at times—and then hard-hitting and emotional. It's in the script already. As an actor it's my job to be truthful, because there is truth in farce and there is truth in drama.
DC: What other projects do you have on the horizon?
EG: A project I did a year-and-a-half ago—Holy Ghost People— is about to come out on Video on Demand and in select theaters at the end of February. I'm currently in post-production on a film I did in Ireland this summer called Wild.
DC: What can we expect from Mandy in season four?
EG: Mandy is finding it hard to find her place. Ian is away, having secretly joined the Army. Lip is at college. She misses her Gallagher clan and being part of that loving family. She craves that closeness. She's very lonely and finds it hard.