I’m beginning to wonder if Emma Kenney even has time to sleep. When she’s not filming her role as Darlene and David’s daughter on the highly anticipated Roseanne reboot, she’s filming scenes for the next season of Shameless. And when she’s not busy doing either of those, she’s on a plane to fly to another shooting location. BELLO was lucky enough to catch up with Emma as she had just arrived in Chicago to film exteriors for Shameless. We talked about her busy life, what motivated her to get into show business, and what she considers her two biggest guilty pleasures at the moment.
For some people, turning 18 is an anticlimactic let down. Not for Emma Kenney. When she celebrated hers in mid-September it was a double whammy — she had just found out she got the role of Roseanne’s granddaughter on the legendary series’ reboot. “I found out I booked my part on Roseanne on September 15, which is the day after my 18th birthday, so it was such a great birthday gift,” she tells BELLO. “It’s going to be a really good year I think.”
It seems Emma’s had a lifetime of good years, but when you realize that she’s been working almost her entire life, you begin to understand that any blessings she’s been given by the Universe are from two things: her unwavering work ethic, and her fiery motivation to make it big.
And make it big she most certainly has. Her role of Debbie Gallagher on Shameless means she gets recognized nearly everywhere she
goes (case in point were the legion of fans staring at her through her Chicago hotel lobby window as we chatted with her). But as thrilling as fan adoration would be for any actor, Emma remains focused on the most important goal of all: creating rich, vibrant characters that can connect with her audiences.
“I don’t want to play the same role because I don’t want to get typecast or bored. So I’m bringing such a different vibe to my character on Roseanne, compared to my character on Shameless,” she says. “I’m bringing more of an artsy vibe, so she’s more into fashion and teenage things but in a different way. But Debbie on Shameless is a lot more focused on work and getting a job, and making sure her family is caring about Franny. She’s a lot more independent than my new character.” In comparing and contrasting the two families, she adds, “There’s a lot of small differences between the Conners and the Gallaghers, but both families have the same loyal vibe. They’re always all connected and there for each other.”
Getting to work on Roseanne, and with one of the most iconic casts in television history, is an opportunity not lost on Emma. “It’s been such a cool experience so far. Everyone’s been so kind and welcoming, and it’s been so neat for me to be able to watch everybody — they’re all such class acts and talented actors. I remember at the first table read I was seated right next to Laurie Metcalf and that was really crazy for me because I’m such a fan of hers.”
Working with John Goodman has also been akin to a masterclass in acting. “John has such stage presence and such a voice. He works with the audience in a brilliant way as well. And he’s also very into improv. He’ll go off on his bit which is so great, and he brings ‘newness’ to every single take.”
In working with the Roseanne cast, she realized that stage fright is something that even the greats experience. “I have some stage fright, especially with multi-cam, and I was talking to the cast beforehand and telling them how nervous I was, and pretty much all of them were like, ‘It’s good that you’re nervous, it shows that you care. And quite frankly, we’re all nervous.’ They also said how surreal it felt for them because it’s been almost thirty years since the last time they were all working together. I hope Shameless ends up the same — I hope in thirty years we all get to do a show together, too.”
Acting has been in her blood since she was just a little girl. “When I was young I was so into movies, especially Alfred Hitchcock. But my favorite film wasMary Poppins, and the little girl who played Jane was kind of my inspiration. So I started improv classes in New York, which is where I’m from, and I just kind of fell in love with it. I was even doing student films on the weekends. I’d also love to go to Tisch some day when all these shows are wrapped up. But one of my biggest passions is directing.”
Another one of her other biggest passions is fighting for animal rights. “PETA is one of my favorite animal organizations that I work with. I know the people there and I really like them,” she tells us. “I’m such a huge advocate for animal adoption — I would never buy one. You can find the most beautiful pets in shelters. I also work with Mercy For Animals, which takes in animals like cows that have been injured, and they save them and give them a really beautiful and luxurious life. And I’m also really passionate about Best Friends, which is all about ‘Adopt Don’t Shop’.”
And when she’s not busy working or rescuing innocent animals, she’s immersing herself in two of her most favorite guilty pleasures. “I’m literally obsessed with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It’s so entertaining! That and pizza. The two of them together is my everything [laughing].”
Photography Arthur Galvao | Creative Direction Stephane Marquet
Styling Luke Funtecha
Makeup Grace Phillips
Hair Alexandra Adams
Interview Brent Lambert
Production Maison Privée x Bello Media Group