While going through audio files for the recently started January Television Critics Association press tour, I stumbled upon a brief interview I did back at July’s press tour with “Shameless” co-star Laura Slade Wiggins.
“Shameless” was early in production on its second season when we spoke, meaning that I couldn’t ask specific questions about where things were heading, but Wiggins’ Karen had a plenty eventful first season.
We were introduced to Karen as the sunny daughter of Joan Cusack’s Sheila, but as the season progressed, we realized that what appeared to just be a sexual fetish triggered by math and physics instruction was actually part of a full-blown and increasingly self-destructive addiction that led to a truly unfortunate webcam encounter with William H. Macy’s Frank. As with the rest of the “Shameless” cast, Wiggins was asked to walk the line between dark comedy and wounded pathos, sometimes within the same scenes, a blending of tones that had already confused Emmy voters, who unveiled their nominations shortly before this conversation.
I now know that Season 2 brings more of the same for Karen, as she tries to tame her sexual demons in the appropriately dysfunctional “Shameless” ways.
Click through for the interview…
HitFix: Where are you guys in production?
Laura Slade Wiggins: We just got started on Episode 4.
HitFix: Your character went some pretty dark places last season. Is this a sunnier season so far?
LW: No! Point blank: No. It definitely is a lighter feeling. It’s Chicago in the summer. Everybody’s outside, they’re not inside. But it starts off pretty easy and then it turns sour real fast and then probably Episode 6 we’ll start seeing more drama.
HitFix: As Karen sorta spiraled down last season, how did they tell you each steadily darker thing she was going to go through?
LW: Last season there was sorta a don’t ask/don’t tell policy. They didn’t want to tell us. They didn’t want us to know. This year, they told us more about what’s going on so that we can plan with each other how we want to play it out.
HitFix: So you got no warning of how dark it was going to get last season?
LW: Well, we knew it was going to follow the British series in some way, shape or form. We also knew we weren’t going to pull that dark… In the British series, they have a long-lasting affair. We knew that in this series, a 60-year-old and a 17-year-old, it really wasn’t going to fly for the American small screen.
HitFix: With those risque scenes at the end, when you got to them, how important was it that you’d had the previous nine or 10 episodes to actually get to know Bill Macy previously?
LW: It was so important for me as a new actress just to get comfortable around the camera and working with the cast and not to be starstruck by him or Joan, just to be able to… And then, when we got to those scenes, we shot them really fast and Bill was very good. He wouldn’t even look at me. If you look at the scene, he’s got his head all up in the air looking at the ceiling, just so Felicity [Huffman] wouldn’t come after me with a battle-axe.
HitFix: How would you reacted if you’d had a scene like that on Day One?
LW: I probably would have figured out how to do it anyways. It was such an extraordinary scene to happen, for not the first time on television, but one of the first times on television.
HitFix: What was your process working to craft or realize Karen’s arc last season, that spiral?
LW: [Laughter.] I listened to my directors and my producers and if they said “If you need to do it this way,” I figured out a way to do it the way they asked me to do it. I watched every movie you could think of with dysfunctional teenagers, obviously “Lolita,” but lots of them.
HitFix: Give me a few others…
LW: Well, “Ghost World,” because there’s a weird affair going on there, but things like that, anything with an older man and younger lady, I watched. Besides porns. I didn’t watch those, so don’t go there.
HitFix: The result of the arc was that Karen was very funny at the start of the season and then increasingly less funny and more angst-y or moody as things progressed. Which mode felt more natural for you as an actress?
LW: I like the comedy a lot and they have put a lot more of the comedy back in for Season 2, but this time it’s a lot more messed up. The comedy’s a lot more messed up, because she’s just blowing off Lip, blowing off everybody she possibly can, but she does it in a way that’s just so nonchalant that it’s funny.
HitFix: I’ve already heard a lot about how setting the season in Chicago in the summer rather than Chicago in the winter has impacted things. How would you describe the change on the set?
LW: When we’re in Los Angeles, they put Evian spray on us to make us look like we’re sweating, whereas last summer we were loaded down with clothes. There’s not a lot of clothes on the show anyway, but we get to Chicago, we’re a little bit more OK with that.
HitFix: Speaking of the lack of clothes, there’s been a ton written about all of the nudity on the show. On set, do you guys joke about it? Or is it no big deal anymore?
LW: Oh, we love to joke about it. You can’t sit there and get so self-conscious about it. Everybody’s naked at some point during the day and you’ve gotta embrace it and so that was just Showtime’s way of making all the actresses embrace it with real acting.
HitFix: Well, the actors are also frequently disrobed.
LW: Yes. And we have been wearing coats before.
HitFix: Who’s the biggest exhibitionist on set?
LW: Shanola. Shanola Hampton. She loves it, but she’s also just funny like that. She’s not a slut. She just works it all the time.
HitFix: And who’s the shiest?
LW: Probably me, actually.
HitFix: How has it been working with Joan Cusack as your mother?
LW: I learn from Joan every single time we do a scene together. There was one time I was making the scene very comical and I looked in her eyes and I realized it was not funny what she was going through and when it comes to the agoraphobia in her home, it’s not funny. It’s embarrassing, it’s sad and it’s not something we want the rest of the neighborhood to see her doing.
HitFix: That brings up what’s always the biggest “Shameless” question… Do you see the show as being a comedy or a drama?
LW: I think it’s a comedy, because there are certain times that it seems like things are a huge deal and the show and the characters are really good about letting these really taboo situations really slide off their backs — as long as they have their friends and family, then they’re OK. There are things like… Alcoholism can be funny, but having an alcoholic father is not very funny, you know? So that’s the part that’s not funny. It’s not funny to have to ask your dad to be a dad and know he’s not going to do it.
HitFix: I was wondering as it got to be Emmy season which way it was going to go and I thought it was going to be a comedy, but then…
LW: And we played it so comic, so this season we’re trying to take turns in bringing different elements into the story, so if Karen’s going to do a lot of drama, then Fiona’s gonna be funny. If Fiona’s being really dramatic, Karen’s going funny. We’re kinda The Girls, so we have to make sure to trade off, so that we can be officially in a drama category, if they want to submit it as that.
HitFix: Did you guys give much thought to Emmys as the nominations were being announced?
LW: No. We didn’t do it for the Emmy. I think that when we knew the nominations were coming out, everybody of course wanted an Emmy and we would have loved to have that, but we are going to be doing that show whatever awards come up. We’ll be there no matter what.
HitFix: Anything else you can tease about changes in tone or action for Season 2?
LW: All of the characters are very true to who they were, just the circumstances obviously that they’re being put in are changing what happens to them, but Karen’s still a care-free hippie teenage, she goes back to that, and Fiona’s still your archetypal motherly type of big sister.
HitFix: Do you guys know when your “Shameless” is going to stop echoing the British series?
LW: This season, it’s over.
HitFix: Obviously you’re not in the writers’ room, but where would you like to see Karen go?
LW: I’d kinda like to see Karen move out of Sheila’s house. I know that’s a dangerous thing to say, but I’d like to see her balance her own life and take care of Sheila at the same time.
“Shameless” returns to Showtime on Sunday, January 8.