Justin Chatwin Talks Shameless Season Three

January 10, 2013

Justin Chatwin. Photo credit: SHOWTIME®

In the Shameless Season Two finale, it started to look like things were becoming more stable for Jimmy. He and Fiona confessed their love for each other, and she finally met Jimmy’s family. But when Shameless returns for its third season on Sunday, January 13, at 9 p.m. on SHOWTIME®, drama begins once again for Jimmy.

To find out what’s next for Jimmy, we caught up with actor Justin Chatwin, who told us what it’s like to play Jimmy and what’s in store for Jimmy and Fiona’s (Emmy Rossum) relationship in Season Three.

What is different about Jimmy/Steve this season?
Justin Chatwin: This season Jimmy is literally a crumbling castle. Everything he has relied on, hung on to as a part of who he is, starts to fall. I think that the romance of this exciting world of the slums begins to wear off and he starts to become a little bit more disillusioned. He starts to see the reality of the life he’s chosen to live and the reality of the life the girl he’s in love with has to live because of her conditioning. And I think when things start to fall apart for Jimmy, he kinda gets to the core of more of who he is – because he’s not just Jimmy, he’s Jimmy and Steve. There are two people in there and I think that this season we begin to see more of Jimmy and less of Steve. Steve is this charming, dashing James Bond sort of person, and he still puts that on, but we get to see more of Jimmy. Jimmy is this guy who he neglected. Jimmy is more sensitive. He grew up in privilege and wealth. A bunch of stuff starts to fall apart in his family life. I think that Fiona struggles with seeing this other side of Jimmy. And we all know that passion can’t sustain itself. That passion and excitement is always short-lived. So they get real.

Like doing-the-dishes real? It looks like Jimmy/Steve gets more domestic from what we’ve seen in the Season Three trailer.
JC: Yes, like wiping-babies’-asses real. Doing-dishes real. You know, not being interesting. Being-boring real. Mopping-the-floor real. Cooking-dinners real. Sitting-for-hours-watching-kids’-cartoons real. Living-in-filth-and-dirt real. I think that the gleam of the adventure and the novelty of living in the wild, the so-called wild west of Chicago, really just wears off for Jimmy. He’s left with the girl that he loves, living in the worst possible conditions, and has no money and no job. Because in the first episode [of Season Three], Estefania’s father comes back and says, “You’ve been neglecting my daughter, you can no longer steal cars, you have to get a real job, and you have to man up.” All these lies that Jimmy’s been spinning these years start to fall apart. And a lot of the ghosts from his past start to come back and haunt his character and really restrict him from the life he used to lead – which was carefree and instinctual.

What’s it like to play these two different types of character within one character?
JC: Steve is so easy to play. It’s like doing a Jason Statham movie. He’s a man of action. Jimmy’s a lot more vulnerable and a lot more emotional.

Even though Jimmy/Steve exposed his double-identity earlier in the series, he still has a lot of secrets to let loose in Season Three. How does this affect his relationship with Fiona?
JC: Steve brings out more of Jimmy and starts to expose who he really is. And whenever you do that you’re always open to rejection. And it’s the worst rejection because it’s the most open wound. And to Fiona he’s not as interesting. He’s not as exciting. And that’s what the basis of their relationship was born on: excitement and passion. And when that isn’t there anymore we have to pose the question, will they grow together? Or is it [their relationship] not as strong as we thought? Was it just formed on the basis of passion and excitement?

His family life starts to fall apart and then he goes to Fiona to be taken care of. And he goes, “I need you,” and Fiona can’t do it. She didn’t learn how to be sensitive – to be there for another person, to speak about feelings. Because she grew up in a place where you didn’t have time to talk about how we feel or be sensitive. “We make money for the family, we put food on the plates, we go to bed, and we do it again. We get by and that’s it.” And Jimmy never had to learn that. His emotional life is falling apart and she’s like, “Sorry dude, I can’t be there for that. You need to just toughen up.” They really start to see how opposite they really are. How different they really are.

There are all these great episodes this year with my family, with my father—who Harry Hamlin plays—where you actually get to see the double lives that he’s been leading. And as an audience member you really get to go, “Ok, now we see why Jimmy is the way that he is.” We get to see his family and how he mirrors the life of his father.

Do we ever get to find out why his father is like that and why this tendency originated?
JC: Yes, somewhere around the middle of the season. I will say that for my character there is a point in the season where Jimmy has a breaking point and just loses it, because he can’t take it anymore: The pressure of everything, of losing everything. Of everything being ripped out that he once relied on and had, and who he thought he was. If you have another personality and you pretend to be someone for long enough, you’re going to eventually have a crack up because you don’t know who you are anymore.

Did you face any new challenges as an actor in Season Three?
JC: My biggest challenge this year was in the final episodes of the season, where Jimmy and Fiona really come head to head. And she just lays out the wrath of every childhood issue she’s had onto me. And it was so emotional that I don’t think either of us could barely get through the scene, because it was so painful. It’s hard to explain in words what happened, but there’s a certain point in the season where Jimmy and Fiona essentially have a near break up. Where everything comes out. And it was probably the most emotional scene that either of us has ever done. There were things being thrown, there was spitting, there was screaming, there was crying. I stayed in my house, and so did Emmy [Rossum], for three days after filming that scene. So for me it did get very emotional and shit got real just like it did for our characters. And that for me, playing that stuff, was really challenging this year. And Emmy is a powerhouse and she doesn’t hold back with her emotions. And I remember walking off set and I said, “I never want to play a romantic part with a conflict with another female again.” I know that’s never going to happen with me because that’s all I get cast for, but I resisted it.

You and Emmy Rossum have really good chemistry.
JC: We do and that’s what made it so painful, because I didn’t know what was real and I didn’t know what was acting. And I think there’s a lot of that that happens on set with Emmy and I. I go, “Are you upset with me,” and she goes, “No it’s just a scene, silly.” I just can’t tell anymore. Being in Shameless for the last four months for me is like being in a tornado. You get spit out the other side. And I have to take a month-long detox to figure out who Justin is, because I have no idea.

That’s interesting. I’ve always wondered if actors had a hard time separating themselves from what their characters are going through.
JC: Well, it was the only time in the past 12 years. I’ve been acting 12 years and in the beginning of an actor’s career, they sometimes don’t know their lines. And it’s the worst, panicky feeling an actor will ever feel. It happened to me four times with that crew. I was so emotionally seized up that I couldn’t get out my words, because I was terrified and shutting down emotionally. And we were at if for four months. What is written in the story is that my character was having a breakdown and I, Justin, was having a breakdown too.

Why do you think Steve/Jimmy loves Fiona so much?
JC: You’re asking a big question. Why do we fall in love with people we fall in love with?

Well, what’s your personal take on it?
JC: Honestly, to put it simply: guys love bitches. Really. It’s sick and it’s twisted, but guys love bitches. And she’s also the ultimate mother figure. And she’s strong. She’s unavailable. I think there’s something, not to get too Freudian here, that is very familiar and comforting about what Fiona brings Jimmy, that’s very similar to how Jimmy was raised. There’s a large element of Fiona that’s very unavailable, you know? Emotionally unavailable, and I think that’s something that Jimmy probably had in his childhood.

No wonder it becomes so hard when they get into a serious relationship in Season 3!
JC: Yes. I mean, Fiona Gallagher is one of the most unhealthy characters on TV. But our show is about alcoholism and the social commentary on that. These are children of alcoholics and she is the poster child of what a child of an alcoholic is: which is a mistrusting, anxiety-ridden, fearful, angry child. And there are these really intense daddy issues. It’s common. It’s the product of alcoholism in America. There’s this mistrust that creates a fantastic drama.

What do you think about the show being defined as a dramedy?
JC: I think that our show walks a fine line and it walks it really well. Everybody wants to put every show in a category. We as people want to put people in categories. Because then we go, “That show is that or that person is that,” and I think we’re at the dawn of a golden age of TV where there’s going to be different shades. I think that this show is neither drama nor comedy. I know there are arguments and stuff between our creator and SHOWTIME® about where to put it. Because SHOWTIME® put it in the comedy category. But it doesn’t win awards because it’s pretty dramatic. So it kinda stands on its own. It’s a show for the fans. I don’t think we really care about getting critical acclaim and awards. Everyone on the show is really proud of it. We like it. It’s better to feel like an underdog than it does to, you know, be sitting around your house with a bunch of glowing statues. Shameless is an outcast and the show is about outcasts.

How do you like working with William H. Macy and Joan Cusack?
JC: Joan is sweet and super sexy in her own way. She is kinda the queen of Chicago. She lives in Chicago and when we go there she’s super hospitable to us. She’s just lovely and weird. And Bill is…everyone on our show is strange, I’ll say that. Bill is one of my favorite people to be around and that I’ve worked with. I love the guy. And I look forward to more years of riding motorcycles with the guy. I have to be honest with you, Steve is not in that many scenes with Frank. I spend more time riding across the country on a motorcycle with Bill. He’s more of a friend than a co-worker. He does everything great. And I remember we were sitting in his cabin after we rode eight days on a motorcycle. And we were sitting around him playing the piano, then he was playing the ukulele, and then he was showing us his bowls that he carved. Then he was showing us this table that he made, and then he was talking about the bear he hunted. And he was sitting there and going, “I just wish that I had done something great in my lifetime,” and then he lowered his head. And we just looked at each other like, “What is wrong with this guy? Is this guy insane?” He has so many talents and he does so many things great, and it’s never enough. He’s never satisfied. But the life of a true artist is never being fully satisfied, and I think it drives him to do better and better in the next thing and the next thing. He’s a rebel. He’s a lone wolf and a rebel. You’ll never see him with an entourage. The guy’s a workaholic. He’s like Frank Gallagher with work. He doesn’t stop working. It’s sick. The only way we can get him to stay off his computer is, “Hey Bill, do you want to ride 2000 miles in a motorcycle?” That’s the only thing he’ll jump up about.

This show has brought you far in your career. What role would you like to take on next?
JC: I love TV. I love being involved with any medium of storytelling that will allow people to talk about issues that are happening in our society, and do it in a way where you make people laugh and you entertain people. Because if you don’t and you tell people the truth and you’re not doing it through laughter or entertainment, the audience will bite off your head.

Have you seen that happen?
JC: Yes, it’s on all these TV shows that last about six episodes. Dramas usually. Shameless could be a straight-up drama easily, but they have to have the comedy. Because it’s such a dark subject matter nobody would want to watch it if it wasn’t funny. Can you imagine Shameless as a drama? Way too heavy!

What advice would you give to your former self now that you’ve made it as an actor?
JC: You always get to where you want to be and it’s never what you think it’s going to be. I’m so grateful that I answered the call to do this, because I didn’t want to be an actor when I was a kid. But it seemed like a fun adventure and I’m always down for an adventure. Now I’ve been on this adventure for 12 years. I would tell myself the same thing that I tell myself everyday, which is to enjoy it. Take the ride and enjoy it.

You know the only scary thing as an actor is the same thing that all of America is facing: the instability, the job stability. This was actually one of the story lines that Jimmy/Steve struggles a lot with. He decided to throw out his university life, and that’s something that I did my first year of university too. And Jimmy/Steve decides to take on this kind of pirate life of a car thief, which is very much like a Canadian actor coming down to the states and living and trying to sell himself for work. And then, you know, over a decade passes and you start growing up and you start looking at the realities of life. You start wanting more stability and a job and regularity and routine. The excitement and the adventure and the passion of the life that you chose when you were 18 isn’t as appealing anymore. It makes you wonder, “Why do I do this? What am I doing here?” because after a while a lot of it looks the same. You’re in a different city. There’s a different craft service. You’re waiting for three hours before you go and do your scene that will take 20 minutes. Then you go back to your hotel and you sit and you wait and you sit and you wait. I guess for me it goes back to the love of the story and being around good storytellers, being able to say their words, being able to be helpful to them in telling their story. It gives people meaning. And sometimes it gives people hope. And sometimes it just allows people to escape for an hour every Sunday night and laugh. Because the Gallaghers’ lives are worse off than most people’s lives out there. So that’s what I like. That’s what I like being a part of. So I will stick around for another year in Los Angeles, like I say every year.

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