Actress Emma Kenney (Shameless, The Conners) isn’t ashamed to be a Jersey Girl at heart. Born in Manhattan, Kenney, 19, plays sassy daughter Debbie on the breakout Showtime TV series Shameless. But she actually spent her formative years in the Garden State. Kenney is also known for her role as Darlene’s (Sara Gilbert) daughter Harris in the Roseanne revival.
Season 9 of Shameless debuts on Sunday, September 9th. The show chronicles the lives of a down-on-their-luck family of 7; the Gallaghers. The family consists of 6 children and their drunk, often selfish father, Frank (Oscar nominee William H. Macy).
Kenney spoke to Best of NJ about Jersey memories, charity work, and what to expect from Season 9 of Shameless.
Emma Kenney on Her NJ Roots
Best of NJ: Tell us about your childhood in Jersey.
Emma Kenney: I moved to Fanwood when I was two. From the age of ten, I spent half the year in LA filming Shameless. Before Shameless, I would love to go to the beach in Sea Bright with friends and family. I also used to love the local ice cream place called Double Dipper, but it since closed. My dad would take me to Fanwood Bagels for a mini bagel with cheese, and I loved the Fanwood library. Now, when I come home, I spend my time with family and friends.
BONJ: Early on, there was an NJ film festival that became a formative experience for you. What was that like?
Kenney: It was my first experience with the press. I filmed a movie, The New Girl in Town, about a vampire girl. At the time, I was acting in student films and just wanted to try making a movie myself. I used my friends and filmed most of it at my house. I didn’t think much about it after it was done; but my mom, for fun, entered it into the New Jersey International Film Festival. Then, weeks later, she got a call from the film festival that I was a finalist. They didn’t know I was a kid.
Then there was all this press. I remember one morning my neighbor was out walking his dog and there was a media van outside our house. The news person asked if he knew me. My neighbor got scared like maybe I had been kidnapped or something. The press wanted to follow me to school but the principal said they couldn’t! It was my first experience with the press—so crazy!
BONJ: What is your definition of a Jersey girl?
Kenney: Strong, independent, outspoken.
The Future of Shameless and The Conners
BONJ: What can we expect from Frank and Deb this season of Shameless?
Kenney: Debbie is completely over Frank’s manipulation! That’s all I can say.
BONJ: What do you think draws people to Shameless? Why does the series resonate with so many viewers?
KenneyI think it’s multilayered. It’s both relatable and yet so outrageous. I’ve had people tell me that they know families like the Gallaghers or like Frank; the local drunk that neglects his kids. So many people have come up to me to say that. Plus the story lines are so crazy that it crosses between being really funny and really sad.
BONJ: Roseanne’s 10th season was meant to be a revival. What have you learned about yourself in the aftermath of it’s cancellation? (Editor’s Note: The series was canceled in May 2018 after an incident on social media concerning star Roseanne Barr. It will return soon, sans Roseanne, under a new series title: The Conners.)
Kenney: KINDNESS ALWAYS WINS.
Emma Kenney Discusses What’s Next
BONJ: What is next for you, career-wise, besides the next incarnation of Roseanne?
Kenney: Right now, we’re wrapping up filming Season 9 of Shameless; it will premiere while we’re still filming the end of the season. I am busy still filming Shameless and just starting filming The Conners. It is going to be a really busy Fall, but I am excited. I don’t know what is after that. A nice break, hopefully!
BONJ: What causes have been near and dear to your heart lately?
Kenney: Best Friends Animal Society and basically all No Kill animal adoption agencies. I have two adopted dogs and would have more if I could but two is enough right now.
BONJ: You have the most amazing, dewey skin. Can you share with us your skincare regimen?
Kenney: I never go to sleep with my makeup on (I also rarely wear makeup), moisturize and always use sunscreen. I love La Mer and use it almost exclusively.
BONJ: What is your favorite outfit of choice lately?
Kenney: Flare pants and slip on loafers.
BONJ: What shows are you currently binge-watching, and why?
Kenney: Reality shows are my guilty pleasure. I just binge-watched Making of a Model with my mom.
For more from Emma Kenney, you can follow her on Instagram @EmmaKenney.
All Photos: © Christopher Patey