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The real reason Emmy Rossum left Shameless after season 9

After spending eight years playing family matriarch Fiona Gallagher on the hit Showtime series Shameless, Emmy Rossum decided in 2018 to fly the coop at the end of season 9. For Rossum, the decision had nothing to do with bad blood or pay disputes. The real reason Emmy Rossum left Shameless after season 9? She simply felt it was time for her to spread her creative wings.

In August 2018, Rossum posted a lengthy explanation for her departure to her Facebook page, explaining that the stability of her Shameless gig gave her the courage to move beyond it. 

"This kind of stability, this family, has nurtured me and made feel safe enough to stretch and grow creatively," she wrote. "The way [executive producer and showrunner] John Wells has shepherded me as an actress, and more recently how he's encouraged me wholeheartedly as a director and a writer, has been an honor and a privilege."

Rossum described her acting career prior to landing the role of Fiona Gallagher as a "transient" adventure — one in which roles had come and gone, and in which she had been able to move on to new creative endeavors on a regular basis. Rossum never expected to get the family Shameless gave to her: "See, in real life, unlike Fiona, I'm an only child. I never had a big family. Being ensconced in that messy Gallagher family love is something I'd always dreamed of. But even off set, it feels real. We've watched the kids grow up into the strong, talented, independent human beings that they are."

She went on to call her experience "a gift," and said that she's had the best time of her life playing Fiona. "There are few characters — female or otherwise — as layered and dynamic," Rossum said. "She is resourceful. She is loyal. She is brave. I knew it the second I read the pilot script, this was different, this was special."

Shameless was an incredible experience overall for the actress, and she felt as though the show had finally (after 10,000 hours of work) reached a point of near-perfection. But for her, that meant it was time to try something new. 

Still, Rossum made it clear that she was confident Shameless had many, many years to go, even in her absence: "I know you will continue on without me, for now. There is much more Gallagher story to be told." The actress even left the door open for a possible return, writing, "Try not to think of me as gone, just think of me as moving down the block." 

For his part, Shameless star William H. Macy (who plays Fiona's degenerate father Frank Gallagher) believes the chances of Rossum returning to the family are pretty good. "I think Emmy will come back and make a guest appearance before this thing sets sail," he told Variety in March 2019. "She better, otherwise I'm gonna grab her by the ear and bring her back."

Rossum's departure from the series may feel like a giant hole that will never be filled, but it isn't that uncommon for actors to leave the TV shows that made them household names. Grey's Anatomy has killed off dozens of people over the years, and it'll enter into its 16th season in September 2019 — proof that shows can and do live on without their biggest stars. Shameless showrunner John Wells came from ER, another series known for soldiering on after its stars have left. He told Variety that losing Rossum wasn't out of the norm: "George Clooney left ER in year five, and we managed to do 10 more years. It's what people do — they get on with their lives. We hope she'll come back in at some point and play with everybody again, but she's got other options."

Rossum's final episode of Shameless aired Sunday, March 10, 2019. While it doesn't look like we'll be seeing her play Fiona any time soon, the character's departure certainly wasn't as final as something like a death, so it's totally possible she'll make a reappearance at some point in the future. For Wells, at least, the whole thing has given him the chance to build a larger story — one that focuses on how the other characters react to the Fiona situation. And who knows where Shameless could go in the future? There are a lot of avenues to head down when it comes to the Gallagher family.

Shameless season 10 airs November 3 on Showtime.