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The Untold Truth Of Shameless

Dad's drunk. Kids are running amok. And the eldest daughter is trying to hold everything together, while an ensemble cast of beautifully flawed family members and friends battle addiction, mental health, socioeconomic struggles, sexual identity, and much more through an unflinching lens of real-world authenticity. Welcome to "Shameless."

The hit Showtime series ended its 11-season run in April of 2021, and throughout it all, the Gallagher clan went through countless ups and downs that left fans laughing, crying, and emotionally reeling all along the way. Led by patriarch Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) along with his eldest daughter, Fiona (Emmy Rossum), and a gaggle of other family members and recurring guests, "Shameless" left no stone of good taste unturned during its years-long run. More than most shows in the modern TV landscape, "Shameless" was a family dramedy with nearly every episode leaving fans with at least one jaw-dropping moment.

But what about behind the scenes? What went down when the cameras weren't rolling? Let's dive in and learn the untold truth of "Shameless."

The show was an adaptation of a U.K. series

Much like "The Office," which originally debuted in England before being adapted for American audiences, "Shameless" started out as a show in the U.K. The original version also follows the Gallagher family, but David Threlfall plays the father, Frank, and Anne-Marie Duff takes the role of eldest daughter Fiona. Other guest appearances included Hollywood heavyweight James McAvoy. And instead of Chicago, Illinois, the U.K. version takes place in the fictional Chatsworth Estate, a community of Stretford, Greater Manchester. Similar to the American version, the U.K. iteration ran for 11 seasons spanning from 2004 to 2013.

But wait, there's more. Not only are there the U.K. and the U.S. versions of "Shameless", but the show has also been adapted for Russian and Turkish audiences, too, with those versions both premiering in 2017. The Turkish version is called "Bizim Hikaye," which translates to "Our Story," and the Russian adaptation is titled "Besstydniki," which is Russian for "Shameless."

Woody Harrelson almost played William H. Macy's character

Although William H. Macy's portrayal as Frank Gallagher has been lauded by fans and critics alike — earning him multiple Emmy nominations — he almost didn't get the role. Woody Harrelson was also in talks to play the character, but he turned it down.

"I ran into Woody recently, actually," said Macy in an interview with Shortlist. "He said, 'Whatcha doing at the moment?' And I said, 'Shameless.' And he said, 'Oh yeah, I talked to them about that.' I thought, 'Great, so I'm at least second choice.' He said, 'I watched the British version and I just thought it was really good. I didn't think I could do it better than that.'" Macy then added with a laugh, "There was a little bit of a pause and I just went, 'I can.'"

Macy was nominated multiple times for his role on "Shameless" in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category at the Emmys, but never took home the trophy. He did, however, win three times in the same category at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

No scripts were allowed on set

Typically, TV shows have the luxury of taking breaks when a cast member forgets a line (as opposed to the live intensity of stage acting), but that wasn't the case on "Shameless." Showrunner John Wells wanted his cast to come to work knowing their lines, which made for a smoother process on set. And the actors didn't have a problem with that. "You've got a cush job; don't try to hide it," Macy told The Hollywood Reporter.

However, the memorization wasn't always easy. "The combination of my age and everything has gotten rougher," continued Macy. "I've learned my lines cold so I can do them standing on my head." 

And there was a lot to memorize for each day of shooting. "We're shooting 11 pages a day with no scripts allowed on set," confirmed Rossum.

But while the regular cast got accustomed to the process, guest stars had to get used to memorizing all their lines. "We know our lines for the entire episode; everybody knocks it out," added Shanola Hampton (who plays Veronica Fisher). "It makes our day shorter, the crew work harder and for a great set. Although guest stars are like, 'What, I have to be prepared?'"

The youngest Gallagher was played by twins

It's not uncommon for twins to play young kids, toddlers, and babies onscreen — just look at Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen's days playing Michelle on "Full House." That way, very young child actors aren't getting overworked, and if one's acting up or needs a nap, there's always another one to take the stage.

For one character on "Shameless," that kind of twin performance was necessary — at least for a few years of filming. From Season 3 until Season 7, twins Brenden and Brandon Sims portrayed the youngest member of the Gallagher clan, Liam. But at the start of Season 8, the role was taken by then nine-year-old Christian Isaiah.

According to an Instagram account run by the twins' mother, the twin boys are "just a couple of kids that love WWE and acting on your tv screens." They recently started sixth grade.

Emmy Rossum fought for equal pay

As one of the show's leading actors — and the character that keeps the family from falling into oblivion more often than not — Emmy Rossum demanded equal pay to her co-star, William H. Macy, leading up to the eighth season. And although there was a squabble with executives over renegotiating her contract, she was victorious. She also had the support of Macy on the matter.

"It's about f*****g time. She works as hard as I do. She deserves everything," Macy told TMZ. He then added with a laugh, "The only thing I've got over Emmy Rossum is I'm better looking."

While Rossum fought for and won equal pay on "Shameless," she did depart the show before it finished its 11-season run. However, she didn't leave over contract or payment disputes. It was quite the opposite, actually, as she credited the show for allowing her to spread her creative wings and fly off to other projects.

"This kind of stability, this family, has nurtured me and made feel safe enough to stretch and grow creatively," she wrote in a lengthy Facebook post. "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."

The Gallagher home is actually in Chicago

Although much of the filming for "Shameless" took place in Los Angeles, the cast flew out to Chicago for two weeks per season for outdoor shots. And the Gallagher house isn't just a set on some backlot in Hollywood — it's really in Chicago. Cast members even got to know the real residents of the house and the neighborhood. As Rossum told the Chicago Tribune, "Oh my God, the little boy who lives in the Gallagher house — the real house — his name is DJ and he's eight years old now, so I've known him since he was one. And I know DJ. He's a really good kid, such a good kid."

Not only did Rossum get to know the kid who lived in her fictional house, she also became acquainted with other kids in the neighborhood. The locals embraced the cast and crew when they came into their community, even getting a behind-the-scenes look at how the show was made.

"I ran into a little girl today," Rossum continued, "she said she was 12 so that means I've known her since she was five, and I saw her sitting next to our director-producer with headphones at the monitors and watching. She was talking about how she was interested in the film industry and it was so cool that we got to give her that experience."

Pranks went down on set

Even though the show deals with very serious topics, and it's all business when it comes to the "No Script" policy while filming, the cast still liked to have fun. For instance, to keep things light (and stinky) on set, certain cast members pulled pranks on each other during production.

For example, Justin Chatwin (who plays Jimmy Lishman on the show) had a trick up his sleeve — or in his mouth, rather — for when things got hot and heavy. The actor admitted to eating tuna fish sandwiches prior to kissing scenes with Rossum.

And that wasn't all she had to put up with. Rossum told Vulture that her co-stars also put a sign on her trailer indicating it was a public restroom. Word has it a few passing pedestrians even paid visits to the alleged open-to-anyone bathroom. Talk about a lack of privacy.

The Janney-Joan switch

Throughout the course of "Shameless," there were a handful of changes to the leading cast — hard to avoid with an 11-season run. For instance, two different longtime Hollywood actresses held the role of Sheila Jackson, the eccentric friend of William H. Macy's Frank Gallagher, although one endured much longer than the other.

Allison Janney originally portrayed the character in the pilot, but after that, she was replaced Joan Cusack. According to Deadline, Janney had to pull out once the "Shameless" team decided to expand the role of Sheila following the pilot, due to her commitment to ABC's "Mr. Sunshine." Cusack went on to receive Emmy Award nominations for her performance as Sheila in 2011, 2012, and 2013. And although "Mr. Sunshine" didn't last long — only one season — Janney continued her career as a celebrated dramatic actor with starring roles in films like 2017's "I, Tonya."

The actors directed, too

While the original U.K. version of the show was created by Paul Abbott and the U.S. iteration was developed by John Wells, both William H. Macy (Frank Gallagher) and Emmy Rossum (Fiona Gallagher) got behind the camera to direct the show, in addition to their starring roles.

As Macy told The Hollywood Reporter, "It's an odd job directing television because you're not the king of the hill; you're not an auteur the way you are in film. Other people do a lot of the work; it's very collaborative; you're one part of a big machine, and you're not the last word. It's the hardest thing I've ever done!"

Meanwhile, Rossum told Variety, "I thought they would toss me a bone and go easy on me, but they threw me into the deep end without any waders. They were like, 'Swim, child!' And I survived." During her time in the director's chair, Emmy Rossum employed some unique props to help the scenes come to life: LEGOs. She used the tiny toys to visualize where each character would be in their scenes.

The show was almost set in a trailer park

The Gallagher family has a strong sense of pride in their home on the southside of Chicago, but the show almost took place elsewhere. Producers originally wanted it set in a trailer park in the southern United States, but showrunner John Wells had a different idea.

"When we first started pitching, everybody kept gravitating towards the South or putting it in a trailer park, and I kept saying, 'Well, no,'" Wells said in an interview with The New York Times. "We have a comedic tradition of making fun of the people in those worlds. The reality is that these people aren't 'the other,' they're people who live four blocks down from you and two blocks over."

And, arguably, it's a good thing that Wells put his foot down when it came to the show's setting. With many scenic shots, and the real Gallagher house being in a Chicago suburb, the city became something of a character in itself.

Shameless was a reunion for Emmy Rossum and Justin Chatwin

"Shameless" represented an unlikely reunion for two of its stars. Two years prior to the show's premiere, Emmy Rossum and Justin Chatwin starred in the 2009 live-action film "Dragonball" Evolution" as Bulma and Goku, respectively. Despite poor reviews, Chatwin was nonetheless thrilled about taking on such a beloved anime character. "I love playing the character of Goku because he's such a positive guy," he told Cinema.com. "He symbolizes moral good, positivity and hope –- but he's also just a regular kid."

Unfortunately, it seemed like that reunion would be relatively short-lived, as "Shameless" fans were shocked at the (alleged) death of Chatwin's character at the end of Season 3. However, the showrunners had a surprise for the upcoming seasons — and it wasn't just the fans that they pulled a fast one on; they tricked the cast, too. According to a Reddit AMA, Rossum revealed that nobody knew Chatwin's character would return. "I was really unhappy with the resolution of that story line," she wrote. "Little did I know, they actually FLEW Justin to Chicago, hired a different crew, kept him in a different hotel, and filmed — UNBEKNOWNST TO ANY OF US — a scene that would end season four."