Discovery: Cameron Monaghan


Published February 14, 2011



Shameless, Showtime’s latest, is a family show—albeit one in which the single father (William H. Macy) is an often-incontinent, stumbling drunk, the eldest child (Emmy Rossum) holds responsibility for raising the children (when she’s not having sex in the back of a police car), and the five younger children raise hell in various ways throughout their downtrodden Chicago neighborhood. Ian, played by up-and-coming teenage actor Cameron Monaghan, seems like he could be on the straight and narrow, involved in his school’s ROTC program and holding down a job at the local corner store—until that is, it turns out that he’s having an affair with his middle-aged, married, male boss. In a cast full of standouts (Joan Cusack has a supporting role as a staid housewife with secret penchant for S&M), Monaghan’s portrayal of the closeted teen is nuanced and stereotype-free. He’s a teen struggling to understand his identity while teetering between child and adulthood—a character to which we can all relate. 

AGE: 17

HOMETOWN: Boca Raton, Florida

HOW HE BECAME AN ACTOR: I grew up watching movies and television. When I was very young, I decided I wanted to be an actor. I told my mom when I was about 6 or 7 and got involved in local theater as well as print and commercial auditions. Eventually, I booked a lead in the remake movie version of The Music Man. From there, I figured out I really loved it, and it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Six years ago I moved to LA, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

INITIAL REACTION TO SHAMELESS: It was definitely something that I’ve never seen before. [laughs] Very raunchy, really strong language, just brutally honest. At first it was slightly shocking, but then I read the entire script. I saw who was attached to the project, and I saw how amazing all the scenes were together, and what the show is doing and how it’s just so honest with the audience. I decided it was something I really wanted to be a part of.

ON PLAYING A CLOSETED CHARACTER: The thing about being an actor is that you’re acting. It’s not that big of a deal of to play someone different from yourself. I wasn’t really too nervous about that. But it was always my focus from the beginning that there is a certain amount of pressure and responsibility to be playing a gay role—the community is very passionate about how they’re being represented in movies and television and they’re very aware when actors take roles like that.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE: It’s been really positive, which I’m very excited to say. I get messages on my Facebook actually from gay teens and college students, and people around Ian’s age, who say that they really relate to the role. They say they’re not flamboyant, they’re not how the media tends to represent gay people, and they appreciate having a different portrayal of such a character. That’s something that’s really exciting for me.

IAN VS. CAMERON: I think generally we have pretty different lives. He’s living in a poverty-stricken area of Chicago—a very, very tough neighborhood. But family’s important to him, I can definitely relate to that. He sacrifices a lot of his life to make sure that people in his life are safe. I’m not gay, but there is a certain amount of struggle in his life that pretty much anyone can relate to.

WORKING WITH A ROLE MODEL: I grew up watching Bill in plenty of different movies. One of my favorite movies of all time is Fargo. He’s definitely someone that I’ve always looked up to, acting-wise. But he’s such a normal, grounded, cool guy that it doesn’t feel like I’m hanging out with the movie star William H. Macy. No. He’s just kind of a really cool guy named Bill that everyone loves hanging out with.

LIFE ON THE SHAMELESS SET: It’s totally like a family on our set. That’s the absolute best way to describe it. We are a group of people who amazingly get along fantastically well. We enjoy each other’s company, we hang out even when we’re not filming, we spend most of our time just having fun, laughing, and generally being really good friends.

WATCHING THE SHOW WITH HIS MOM: [laughs] I actually do! I watch the show with her every week. I don’t really have a problem with it. Acting is acting, and it’s a little bit raunchy, but I don’t think it’s anything that we can’t handle.

ACTING IDOLS: I appreciate people who develop widely different characters and really put themselves into the shoes of different people. They have to be like chameleons and create these different characters.  Some of my favorite actors do this all the time, like Sean Penn, Ben Kingsley, and Gary Oldman. For women, Meryl Streep—it’s a little clichéd to say because everyone loves her, but it’s because she is amazingly talented—Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet.

DOWNTIME: I play drums and guitar, I snowboard, I do martial arts and acrobatics. I go to the movies every Friday.

UP NEXT: Prom is a movie that follows a bunch of high-schoolers lives leading up to the prom, the climax of the movie. It focuses all their struggles and the social pressures that prom creates on their lives. I didn’t actually go to my real prom, so I kind of lived vicariously through this movie [laughs], but it’s actually much better than any prom that I could have ever had in real life.