ABOVE: EMMY ROSSUM. IMAGE COURTESY OF SAM JONES
Whether eating up the small screen alongside William H. Macy in the critically acclaimed Shameless, sharing a quiet, intimate kiss with Gerard Butler in 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera (a performance that cemented Rossum as the youngest Golden Globe nominee in history), or dabbling in a musical career during her spare moments, 26-year-old Emmy Rossum’s work ethic is tough to match.
Rossum next appears in Beautiful Creatures, Hollywood’s most recent foray into YA fiction and Twilight successor hopeful. Adapted from the book of the same name, Creatures gleefully purposes the Stephenie Meyer formula as Southern Fried Gothic—with steamy, vibrant New Orleans replacing dour Seattle; sassy witches assuming the role once held by brooding vampires and werewolves; and a forbidden romance prompted by girl rather than boy.
And yet, for all of Beautiful Creatures‘ moving parts, Rossum’s saucy turn as villainess Ridley Duchannes may very well be the film’s secret weapon. Interview caught up with Rossum at home following a taping on Jimmy Fallon (“Charlie Sheen came to say ‘hello’ in my dressing room,” she recalls, “he was minty”), where we discussed preconceived notions, good girls, bad girls, fearlessness, and singing to New York City butchers.
JOHN TAYLOR: So, you have a new movie coming out, Beautiful Creatures…
EMMY ROSSUM: I do!
TAYLOR: Are you excited?
ROSSUM: I am. This is a script that I’ve really loved for a long time, and I kept hounding my agent to tell me when they were going to start auditioning people. When I finally got the call, I was excited—I was really excited about the character [Ridley Duchannes]. She’s kind of a scene-stealer in the book, and very self-indulgent. She’s a dark witch, or caster, and—very glamourous, very seducing, very self-centered. So, obnoxious and fun to play. I’ve never played a bad girl before, and she’s kind of deliciously evil.
TAYLOR: Your hair is ridiculous in the movie. And those sunglasses!
ROSSUM: Yeah, I wore about five different wigs for the movie, and it was definitely more about glamour than my television show, Shameless, that I do, because that’s all about being down, and dirty, and gritty.
TAYLOR: About that… does it ever get annoying how interviewers continue to bring up Shameless as your “dirty and gritty” role?
ROSSUM: I mean, I like it. That’s my job as an actress, to challenge myself and do different things, even though it’s different than what people assume I’m inclined to do. It was exciting for me because it was a challenge to stretch people’s imaginations, and their preconceived notions that I’m a “good girl,” and that I always play very likable, nice characters. And, Shameless and Beautiful Creatures was the start of a new kind of character for me. It’s a little bit edgier, a little bit more indulgent of your dark side.
TAYLOR: Is it more fun, being the “bad girl?”
ROSSUM: I would say that I enjoy material when it’s strong, I enjoy being challenged. I’m drawn to tough roles… it doesn’t mean I’m tough.
TAYLOR: Well, I heard you’re into hiking and fishing.
ROSSUM: [laughs] I mean, I grew up in New York, but I like all that kind of outdoorsy stuff. It’s definitely a brain-break from the world.
TAYLOR: You once said that being a New Yorker gave you lots of ideas growing up. Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were a kid?
ROSSUM: A doctor, a lawyer, an astronaut. [pauses] I mean, I’m an actor, so now I get to do them all.
TAYLOR: True. Do you enjoy singing?
ROSSUM: I do enjoy singing. I sing everywhere. I sing in the kitchen, I sing in the shower, I sing on the subway.
TAYLOR: I loved your interview on Conan where you’re singing for a hot dog.
ROSSUM: Yeah, I used to do that as a kid. I would walk home, past this butcher shop, I would sing them a song and they would give me a hot dog.
TAYLOR: True story?
ROSSUM: That is a true story. There is a butcher on the East Side—I would go in, with my babysitter or my mom, and they’d be like, “Oh, it’s the little opera girl!” They’d go, “Do you have a little song for us?” I would sing them a song, and they would give me a hot dog.
TAYLOR: [laughs] Has singing gotten you anything else for free?
ROSSUM: Nope, that’s pretty much the only thing I’ve gotten for free.
TAYLOR: That’s too bad. So, I’m guessing you weren’t shy as a kid?
ROSSUM: Well, I started singing for the children’s chorus when I was seven, so the concept of being shy or judged about never really occurred to me as a kid.
TAYLOR: I want to know how to not be shy. What’s your secret?
ROSSUM: To just remember how you felt when you were five, when you were fearless, and thought no one would judge you.
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES IS OUT TODAY.