‘Shameless’ Showrunner John Wells and Star Jeremy Allen White Tell Us What to Expect in Season 8
Few episodic series have struck a chord with viewers quite like “Shameless,” the Showtime drama that follows the Gallaghers, a dysfunctional family from the southside of Chicago whose members find ingenious and often times darkly humorous ways to deal with all the obstacles life throws at them. Now heading into its eighth season, the series promises to be just as controversial and entertaining as ever.
Entertainment Voice recently spoke with “Shameless” star Jeremy Allen White, as well as showrunner and executive producer John Wells, who previously worked as a showrunner and executive producer on hit series such as “ER,” “The West Wing” and “Third Watch. White, who plays gifted and troubled oldest brother Lip Gallagher, spoke in-depth with us about his character and what to expect from him this season. Wells opened up to us about how Netflix has changed the game, which of his characters have resonated with him the most, and which “Shameless” character finds himself steeped in the biggest controversy of this upcoming season.
The show is going into its eighth season and it’s your baby, John. You’ve been there from the beginning. What is it like going into an eighth season of a successful series?
John Wells: You know, it’s not my first time going into a latter year on a successful series, but it’s wonderful to see it cooling the way it has. We’ve had all this wonderful support from Showtime. And then the last year or so, once we went on to Netflix, where we hadn’t been before, our audience just sort of exploded. It has been very odd to be at this point in the life of a series and have it growing, because normally this is when it’s actually sort of flattening and coming down. It’s been unusual. We live in a very new world in the way in which these things get distributed and the way in which people find them and how long it takes people to find things. We’ve gone for years in Chicago and shot – I mean, we’ve always had some security and it’s never been a big deal, but after we went on Netflix we went [to do shooting in Chicago] and we had over 400 people show up in the dodgy neighborhood where we shoot, and not enough security for it. We had to bring in police barriers. The people were perfectly lovely, but they were deep and people had tattoos of Ian and Mickey. Tattoos of their faces! So it was a very different experience.
But the show’s been great to do because it’s driven by the characters and their lives, and as the kids have grown up, including Fiona, and have to go through these new challenges in their lives, they get to change a lot, so you’re constantly writing about the changes in their lives based on how old they are, so that’s been a lot of fun.
Jeremy, this past season Lip has been focused on his sobriety. What has that journey been like?
Jeremy Allen White: It’s been nice. I think it’s more entertaining to see someone on the edge of destruction than actually see them destroy themselves. So, that’s kind of why Lip is continuously tested by the people around him. He’s doing everything he can to take care of the people around him, but then take care of himself at the same time.
And what can we expect from Lip this season? Will he go back to school? That was so heartbreaking when he was kicked out last season.
White: No. Not this year, at least. His focus this year really is his sobriety, which is nice. There’s nothing really academic going on with Lip this year. He’s working at the motorcycle shop that his sponsor works in, and he’s very committed to that. He’s committed to showing up on time, doing well, impressing his sponsor.
Do you think they’ll be romance for Lip? He sort of had a girlfriend at the end of this past season.
White: Yeah, you know, not for a while. Again, because of [his sobriety], he really shouldn’t be getting too emotionally or romantically invested. He’s kinda got to protect his heart a little bit. I think he fools around with a couple of girls, but nothing very serious.
John, there have been so many outrageous storylines on “Shameless.” Was there ever one that you or another writer thought of where the response was, “Whoa, that’s too far,” and it didn’t make it on the air?
Wells: It’s a very fine line between where you’re laughing and it still feels real and you know it’s silly and exaggerated, but still you feel like, “Well, I guess that could actually happen,” to where it’s just ridiculous. We cut stories and things out because you do it and you try it and it doesn’t work and it’s ridiculous, and then we do others where you kind of do it and it’s like, “Wow, I thought that was going to be ridiculous, and it actually kind of works.”
Do you have a favorite storyline or episode of “Shameless”?
Wells: That would be hard. Part of it is I write a lot, and do a couple of different shows usually at a time, so I tend to have kind of like a big dump in my brain, and after I finish it, it kind of goes, and then I like the next thing we’re doing.
This season in particular, we have a really great Carl storyline. There’s an Ian story in the second half of the season that I’m really proud of and I think is going to piss a lot of people off [laughs]. It’ll make a lot of people angry. We should get some really nasty mail for that one. But we get excited and we talk about it and we laugh about it a lot, so it’s hard to say. There’s been a lot of fun things that we’ve done.
Lip’s relationship with Professor Youens has been very touching to watch. What was that storyline like to film, Jeremy? Have you ever had someone in your life rooting for you like that?
White: Yeah, I have great friends and family like that, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a mentor in the same way that I think Youens was for Lip, and I think one of Lip’s biggest tests this year is sort of seeing Professor Youens – Professors Youens’ life starts to fall apart. It’s sort of a role reversal where Lip is kind of taking care of him. It’s been fun this year to explore that, where Youens is the fuck up and Lip has his head on straight.
John, you’ve been behind so many great shows with great ensemble casts and characters, John. Out of all the characters you’ve written, not just for Shameless, but also for “ER”and “The West Wing,” do you have one that’s the most like you?
Wells: I wish I could say it was [“ER” character Dr. Doug] Ross, which George Clooney played, but, no, I don’t think my life was ever like George Clooney’s, or Doug Ross’s [laughs]. Honestly, probably the person that I felt closest to in the writing of it, and it was actually difficult because I had to write the character’s death, obviously, not the actor’s death, there were two of them. One was Anthony Edward’s character Greene on “ER,” who I felt very close to, and then the Leo character on “The West Wing” played by John Spencer, who was actually a close friend of mine who did actually die while we were making the series. I felt very attached to both, but what starts to happen, honestly, is these are your friends.
They become your personal friends, the actors, and you like them and you just enjoy being around them. But they also become people in your head, because you write them and you also have to write their voices, so I dream the characters sometimes, and it’s very confusing because you’re not sure if it’s the actor, who’s a friend of yours, or if it’s the character, and you have to kind of [figure it out], because they get mixed up. Because if you’re living in this world, you have to imagine the world, and it’s confusing.
“Shameless” season 8 premieres Nov. 5 at 9 p.m. and airs Sundays on Showtime.