The stunning transformation of Emmy Rossum

She plays the tender, tough, and utterly believable Fiona Gallagher in Showtime’s hit series Shameless. She was the incandescent Christine in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera. You may know her from those roles, or you may just be drawn to her deep brown eyes and her killer smile. But there is a lot more to this fearless actress, than her looks.

In addition to her considerable vocal and acting talents, she is also a tireless fighter for human and animal rights. At only 30 years old, fans can expect a lot more great things from Emmy Rossum. Let’s take a look at her stunning transformation thus far.

Growing up with a strong single mom

Rossum was born in Manhattan in 1986 to Cheryl Rossum, a corporate photographer, and single mom. According to an interview with Complex, Cheryl has been a big influence on Rossum’s more mature sensibilities. When asked why she never attempted pop music, Rossum cops, “Modern pop music is fun, but it’s never something I felt I could do organically or believably. Four-on-the-floor grinding in hot pants in just not in my nature. And don’t think that people didn’t make me try. Maybe I just have an older sensibility because I was raised by older nannies and a mom who had me when she was 40.”

When asked by ScreenerTV how she created her role for Shameless, Rossum is quick to credit her mom, saying, “[My character, Fiona] has my mother — my mother is a single mother — my mother’s loyalty, and fierceness, that kind of mama bear instinct that my mother always had for me.”

In the Complex interview, Rossum discussed her father, who walked out on the family while her mother was still pregnant. She’s only met him a couple of times. When asked how that paternal absence informs the Fiona character, Rossum admitted, “I definitely have feelings of abandonment and self-protection over that, and Fiona does too…We all have that childish hope that somebody who doesn’t care about you suddenly will.”

Under the influence of much older women

In the 2014 Complex cover issue, Rossum talked about the nannies who helped out, when she was a kid. When asked her craziest nanny story, she told the story of Gertie, an Austrian woman who was given a prize as a child by singing the best German national anthem. The prize giver? None other than Hitler. Rossum says, “My mom is Jewish, so that was a little bit awkward, but Gertie was a great nanny. She would tell that story, but she knew Hitler was a bad guy. There’s no getting around that. And she was a child — she didn’t know any better when she was singing the German national anthem. Clearly, if she was working for a Jewish family, she had no prejudice herself.” But, not all the nanny experiences were positive. Since Cheryl only chose nannies that were in their 60s, Rossum lived under the influence of several older women. Some, may have gotten her hopes up unnecessarily, in regards to her father.

She says, “My nannies told me that if you wanted it bad enough, impossible things could happen — like your dad coming back. That was something that was verbalized to me as a kid…it made me disillusioned as a teen when that didn’t happen, and when I started becoming known as an actress, and it still didn’t happen.” In spite of all that, Rossum has become a well-rounded, compassionate woman.

Always learning

A few minutes of watching an interview with Rossum, and you know that she’s an intelligent and driven young lady. But that’s not all. During her time at the Met, she learned to sing in six different languages. Upon leaving the opera at age 12 — and, instead of returning to The Spence School, a private K-12 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which she hated — her mom agreed to let Rossum study with tutors online, incorporating classes available through Stanford University. As a result, the whip-smart teen received her high school diploma at 15 years old. By 2008, she was enrolled at Columbia University, studying French, art history, and philosophy.

She has also enrolled in classes at London’s Le Cordon Bleu. She learned that she had Celiac disease when she was a preteen, so she enjoys being more than capable of cooking her own food. She asserts that she doesn’t think it’s cool, she says, “I’m allergic to gluten. I have a mild celiac, so I don’t think it’s cool.” And, as portrayed in her approach to her television and film characters, Rossum has an innate emotional intelligence that she’s able to parlay into her work. Rossum is not Fiona, and Fiona is not Rossum, yet, the actress deeply cares for her character. That brilliant craft in approaching her work, will only deepen, as time goes on.

Feeling at home on stage

Even though Rossum’s film career was taking off, and she was about to embark on the first season of Shameless, she still took time out to participate in Broadway’s “24 Hour Plays.” In this innovative and exciting theatre project that’s been around since 1997, promising young writers, directors and producers are paired with actors to undergo an intensive 24 hours of creativity. The process starts at 10pm the night before the performance, and writers are given several things for inspiration (props, etc), and then write all night. At 9 a.m. the next morning, actors receive their roles and the directors arrive to start rehearsals. In less than 12 hours from that time, the curtain lifts on the performance.

In an interview with ABC, Rossum admitted she identifies with this type of work, saying, “Performance is kind of where I feel like I fit in, in the world. Where I’m surrounded by a whole bunch of circus clowns, just like me, who like playing pretend.”

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