Cameron Monaghan brought the character of Ian Gallagher to life on Showtime’s hit series, Shameless. The series aired for a total of 11 seasons after originally premiering in 2011. It ranked as the network’s no. 1 comedy, longest-running series, and had the youngest-skewing audience of any Showtime series. Monaghan also joined two legendary universes with roles in both Gotham and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which I got to ask him about too!
The final season of Shameless finds the Gallagher family and the South Side at a crossroads, with changes caused by the COVID pandemic, gentrification, and aging to reconcile. As Frank confronts his own mortality and family ties in his alcoholic and drug-induced twilight years, Lip struggles with the prospect of becoming the family’s new patriarch. Newlyweds Ian (Cameron Monaghan) and Mickey (Noel Fisher) are figuring out the rules and responsibilities of being in a committed relationship while Deb embraces her individuality and single motherhood. Carl finds an unlikely new career in law enforcement and Kevin and V struggle to decide whether a hard life on the South Side is worth fighting for.
Along with the final season, fans also got a six-episode series that featured new Shameless scenes juxtaposed with a retrospective look at each character’s journey over the prior 10 seasons, titled, Shameless Hall of Shame. The first episode followed Ian and Mickey, showcasing their unique relationship and its evolution from a teen fling into a loving, complicated marriage.
I was able to chat with the actor over zoom and ask him all of my burning questions regarding the series finale, Ian and Mickey’s future, the show’s open ending, the representation his character provided to those watching, what he kept from the set, his future projects, and so much more! Keep reading to find out everything he told me.
So first of all, I want to say a huge congrats to you for wrapping Shameless after 11 seasons and bringing this character to life, who has inspired so many and that so many relate to. I wanted to ask, what has your time on the show meant to you and how would you describe how it helped you grow as an actor?
Monaghan: I mean, it’s so difficult to distill 11 years into some sort of concise answer, but it’s meant a lot for so many reasons. I think that obviously it’s been important for my career and my life in a sense of how it’s not only given me exposure but also given all of us a platform as performers to be able to tell interesting and challenging stories and to really develop and grow. Obviously, we had a couple of old pros on the show — when I say old pros, I’m not calling them old, just that they’re professionals and they’ve been doing it for a long time, but like William H. Macy, Joan Cusack, and a number of people who had very storied careers. Then we had actors on the show who had never appeared on anything prior and for a lot of us, we were somewhere in the middle, where we’d been working for a number of years, but hadn’t been given the opportunities to really put ourselves out there in such a significant way.
So being able to get an audience over the course of 11 years — and the show grew steadily, it was a marginal success at first, but it wasn’t until like season 4 or 5 that it really started to be seen by people and really connect on a larger platform, and a lot of that had to do with Netflix. When that happens we had such an influx of people kind of saying how they related to it and I think that that’s something that I’ve really taken away — I think we’ve all taken away, to be able to hear a lot of other people’s stories and how they’ve connected these stories in entirely different ways. Everyone has had different favorite characters or storylines and they have brought their own personal experiences to that, but for people to say that they feel seen or heard in some ways by these stories, I think is very special. You know, the character that I was playing was an LGBT love story, as well as a story about mental illness, and coping and struggling with that. I had so many positive responses from people regarding those things, and it was amazing to hear people’s responses. So I think that not only was I able to grow as an actor but being able to hear that response and feedback helps you grow as a human being too. I guess that’s what one of my major takeaways is.
What was that final day of shooting like for you, and how did you feel when you officially wrapped?
It was a bit surreal. I don’t think it really set in at first. It’s always funny when you wrap on a project, I feel like it comes in waves, and with something like a TV show, you start to feel it on the last few episodes of like, “Oh, wow, it’s going to be over.” You start trying to find your little ways of saying goodbye to people and understanding that these conversations are obviously not the last for everyone; we’re still close with each other, but you start to recognize that within the context of the show they’ll be your last so that’s a difficult thing. I’ve never been particularly good at saying goodbye, you know? I feel like in general, I’m kind of a person that just likes to be like, “I’m just going to walk away from it cause I don’t know what else to do really.”
So, we were shooting pretty late at night and we were all there hanging out and cracking jokes, and it was just of like, “Oh, I guess that’s it.” We all kind of looked at each other like, “Well, what do we do now?” A bunch of us stuck around for a few hours afterward, we popped a bottle of champagne, and we sat in each others’ trailers and just kinda hung out until pretty early in the morning, the next day. Then we’ve all kind of just been hanging out and seeing each other since. Everyone’s been really busy, thankfully. So we’ve been traveling and going to different cities for work, but when we’ve been in town we’ve been trying to see each other. I had dinner with Jeremy and Ethan, who played my brothers on the show last week. Noel Fisher, I just saw yesterday. I’m going to see Shanola Hampton in a few days. We’re all still staying in touch with each other is what I’ll say.
Were you personally satisfied with the ending of the show? I think it was very open-ended, which was kind of nice and left a lot open for the future. And was there anything you wanted to see for your character that we weren’t able to?
Endings are difficult in general, but I feel like, especially with a show like Shameless, which is a show about a slice of life and sort of how existence doesn’t really fall into a perfect narrative; it tends to be messy and kind of just continue in spite of itself, and it’s a stream of these little victories and these constant mistakes. So you can’t really cap off a pure ending to a story like that. I think that what John Wells tried to do with writing it is not really conclude the stories. He concludes certain aspects, but the way that he explained it to us is he wanted it to feel like if you were walking through the streets of Chicago, maybe you might bump into these characters. Maybe they’re still out there and maybe they’re still doing things. Some of us had more resolution than others.
I would actually say that the Ian and Mickey storyline was one that did have a fair amount of resolution for the final episode. It was about their anniversary, how they were going to deal with their future, and they’ve kind of figured out some sort of life with each other. There are still large questions, whether or not they’re going to have kids and what the terms of their marriage will entail in the future, but those are questions that are lifelong questions, and ones that I think that we know these characters well enough and we understand their relationships well enough that we can draw our own conclusions for. I think there is something beautiful about the fact that the audience will project what their future for these characters will be.
I think it was a challenging final season because of so many extenuating factors in the world. All shows, businesses, everything was trying frantically to keep up with a changing landscape, and the fact that we were able to make it in spite of all of those things, I think is a victory in itself; one that we are all proud of and happy with. I do think there’s still a future, years out, where we might return to these characters and explore them further. I think that I’m happy putting them to bed for now, I think we all are, but I would like to maybe check in with these characters in 5 or 10 years, and just kind of see where they’re at and what they’re doing.
Kind of like a little Shameless movie, just to play catch up for a little bit.
Yeah, I think that’s something that is kind of more possible now with these streaming networks. They’ve done it with a few series, to sometimes success and sometimes mixed results, but I do think there is a possibility of a reunion season or something like that, depending on where the show fits into the public consciousness in a few years, you know? It’s an open question, but one I’d be excited to see.
How you would describe Ian’s evolution and journey on the show?
I think that Ian has come a long way in terms of confidence and assuredness in himself and his own decisions. I think that’s what a lot of the exploration of the character was, especially in the middle seasons between seasons like 3 to 8 or 9, are this guy who sort of just doesn’t necessarily know what he wants for himself and he’s dealing with a bunch of surprises about himself that he doesn’t necessarily understand, or hasn’t really come to terms with. I think it’s amazing to see Ian in these earlier episodes where he’s kind of getting kicked around by his relationships and by his family. He’s kind of a forgotten kid a little bit. He’s like a middle child, who’s just sort of– people aren’t really looking out for him. His brother does to a certain extent, but also his brother is kind of telling him what he wants for himself and Ian isn’t as active.
At a certain point, he starts to really come into his own as an adult and as a human being. I think it’s amazing how we see him as not only a big brother by the end of the series, but also sort of — there’s something a bit paternal about him. He becomes a bit of a father figure, even a little bit in his relationships. I think it’s interesting how Mickey was always sort of the commanding force and deciding factor for so much of the series; when Ian was really struggling with mental illness and down in the dumps, Mickey is the kind of guy who was looking after him, but by the end of the series, Mickey is a bit childlike in certain ways. Ian is kind of protecting him to a certain extent, and even with his older brother, Lip, Ian is sort of looking out for him in a slightly paternal way, which I think is kind of interesting. He really comes a long way in sort of being confident enough in himself to start looking out for other people that I think is a really great quality. It makes him a character who has made a fair amount of mistakes but mistakes that we understand, and I think that ultimately he’s a guy that I understand and really relate to because he does have this quality to him.
So I have to ask you some questions about Ian and Mickey. I personally love them together, they were one of the reasons I started watching the show. In the end, as you said, we kind of get some closure, but also an open ending with them and it’s a happy one; they’re together and celebrating their anniversary. In your head, what do you think that their future holds? Do you think kids are in the picture; do you think they’re going to be parents? Ideally, what is your version of their happy ending, if you could create it?
I think that they both still need to do some work. I would say that they need to do work as a couple in their marriage still of just defining the terms of what is it that they want financially, sexually, intimately, personally, all of these things. It’s a show full of people who aren’t great at communication or dealing with their own feelings — I mean to a certain extent, most human beings aren’t, but these guys, especially, come from a rough background and they have that tendency of just kind of wanting to push that stuff down. Ian has really opened up Mickey and Mickey to a certain extent has really opened up Ian over the course of the series, but I still don’t think they’re fully all the way there. Mickey has a lot of emotional baggage when it comes to parenthood, his father, and dealing with responsibility.
I don’t know if Mickey is fully there. Hopefully, he would be one day in the future. And hopefully, Ian would be patient enough to give him the space to make that decision and to not want to rush into it. I do think that it would be something in their future. Parenthood was a huge motivating factor for Ian earlier in the series, going so far as to steal someone’s baby at some point because he wants to be a father. I would hope that they would be able to provide that for him and for themselves, but there’s no way to know, we have to sort of make that assumption for ourselves, but I think so.
Ian and Mickey have been this fan-favorite couple that means so much to the LGBTQ+ community in terms of representation. What was the moment that you personally started rooting for them?
I think it was pretty early. I was rooting for Ian from the first episode, from the pilot, but the second that Mickey gets introduced to the show, he brought such a fun dynamic with him. Obviously, a massive amount of charisma that was coming from Noel Fisher. The scenes were always fun, exciting, and felt steeped in a lot of dramatic tension. Whether or not they were destined to be together was kind of a question that still was developing. In the first season to the third season, the Mickey character is pretty rough emotionally and physically; he is at points pretty, extremely abusive in a way that is great for a character and for a story, but if I was talking to Ian as a person in real life, I would probably say, “Get the hell away from this guy. He’s awful for you.”
But within the context of the story, we’re able to get the internal life of these characters and we understand them well enough to really want to be rooting for them and see them succeed. It builds into this pretty epic love story of these characters that really do feel kind of intertwined by fate and something greater. It feels like you have these forces pulling for them in a way that you want with every fiber of your being to see it work out for them because you care for them. So obviously, Noel and I had been rooting for these characters the entire time, but it was really fun playing some of the ridiculousness of the situations of the two of them, where they were just very at odds with each other at times. It was a joy bouncing off of each other in both the highs and the lows of the character.
Is there sort of a message that you hope their love story gives to viewers that see themselves in these characters?
Well, I think the aspects of the characters, especially for Mickey, that I’m sure a lot of people relate to, and it is sort of the greatest tragedy of the character, is how he is deeply in the closet and he feels that he can’t embrace his own self and also this beautiful love because of this situation that he’s in; a traumatic home life, specifically an abusive father, and also an environment that doesn’t allow him to be what he wants to be. I guess the message that I do hope that people who are relating to that get is that there are places where you can be accepted and there are better options for you, and sometimes that takes time, but as cliched as it is, it does get better. So hopefully people are able to find these safe environments for themselves to be able to improve the quality of life and to get better situations. I hope that people find hope in the story ultimately.
Another relationship of Ian’s that I have to discuss is his relationship with the whole Gallagher family; that was a focus of the series since day one. What was your favorite part of their dynamic and playing off that?
Obviously, the chaos of the family is always really fun to play. We had these scenes that were kind of an amazing balancing act of like 8 or 9 people in a scene, all messing around with these different storylines that are bouncing off of each other, intertwining, and you have this really biting sharp satirical dialogue that all had a very specific rhythm to it and was a sort of flow that was established early in the show that was kind of kept across the entire series; one that was a genuine joy as a performer to play. But I think that specifically the relationship that I’ve always been a fan of and I love from the start, is probably — it’s definitely one of my favorite relationships on the show — was the relationship between Ian and Lip.
There’s not a lot of depictions of brotherhood and intimacy between men that are deeply sensitive, close, and uncomplicated. Those are definitely scenes that I felt very personally moved by, of two brothers who have just had a world of shit, a lot of complicated and messed up things that have been dropped on their heads that they’ve been dealing with for the entirety of their lives, but they’ve sort of made a pact that they were just gonna be there for each other no matter what. If they weren’t there for each other, who knows if they would have survived. I think that there’s something really amazing about those scenes in that they’re just very open with each other, and that’s something that’s established right from the start and was kind of one of those key relationships for the show that survived until the very last episode and that I’m very proud of, cause I do think that those are some of my personal favorite scenes of the show.
Here’s a fun three-part question: most challenging, fun, and insane storyline for you as an actor?
Most challenging would probably have to be… we reached a point in the series around season 8 and they were trying to contextualize the characters in a modern way, put them into new circumstances, but try to retain what the characters were, but they’ve moved a lot from where they originally were. We were at a point where we were getting so many new writers onto the series, and the show I feel struggled for a second, which happens with any series that’s been on for a while. It felt like there was a point where they didn’t know what they wanted to do with Ian. There were a couple of episodes where I was kind of looking at the story and being like, “What are we doing here? It doesn’t really feel like anything is happening with him and we’re kind of floating across these relationships.” I wasn’t sure what we were trying to say, but that being said, that is kind of true to life, to a certain degree, where we do find ourselves sometimes in these ruts where we don’t know what we’re doing with our relationships, our lives, and ourselves. There is a little bit of a struggle there and that is kind of real to a certain degree, and I do think having those episodes make when they started finding the way with the character and relationships again, kind of more satisfying cause he sort of loses his way and he comes back. So it was kind of a challenge, but I think it all worked out ultimately.
Craziest would have to be… so this is one that no one would even know is like a thing really, no one would even think of it as a thing, but the scene in the pilot episode, Lip and Ian jump out of like a window and they run out of a house to escape an angry parent, right? And they’re kind of running in a rush. So they run out in their socks, down the street, and it’s the middle of January in Chicago and the streets are covered in mud, water, and ice. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever felt in my life that I actually thought my feet were going to like fall off. I thought we were going to have to amputate a toe because of frostbite. We did the scene a bunch of times, and because Jeremy and I were young, we were just sort of trying to be tough, just like, “Yeah, whatever, it’s not a problem. We can do this over and over, not a big deal.” Then I definitely learned a lesson of like, when something is a problem, you have to say, it’s a problem.
Most fun… I don’t know if I can distill it to just one scene. I think the most fun was just getting to interact with all of the wildly different personalities of our show, and just kind of get to sit around and hang out with everyone. There were times that we would just be laughing so hard that one of us would start and we just end up crying, laughing. Usually, it was because of Howey cracking jokes or something like that, but it could be just the dumbest to smallest thing, but it’s the kind of thing when you become so comfortable with people, it just starts to happen. Sometimes it was just the downtime and these little small kind of boring or mundane moments that really ended up being some of my favorite experiences.
Did you take anything from the set at all?
I did. So in the final season, there’s a storyline where Frank steals Nighthawks, the Edward Hopper painting, and that was actually done in cooperation with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Edward Hopper estate. They did these really high-resolution prints of it that were then painted over by hand, and they even took pictures of the back and mimicked the way that the canvas wrapped over, the small writing, and everything. It’s a pretty damn good forgery of Nighthawks. So I stole one of those and that’s hanging up in my living room. I also stole one of the mugs cause in the show we’re always having breakfast and drinking coffee, so there are these rooster mugs and I stole one of those.
Since you’re talking to The Nerds of Color, I have to ask you about Star Wars and Gotham. What stood out to you about Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order compared to your other work, and what did it mean to you to join that iconic universe?
I mean, what stood out pretty quickly was that it had a tone all of its own. Star Wars is a very specific tone. It has sort of its own language, pacing, style, and rhythm; there’s something very specific about it, something that I’m a big fan of. I grew up watching the Star Wars movies and that was definitely… you know, anytime that you’re jumping onto something with an active and passionate fanbase it’s going to be slightly intimidating. There’s no way around that. Thankfully, I’ve at this point done enough projects with really passionate fanbases to kind of understand what that entails, which is that there’s going to be a lot of opinions. A lot of people are really excited about things and no matter what, even the smallest things, someone’s going to be very, very angry about it. That comes along with the territory, but that’s kind of fun to a certain degree; it’s fun to hear such minutiae and being examined, and these conversations are ones that are being had on set too.
There’s so much conversation between the Lucasfilm story group, Respawn, and EA, who are the production companies behind the game, and also the cast, directors, and everybody involved are sometimes discussing, “How does a person stand? How does one get onto a speeder bike? What kind of sound does this monster make?” And there’s always a genuine deference and respect to the series. We know how much people care about it. We know because we care about it a lot, and everyone on this project are huge fans of the source material. So that was exciting to be a part of, obviously; I mean, that should go without saying. It’s so freaking cool to be a Jedi and to be the face of this massive franchise, and to be able to not only be a part of a really well-known property and part of this large project but also to be able to tell an interesting and intimate story within it. For as bombastic as all of the action is, and as big as the Star Wars universe is, I feel the story of Cal Kestis and the people that he interacts with is a somewhat smaller one and a more intimate one. It’s ultimately, at least for me, a pretty emotionally resonant one and a story that I actually very much care about and relate to. I think that was probably the most exciting part about it, was being able to within the framework of this big machinery of what Star Wars is, still tell a story that might actually affect people and make them feel things, I think was just really cool.
Could you describe how it felt to take on the role of the Joker?
Exciting, intimidating, an honor, and challenging; it’s a role that I didn’t take lightly. I understood what it was, which is that a lot of the people who were seeing me in the role had never heard of me and didn’t know who I was, and it was a way to prove myself and to show off my take of what I could do with this. It was really cool too with that show that we were getting to do something that had never really been done before with the character, which is to show multiple versions and possibilities of what that character could be, and to kind of tip our hat to some of the famous stories that came before, and then kind of give a unique spin and show off some new things with it as well.
Obviously, that show was heightened to a certain degree and kind of existed in this wacky over-the-top violent, but also slightly cartoony universe that was kind of its own little thing. That was really fun to play around with it and to totally get to do something kind of different with that, something that we hadn’t seen before. But I think it was specifically really intimidating because, at that point of casting when I performed the episode in the first season of that show, no one had played the role since Heath Ledger had posthumously won the Oscar for the role. So the only people who had touched it in live-action had been Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, which are just massive, massive shoes to fill and two people that I deeply admired. Again, it’s just sort of a case of respect and wanting to kind of come in, just do my absolute best with the material, and to try to pay a certain level of honor to the people that came before.
Anything you can tease about what you’re going to do next? Any future projects?
Absolutely. It’s always difficult with this stuff because there’s only so much you can say. I can say that I just shot a film that hasn’t been announced yet, but I was out of town shooting it for a while. It’s the starring role in the film, and that will come out to theaters in the near future. I’m also working on another project over the course of the next year that I will be working on and off for. Again, thanks to the joys of NDAs, I can’t actually say what it is. I have a movie that I will be doing in June and then also I’m starting to move a bit behind the camera as well. So I’m working on producing and starring in a feature in August or September. And I’m writing a couple of projects right now as well. So it’s a loaded year for the next year, but it’s all very exciting that’s happening.