When Emma Kenney turned 18 last year on Sept. 14, she got a sweet surprise. “I found out I booked [“Roseanne”] on my birthday,” she says. “And it’s been an amazing experience.”
On the sitcom reboot, which premieres March 27 on ABC, Kenney plays Harris, the daughter of Sara Gilbert’s Darlene and Johnny Galecki’s David. In the show, Darlene and her kids have just moved back to fictional Lanford, Illinois, from Chicago, a city Kenney is well acquainted with, both on screen and off.
“I know Chicago like the back of my hand,” says the actress, a New York native who has starred in the South Side-set “Shameless” since she was 10 years old. “We’ve been shooting there for almost 10 years … and it’s a walking city. I know it better than I know LA, and I live in LA.” While filming here for several weeks each season, the “Shameless” cast members spend time on Michigan Avenue and frequently dine out in River North, but it’s the South Side — in particular, the 2100 block of S. Homan Ave. — that Kenney feels most tied to. That’s where the real house that acts as the fictional Gallagher family home stands.
“I know all the neighbors who live on the street,” Kenney says. “The sweetest little boy named DJ, he’s 11 now, lives in the Gallagher house in real life, and we have seen this kid grow up. I have a really special connection with him. I let him sit in my director’s chair and get him monitors and headphones so he can watch filming. He thinks that’s so cool.” This past Christmas, Kenney bought him a Canon VIXIA — a video camera just like the first one she had as a kid — and a clapperboard so he could start making films of his own.
Kenney’s loyalty is — astrologically speaking — inherent. “I’m such a Virgo,” she says. “I’m so [aligned with] my birth chart.” But while her traits match up to the astrological maiden, the same can’t be said for the characters she plays. “I always choose a sign for my characters; I even do it for auditions,” Kenney says, laughing: “I had an audition the other day and the director was like, ‘I love your energy,’ and I [said], ‘Oh, thanks, I’m playing her as a Leo.’ ”
She’s even suggested the tactic to her friends — a close-knit cross section of young Hollywood that includes her “Shameless” co-star Ethan Cutkosky and actress Brielle Barbusca. “If they can’t figure out how they want to play a character for an audition or a new project, [I tell them] — even if you don’t know anything about astrology — just pick a sign. Say it’s a Pisces: Google what Pisces traits are and you automatically have [a list of character traits]. Maybe a Pisces slouches or maybe a Pisces lies. … You have all these things you can add to your character head bank.”
For the record, Kenney plays Debbie in “Shameless” as an Aquarius-Capricorn cusp (independent but loyal, full of internal turmoil) and “Roseanne’s” Harris as a Gemini (curious, indecisive). Her character Briana in the upcoming “Braveheart” spinoff “Robert the Bruce” — Kenney’s first feature film role — is a Scorpio (faithful, focused).
Another astrological attribute evident in Kenney: her Virgo-like love for animals. She doesn’t eat meat — though severe anemia prevents her from being a full vegan — and is involved with organizations like Mercy For Animals. Last year, she won a PETA Libby Award under the category “Brightest Star for Animals” and adopted her German shepherd-terrier mix, Charlie (who is a Scorpio, by the way).
Luckily, hard work also comes naturally. “Growing up in this industry is a very different kind of childhood experience,” Kenney says. “You’re 10 years old and you have a job you have to carry with a lot of responsibility. You have to be around adults constantly on set; you have to learn so much and be on your A game. But I didn’t take it as a negative. I’m a workaholic and I have been since I was born.”
So it’s no surprise that Kenney plans to keep working for a very long time.“If I’m not acting, I’ll be writing and directing. I’m still going to be in the industry [all my life], for sure. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been truly passionate about. That and animal rights.” She takes a dramatic pause. “And ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.’ ”
Photographer: Christopher Patey
Hair: Gui Schoedler
Makeup: Erik Torppe
Styling: Michael St. Michael
Shot on location at: Cherry Soda Studios, Los Angeles; Cherrysodastudios.com
Jacket (and cover jacket): Kenneth Barlis; Kennethbarlis.com
Bodysuit and pants: R.Michel’le the label by Rachel Broussard; Shoprmichelle.com
Shoes: Japanese brand Limit Till 2359