More over Kurt Hummel, Marshall Gregson and Justin Suarez, there’s a new gay teen in town named Ian Gallagher and he’s not like anyone who has come before.
Or maybe that should be move over Chris Colfer, Keir Gilchrist and Marc Indelicato, there’s a new teen actor in town named Cameron Monaghan and his role on Showtime’s remake of the UK drama Shameless is set to put him on the map.
AfterElton.com had the chance to talk with Monaghan for his first interview with the gay press and the 17-year-old actor chatted about playing a gay teen who is very different from Kurt, Moosh or Justin. He also opened up about starring in such a racy role, how the role has already changed him and much more.
(Photo credit: Nathaniel Taylor Photography)
AfterElton: Tell us about Ian Gallagher.
Cameron Monaghan: Ian is the middle child of a struggling family in Chicago. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s the only one with a steady job in the family, so he’s kind of taking care of everyone else. He’s gay and he’s having an affair with the Muslim married man who owns the shop that he works at.
AE: So he’s your typical television teenager.
CM: [laughs] Yeah, pretty much.
AE: How much did you know about the original show and the character of Ian before you got the part?
CM: I didn’t know very much about it. I’d never actually heard of the British version when I auditioned or when I got it. I read the script and I was really intrigued by the character because he’s so complex. He’s going through so much inner struggle. After I filmed the pilot, I went back and I watched the first season of the British series, and when I saw what goes on later for the character and all the things he goes through and all the drama, I was extremely excited. It’s a fantastic character to play.
AE: Were you a little shocked as well as excited? I mean, this isn’t typical American fare. This is definitely more European in its sensibilities. Did that surprise you at all?
CM: When I first got the sides, it was definitely unlike anything I’d ever read before. It was very, very edgy, you know, and I wasn’t sure what the tone of it was going to be, if this was something that’s just trying to go for shock value. Then as I read more and more of it and I saw different layers in the scenes, I realized that what they’re going for is to tell the absolute truth, to tell these characters’ stories in its most raw form and to not hold anything back no matter who gets offended. I can really appreciate that.
AE: I think what makes the show work- and this goes for the original as well- it’s really raw and there’s shocking stuff, but they’re also very human characters. They don’t shock for the sake of shock. It just seems like this is who they really are.
CM: Exactly, yeah. It’s really important for characters to have their flaws as well as their strengths. It makes them very relatable and very human, and I think the show does a really good job with that.
AE: You sound like you’re quite a mature young man. You’re 17, right?
CM: I am, yeah.
AE: You sound like you’re quite mature, but I’m curious nonetheless: what did your parents think about this part, and did you have to talk them into it, or were they simply like, oh, this is a great role, go for it?
CM: My mom also understood how complex this role is and how much depth it has. She’s the one who’s really involved in my career. I talked it over with her and she definitely agreed that sure, there’s some edgy content and some risque stuff, but I’ve grown up watching, you know, more adult movies and stuff like that because that’s where all the great acting and great stories are. Stuff that doesn’t treat its audience like kids. I just thought it was a fantastic role.
AE: With Ian, you’re joining what I think is a very interesting list of gay teen characters on television, like Kurt on Glee and Marshall on United States of Tara. I’m curious if you’re aware of how many gay teen characters there are, and how Ian’s going to fit into that and what that’s going to mean for your career.
CM: Well first of all, I don’t like to consider Ian a gay character so much as a character who happens to be gay. I say that because I don’t think it’s a defining trait for him. I think it’s certainly a very, very important part of him, but I think that would be almost insulting to say that’s his only character trait, you know?
He’s a really, really fleshed out person, and sure, being gay is important to him, but it’s not the only thing. That being said, I’m very happy to be playing a role of a person who is gay and representing the gay community with a character who’s as realistic and relatable as someone like Ian.
AE: I’m just using that in terms of our site…I agree, you don’t want to be defined by…
CM: No no no, of course. I think what’s really funny about Ian is he’s pretty much the opposite of every stereotype you can think of a gay person. He’s tough, he’s strong, he’s involved in the military ROTC training, and I think he’s really against type. That’s really awesome. You never get to see that in movies and in television.
AE: In the first episode we see that scene where Lip finds out Ian is gay, or at least finds out he’s interested in guys, and arranges for him to hook up with that girl, and Ian goes along with it. That left me wondering: is Ian still sort of figuring his sexuality out? Or does he just not want to disappoint Lip? What’s going on in his mind in that scene?
CM: I think for any teenager, gay or not, sexuality is a really confusing topic. It’s something that most teenagers are trying to figure out. I don’t think he’s got it all figured out yet. I think he’s still trying to figure out exactly what he wants and understanding what it means to be gay for him.
AE: Talk about Ian’s relationship with Lip…because it doesn’t seem like your standard younger brother/older brother relationship in that they really quite care about each other. They tell each other everything and when Lip confronts him, Ian’s very aggressive and very assertive. I know in the original, Lip has a hard time accepting that Ian’s gay.
CM: Lip and Ian are very, very close in age. They’re only a year apart, and they’ve grown up kind of taking care of each other, watching each other’s backs and being there for each other. I think that Lip feels his trust is kind of broken when he finds out that Ian is gay – you know, “Why didn’t you ever tell me about something as big as this?”
Also, when you think you know a person for a really long time and you find out something that completely goes against that…I think he’s just uncomfortable with it at first, and he has a hard time accepting it. But I think it’s something that eventually brings them closer over time as well. They both kind of share this secret together.
AE: I know that Paul Abbott, who created the original, is involved with this. Did he talk with you at all about playing Ian? If he did, what sort of direction or advice did he give you?
CM: Actually all of us discussed with Paul. He wanted to make sure that we did different things with our characters from the original version. He wanted to make sure that we all developed something different and we were eventually going to diverge from the story and go different ways with how our characters develop. So that’s what we talked about a little bit. I think this Ian might be a little tougher. He might be a little bit more brave, a little more headstrong, to confront other people or to protect people he really cares about.
AE: I’m going to guess that growing up in South Florida and wanting to be an actor, that your upbringing and personality have to be pretty different from Ian’s. But what, if anything, do you find in common with him that you draw on as an actor?
CM: That’s a really interesting question. What I really admire about him is how caring he is, and how important the family unit is for him. How he’s willing to sacrifice part of his life to take care of the people around him, his brothers and sisters – to work for them and always to protect them no matter what. I guess family does matter to me. My mom and I are very close. So I guess we have that in common.
AE: Has the part changed you in any way? Playing a character who’s as outspoken and confident as him…has that made you a bit more outspoken and confident, or do you find yourself drinking and smoking more than you used to and getting into fights? [laugh] Has the part changed you at all?
CM: [laughs] Not so much the second part. But just working on the show and being around such big personalities and people who are so open, I’ve definitely become more open. I think it’s been good for me. What’s made me more outgoing is being around so many people who are truly so fun to be around.
AE: Do you think if Ian met Kurt from Glee that they’d have anything in common? Anything to talk about at all?
CM: I think they’re leading pretty different lives. Kurt being much more open about his sexuality than Ian, while Ian is trying to hide it because he’s in a neighborhood that’s completely unaccepting of something like that. But I think they’d definitely be able to talk about some of the struggles they’ve had, and they’d relate certainly on some level.
Shameless airs Sunday nights on Showtime.