The 35-year-old actress looked back on her battle against wage disparity in a cover story for The Hollywood Reporter published on Wednesday, May 11. When asked about the sticky topic, Rossum joked, “I actually have to pee. I’m not avoiding the question. I just really have to go.”
After playfully dancing around the issue, Rossum dove into a candid conversation about her 2016 contract negotiation. “I certainly was never trying to make any kind of grand political statement,” she told the outlet. “I was only trying to do what felt right.”
The New York native starred as Fiona Gallagher, the eldest child of Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), for nine seasons of the acclaimed drama. Though her character was often front and center, she received a fraction of what Macy, 72, was paid. In late 2016, Rossum threatened to leave Shameless behind if she wasn’t offered more money than Macy.
“The idea of not continuing on Shameless was not one I ever wanted to entertain,” she told THR. “So when it all worked out, I was thrilled — thrilled my small victory was part of a much larger tide. But my story is not unique. It was just public. Wage disparity becomes even more pronounced when you factor in age, race, body size and orientation.”
When the Beautiful Creatures star’s contract standoff initially made headlines, Macy supported her efforts for equal pay. “To have the man counterpart on my show be like, ‘Yes, she does deserve this and more’ was so validating,” she previously told THR in June 2017. “And after it became public, it was a quick resolution.”
The Golden Globe nominee later gave fans a glimpse at what was going through her head, telling IndieWire in January 2018 that she “had to be willing to walk away to get what I felt was right.”
She explained at the time, “When you love your show and you love the people you work with, obviously you want to keep doing it. … We won, and so many people were empowered because of it. I stand with all the women who are fighting for pay equity and everything that they deserve — and that goes not just in our very little insular industry, that goes for government and doctors and nurses and teachers and farm workers.”
Despite her public battle for equal compensation, Rossum announced her exit from Shameless in 2018 and left the following year when season 9 concluded. The series came to an end in April 2021 after 11 seasons, and costar Emma Kenney later hinted that the set transformed after Rossum’s departure.
“I remember pre her leaving, I’d go to set some days and I’d be very anxious having a scene with her because if she had a bad day, she made it a bad day for everybody,” the 22-year-old recalled during an October 2021 appearance on the “Call Her Daddy” podcast, adding that “the set became more of a positive place” without the Mystic River actress.
Kenney, who played Debbie Gallagher, noted that it “was weird at first” to not film with her onscreen older sister. “We haven’t spoken in years,” she confessed. “But that’s OK. … I hope she finds her happiness. I heard she had a baby and that’s beautiful. I’m sure she’s going to be a lovely mother.”