For many performers playing the Metropolitan Opera alongside Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti would be a career crowning achievement. To Emmy (that’s short for Emmanuelle) Rossum it was just another day at work. She made $5 a night singing with the children’s choir. “There was a horse on stage in a Zeffirelli production that got one hundred and fifty a night,” she laughs, before adding that the experience taught her to never take a job for the money. “You really realize you’re there because you love it,” she says.
Rossum, the New York City raised star of Shameless (which airs on TMN and Movie Central this month), left the opera at age twelve, frustrated that solos were only handed out to the boys. She took with her a work ethic: Be prepared, be on time. It’s a privilege to perform for a living. “Those are the ideas I’ve taken to every set with me.”
Her early resume looks like a lot of New York City based actor’s. A stint on As the World Turns here. A guest shot on Law & Order there. But it was a role as gap-toothed Appalachian orphan in the film Songcatcher that made people stand up and notice her. The movie showcased the preteen’s acting ability—she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance—and gave her the chance to show off her singing skills, performing five tunes on the soundtrack, including a song with one of her idols.
“Having a chance to record with Dolly Parton was something I’ll never forget,” she says of When Love Is New, a country duet that appears on the soundtrack.
The low budget film—just 2 million dollars total—led to more work, including playing title character from ages 12 to 16 in the television movie The Audrey Hepburn Story and the small, but crucial part of Katie Markum, Sean Penn’s daughter murdered daughter, in her first major studio film, Mystic River.
“When I arrived on the set the first day, [director Clint Eastwood] was incredibly warm,” she says. “But before the day ended, he was yelling at me for calling him Mister Eastwood. He’s a very quiet man who doesn’t say much, but you better listen, because, if he says something, it’ll be damned important.”
Working with Eastwood was exciting, but every career has a moment, a crack in time when an actor goes from unknown to known and for Emmy it was yet to come. Her career had been a slow build, from small roles in big films (Mystic River) and big roles in small films (like the urban fairy tale-romantic comedy Nola), that lead to 2004, her breakout year.
First the 18 year old spent six months shooting the wild end-of-the-world epic The Day After Tomorrow. With a budget of $85,807,341 the global warming disaster movie probably cost more than all of Emmy’s previous films combined, but it gave the young actress a showcase for one of her pet causes. “One of the reasons I’m glad I did The Day After Tomorrow is because it opened a dialogue about the effects of global warming,” she says, despite the movie being listed by Yahoo! Movies listed the film as one of the Top 10 Scientifically Inaccurate Movies of all time.
The second part of her 2004 breakout took her back to her stage roots. Fresh from Day After Tomorrow’s grueling shoot she auditioned for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber who hired her to play Christine in the film version of The Phantom of the Opera. “Actually I didn’t think I would get it just because it was too big. They don’t normally give Hollywood ninety-million dollar budgeted musicals to un-famous sixteen-year- olds.”
Amazingly she had never seen the stage show before taking the role, but she put an indelible stamp on the character, but it wasn’t easy. “I was wearing corsets the entire six months which were insanely uncomfortable and prohibited me eating any solid food all day long besides ice cream which would melt and actually pass my esophagus. It had enough sugar to actually sustain me and give me enough energy.”
Since then she has worked steadily. Her CD Inside Out was a mixture of pop-rock electronica, new age and classical. She’s lent her name to causes like breast cancer awareness and Global Green USA and of course, has stared in high profile films like Poseidon and the wild action flick Dragonball Evolution.
But despite all her achievements she hasn’t let Hollywood go to her head. “I would say a big accomplishment is that I’ve stayed true to who I am and not let fame affect me.”