Cameron Monaghan isn't your typical teen actor.
That's because the 17-year-old has the tricky responsibility of playing a gay high school student on Showtime's new Sunday-night series, "Shameless," the hourlong drama from producer John Wells about a working-class Chicago family led by an alcoholic patriarch played by Oscar nominee William H. Macy.
"There are a lot of gay teens out there watching for gay characters and looking for role models and people they can relate to, so I definitely think there's a responsibility there," Monaghan told TheWrap.
"I'm happy to represent the gay community, especially with such a strong, likable, relatable character like Ian, who really is the anti-stereotype. He goes against the [common perception] of a gay teenager in just about every way, in that he's tough and strong, not flamboyant, and he's involved in the military with ROTC training. It's definitely cool playing a part like that."
The "Shameless" pilot, which airs at 10 p.m., finds Ian's older brother Lip (Jeremy Allen White) discovering the truth about Ian's sexuality. But just because Lip knows Ian's secret doesn't mean the character will necessarily live an "out" lifestyle.
"I think it'd be tough for him to be out in the neighborhood that he's in," said Monaghan. "Not only is it a very rough part of Chicago, but he's also hesitant because of how the family might treat him differently, or possibly feel like their trust has been broken because he's been keeping a secret for so long. I can't give too much away, but I definitely think coming out to anybody would be a huge event for him."
When asked about the It Gets Better campaign, Monaghan offered some words of advice to teens struggling with their sexuality. "Ian is one of those tough, strong guys who will tell u, 'accept yourself and don't take crap from anybody.' There's a scene with his brother where Ian very passionately tells him, 'This is my choice. The guy I'm with isn't putting pressure on me. In fact, it's quite the opposite. I'm buying just as much stuff for him and this is my choice and who I am and you have to accept that."
Monaghan acknowledges that tolerance still isn't widespread. "All the campaigns for acceptance of gays are continuing this paradigm shift in how we think, but there's certainly still a stigma. Hollywood is one of the most accepting places of homosexuals and yet, it's still tough for a lot of people to come out. They don't want to be stereotyped and they don't want to be treated differently or viewed in a different light."
Monaghan said he was attracted to the project because "the script was unlike anything i'd ever read, certainly in how raw and edgy it was, but also because the characters had so much depth and the stories were just really relatable."
It couldn't have hurt that one strongest aspects of "Shameless" (as noted by several reviews, including TheWrap's), is the relationship between Ian and Lip, which is sparked by the chemistry shared between Monaghan and White.
"The relationship between Ian and Lip is very important because they're so close in age and such a tight unit," he said. "They grew up supporting each other and have always been there for one another, and I think that was very important to the writers, directors and producers when they cast us, because they actually had me reading with Jeremy during the casting process to make sure the chemistry was there. The truth is, everyone in this cast is really close. We've definitely become really good friends, like a family."
Monaghan compares the Gallagher clan to two other TV families. "'The United States of Tara' is a similar show in some ways, as it also shows a family really raw and without a lot of padding. Going further back, 'Malcolm in the Middle' is another great example of a family that's somewhat dysfunctional but they still get along and are a very strong unit like the Gallaghers.
As far as his real family is concerned, Monaghan credits his mother with getting him involved in local theater at a very young age. After doing some commercials in south Florida, he booked a lead in Disney's "The Music Man." He eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream, and has been represented by the same agency (CESD) for the last four years, with manager Michael Hepburn joining the team last year.
While Monaghan must've enoyed working with Sandler at such a young age, the "Shameless" star writes on his Twitter page, that he's influenced by co-star Macy, as well as other great character actors such as Gary Oldman and Ben Kingsley. "I really admire when an actor can completely deny himself and just throw himself into a role and the shoes of another person. I call them 'chameleons,' people like Oldman and Kingsley, who can do such wildly different characters."
Monaghan may consider himself a chamelon soon, as he plays a very different role in Disney's upcoming high school dramedy "Prom." "I play Corey, who's very high energy and a lot of fun. He's somewhat of the nerd in the movie, and he's a sophomore, which means he can't go to prom. He wants to be part of the cool, popular crowd but he's completely on the outside and probably a little jealous of them."
Joe Nussbaum directs "Prom," and Monaghan credits the filmmaker with creating a loose atmosphere on set. "He's one of those guys who is completely approachable, because his style is to treat the actors like peers. He's completely open to having a dialogue when discussing a character or whats going on in a scene, and I really appreciate that."
There have been conflicting reports about the tone of "Prom," but Monaghan is willing to set the record straight. "It's definitely more John Hughes than 'High School Musical.' In fact, there are no musical numbers. It just deals with a lot of the drama and stresses that actually go on in high school, including the pressure of finding a prom date."
Being home-schooled, Monaghan hasn't had the chance to attend an actual prom himself. "That'd be interesting though, dancing around in my living room holding the cat or something," he jokes.