'Shameless' star Jess Gabor talks about her character Kelly Keefe, learning on the sets and her stints behind the camera

Gabor is playing Kelly, a really tough girl - quite the opposite of Kassidi, Carl's absentee ex. Who even knew Carl was capable of wooing such a woman!

                            'Shameless' star Jess Gabor talks about her character Kelly Keefe, learning on the sets and her stints behind the camera

Showtime's hit dramedy 'Shameless' has been full of surprises in its ongoing season 9. And out of the most surprising plot-arcs we have been treated to this year, Carl Gallagher's (Ethan Cutkosky) has been the most epic. Easily because who even knew Carl had a soul somewhere deep within that hardcore hug self of his? Move that aside, who even knew Carl was capable of wooing women on the go, easy enough for them to do crazily rebellious stuff for our teenage stud? No to digress from the women mad about Carl, but that whole rescue dogs subplot was insanely adorable. But this is about the women in Carl's life - and the most interesting one stealing all the limelight in that category is one particular Kelly Keefe - who would just about go to any rebellious extent to act out against her own father - and of course, the love of her life, Carl. 

Kelly is being played by the amazingly talented theatre enthusiast, Jess Gabor, who incidentally enough, shares many a virtue with the strong female character. Kelly happens to be a really tough girl - quite the opposite of Kassidi, Carl's absentee ex. When we say tough girl, we mean daughter of an Army officer and also West Point alumnus, who is set to take over Carl's life. When not acting, she also dabbles in producing and directing, and of course, participating in several, different student films. We had a chance to speak with the young talent about her beliefs, similarities, and differences when it comes to her 'Shameless' character, Kelly, among other things. Here are some excerpts of Jess' conversation with Meaww.

Tell us a little bit about your upcoming character on Shameless. Are you a fan of the show?
I was a huge fan of the show before joining the cast. It was my unhealthy Netflix binge in college. My character, Kelly Keefe, is a girl looking to expand her very conservative lifestyle. She falls for Carl Gallagher which fills an adventurous hole in her that she never knew she had. 

Jess Gabor as Kelly Keefe on Shameless Season 9.
Jess Gabor as Kelly Keefe on Shameless Season 9.

How did the role happen? Could you take us through your audition process?

Funny story actually! During my last semester at Loyola Marymount University, I performed in a play called 'Our Country's Good'. Phillip Buiser (now writer and producer on 'Shameless') came to see the show because his husband, Marc Valera, was directing it. Fast forward eight months and Phil emailed me with a possible audition for Kelly. And the rest is history!

How has working on Shameless been so far? You take up a role that commands over Carl Gallagher, the eternal badass, what was it like bossing his character around?

The experience is dream come true! I remember thinking to myself when I graduated last December, "Jess if you do not work for a couple years you will be fine. Just be patient". I never would have imagined that within a couple months, I would be getting to wake up and work on WB lot each day. Bossing the 'Carl Gallagher' around has been a wild ride. Ethan and I are probably not the most . . . athletic people but with the help of our stunt coordinator and stunt doubles, doing the fight sequences adds a whole new layer to our characters. The stakes are higher and I think that adds to the comedy of the show. 

How similar or different would you call yourself from Kelly? Is there anything in particular that helped you relate to the character?

Kelly has been so stuck in what her dad wants for her that I don't think she ever realized what she wanted for herself. Throughout the season, you will see Kelly struggle with her self-identity without her dad's demanding watch. I think my goal for her in this season, and hopefully next is that she figures out what she would want to do with her life if the Navy was not an option. All the while enjoying the first boy she ever loved. Similarly, Kelly is a very determined character. She may not know fully who she is and what she wants, but she will work her ass off once she figures it out. Unlike Kelly, I know exactly what I want to do. I have always wanted to be an actor and I think that propels me into the same determination and will that Kelly has. 

How did acting happen? 

I am the youngest of three girls. My older sisters would always be doing their own thing, so I literally played with Barbies and Polly Pockets until I was in eighth grade! I knew that I had to choose a career that would fulfill that creative piece of my mind. And acting hit the spot! On set, I always felt like a barbie doll in my own made up world. 

Jess in a scene from Shameless.
Jess in a scene from Shameless.

Having been a student of theater - how different do you consider it from acting for the screen? 

Theater is different because it satisfies a different part of me. You get to be a character for two hours and what the audience sees during that two hours is so authentic and truthful to that moment. You can only watch that specific performance once and then poof! It's gone. TV acting, in my opinion, adds a lot of pressure because it will last forever . . . so  I fear that I am going to screw it up. I want to make sure to deliver a consistent character that the audience will connect with in some way. Working on multiple episodes of 'Shameless',  I get the privilege of watching my phenomenal co-stars and I think that, in turn, is helping me grow a lot as an actor. What better acting class is there than getting acting tips from William H. Macey! Ha!

Having acted in several student films, and now TV too - what is the biggest difference between the two as an actor?

So...many...student films! Biggest difference I would say in TV and student films is the size of the crew. Student films are great because you learn the basic in and outs of the set with no pressure. I remember my first experience on a real set was 'Criminal Minds'. The crew size was like 70 people, and when they called action, everyone was looking at me and waiting on me. I froze and completely forgot all my lines. Talk about nerves!

The Twin and Hot Seat seem such different movies, what is your personal favorite when it comes to picking a genre of film?

Personally, I am a drama girl! Comedy scares the crap out of me. But you are supposed to do something that scares you every day, and working on black comedies (i.e. Hot Seat and Shameless) definitely fills that fear void.


Jess Gabor
Jess Gabor

Are there any challenges you've had to face in the industry so far? As a woman in the industry in such socially 'woke' times, do you still feel you're greeted with bias and/or discrimination based on your sex?

It has been interesting because I only started working as an actress when the "Me Too" movement was just starting. The weekend 'Hot Seat' premiered at Sundance was the first Woman's March. I am lucky because I get to experience the beautiful change in the industry. The crews are a lot more attentive during sensitive material scenes and everyone on set is very respectful. I look up to the women that took a stand because it allows young actresses, like me, to work in Hollywood without feeling like we have to give up our values to do it. 

You've also just created and starred in your very own film what was that experience like?

Yes! I just produced, wrote, and starred in my short, 'Her Story'. It was incredible! I have a few friends battling with addiction and there was something longing in me to create a project that speaks to those who do not know a lot about addiction or the opioid crisis. Film, TV, and Theater are hopefully supposed to challenge beliefs and make audiences feel uncomfortable. That was my whole goal in creating 'Her Story'. 

Any upcoming projects other than Shameless, that you're excited/thrilled about?

Some good friends and I created a theater company called 'Such a Death'. We are planning to do performances of '4:48 Psychosis' by Sarah Krane and 'Angels in America' by Tony Kushner this coming year. Also, a movie I recently shot called 'Confessional' will be coming to you in 2019!