INTERVIEW: The Inspiring Evolution of Cameron Monaghan. From ‘Gotham,’ ‘Shameless,’ Mental Health, + Self-Love to What’s Next
Cameron Monaghan has been acting since he was six, but his big break was playing Winthrop Paroo in The Music Man, a remake of the 1962 movie. Ron Howard played Winthrop in the original film. Monaghan went on to play Chad in Malcolm in the Middle, which opened up doors that allowed Cameron and his mom to move back to California. Recently viewers saw Cameron play two pivotal roles. One was as Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska (Joker) on the Fox hit show, Gotham, which was all about Detective James Gordon’s rise in Gotham City before Batman’s arrival, and also as Ian Gallagher on the Showtime dramedy, Shameless, which was on T.V. for an impressive 11 seasons over a ten-year span. Cameron is a full circle artist and you can see his passion in his work, making him a living legend. Glitter sat down with him to talk about his acting origins, his roles on both of the hit series Gotham and Shameless, his favorite Shameless moments, what might be ‘missing’ from the set, his definition of self-love, the importance of understanding mental health, and what he’s up to next. Cameron is a chameleon, constantly evolving, and we cannot wait to see how his upcoming projects unfold.
GLITTER: Can you tell us where you grew up and when and how you started your acting career?
CAMERON: I was born in Santa Monica, moved to South Florida as a baby. I was there for about 11 years, and I started doing local community theater and musical theater there first. Very young, I was like six years old. I got involved in commercial auditions and like modeling and that kind of stuff. And I was very lucky to get my first role in a film when I was eight years old. We had put it on tape, and they had searched nationwide, and I was lucky enough to be chosen to be that kid. So that was in a movie called The Music Man, which was like a musical remake. And I started auditioning for movies and television from Florida. But it wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 years old that I started working on a show called Malcolm in the Middle, where I got a recurring part on that. That gave my mom and me the confidence to move back to Los Angeles and allowed me to become a full-time resident and actor there. From that point, I’d been living in Los Angeles for like 17 years now, I think, which has absolutely flown by. I really do consider L.A. to be my home as much as Florida is fun to visit. I’m from Cali.
GLITTER: We loved you in Gotham, where viewers saw you play twins Jerome and Jeremiah as the most convincing super villains. How are you able to get into their mindset so flawlessly?
CAMERON: I think that you have to, with any character, understand the motivations and the desires of the people that you’re trying to portray. Generally, people do things because they want something or enjoy something, or don’t like something. There’s always a part of you that is being stimulated by something and is probably trying to actively change it in some way. So to access the behaviors of the character, I think your best way is just to understand what it is that they’re trying to do or want. When you start to do that with characters that tend to be really outlandish, like a character like Jerome or Jeremiah, then you have to kind of piece together that their desires might be abnormal or different from what a lot of people’s are. But that doesn’t mean that to them that they’re any less valid. I think that with accessing any character, you can’t approach it with any sort of judgment or presumption about them. At the end of the day, those two people ended up doing horrible, awful things and were definitely the kinds of people that I would never, ever, ever want to be in the same room with. But also, they aren’t judging themselves. So if you have that judgment in your performance, it’s going to show. You have to definitely save those sorts of judgments for after you’re done with it. And then you look back, and you’re like, oh, that guy was terrible and move on.
GLITTER: You mentioned previously that musicians and their stage presence inspire your larger-than-life roles. Can you tell us more about that process?
CAMERON: I think that music is probably the most immediately accessible art form. Maybe only challenged by something like a painting in that you can hear 15 seconds of a song or perhaps even less. You might even just hear the first couple chords of a song and be left with a certain impression or emotion or a feeling in the same way that I think that when you look at a piece of art or painting, you can just look at it and immediately have some sort of understanding of what it is that the person was trying to say. I think it’s nice as an actor to look at other forms of art because they have a certain level of removal from your own. Like it sometimes can be challenging. Sometimes it’s inspiring as an actor to look at other actors’ performances. But I think there could be a little bit of a trap in that where it goes from inspiration to emulation. You really don’t want to get caught in that, obviously. So for me, musicians have something that at the end of the day. They’re giving these little glimpses and bits and glyphs of their life and their experiences and what it is that they dislike or like or their joy, their sadness or love, whatever. To be able to access that and look at it for just this three-minute-long bit and be able to kind of continuous process that and have that be changed sometimes so that changes in your mind when you listen to it longer, I think that’s really amazing and really a useful tool for an actor.
GLITTER: Your character, Ian on Shameless has been evolving since day one, and we loved every single moment of it. What’s been your favorite part of playing him over the years?
CAMERON: I think it has to be his relationships with his other characters that really are the most rewarding and how those relationships have shifted over the years, and how the changes in those relationships have been continued to inform and change him. All of these characters have grown up and evolved so much over the course of the show. I think it’s really amazing to see this time capsule of all of these different people and also a place and time. We captured a decade, a decade that will only become kind of more historically interesting, I think, as the years go by. And to watch as these characters are shifted by their surroundings, I think, is really amazing. But I particularly love Ian’s relationships with his siblings. I think they’re so important and fundamental to the character. In a way, we all gained like a surrogate family by being on the show. We continue to get closer over the years. I think that is so rewarding as we continue to get closer as people and grow as people. For that to be reflected in the material, I think it is just really cool.
GLITTER: What’s a favorite memory that will always make you smile?
CAMERON: Gosh. There was a huge snowstorm. I think it was our second trip to Chicago, the first season, some massive snowstorm, and we all got snowed in, and none of us could work, and none of us could really go anywhere until at least the street started getting plowed. So we were kind of stuck inside for a day or two, and everyone would just sort of hang out, and everyone was so surprising and strange and had these forces of personality that bounced off of each other and really interesting ways. We all ran outside in the snowstorm, and we had snowball fights, snow angels and did all of the stereotypical things that tourists do in a snowstorm. It was just great. It was such a special time. I mean, it’s the first time I really had experienced a huge amount of snow and also the first time I’d really experienced such strong personalities. Both of those things were just like a little bit of a…It was a magical moment.
GLITTER: Mental health has been the center of many of your roles, from Gotham to Shameless. What do you enjoy about bringing attention to that specific topic?
CAMERON: Well, I think that mental health is just an important part of existence and should be an important part of all of our lives. We should all be aware that it’s not just a linear thing of “you’re healthy” or “you’re unhealthy,” and that’s it. Life takes a certain amount of self-care and communication. It requires supporting other people and hopefully having people support you, checking in with people, and bringing awareness to the fact that people are going through different things. Sometimes it’s circumstantial of things that are going on in life. Sometimes it’s physiological or chemical, and sometimes people are just experiencing certain issues or disorders or just things that are different. It can be difficult sometimes with something like “mental illness.” Everyone is abnormal in some ways and different in some ways. We all think differently and process things differently, and that in many ways is the joys of being human. It’s only when it starts to become destructive or disruptive in our lives that we have to recognize that, or sometimes we have to help other people through it. I think that it’s always important to bring a lens to it, and that’s something that I would like to continue doing in the future. There are examples of when it’s sillier and more over the top in something like Gotham or when it’s played more straight in a project like Shameless. I think that I have some things in the future, too, that will hopefully continue to lend a light to it.
GLITTER: If you had to describe the final season with one Shameless quote, what would it be?
CAMERON: I do love Frank’s monologue from the first season. I think it’s part of the pilot episode that kind of got reflected in the finale as well, where he says, “This is our city. It might not be the Garden of Eden, but it’s what we have.” I do think that there is something about this show and season two of just like we make ends meet no matter what we’re going through, and we’re just all kind of in this together, so we might as well try to bring each other through it.
GLITTER: Is there something from the show that you would want to keep? If so, why and what is it?
CAMERON: I did steal a couple of things from set. We have these mugs that we always use in all of these breakfast scenes. There’s one in every episode, and becomes kind of like an iconic center point for all of the characters circling through it, essentially. And usually, we’re doing it over eggs and coffee almost always. So we have these different mugs, and one of them has a rooster on it, and I stole the rooster mug and brought it home with me. So that was one. The other was in the last season. We have a reproduction of the painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, and it was done in approval with the Edward Hopper estate and the Art Institute of Chicago. So it’s actually a one-to-one recreation of it, down to even the back of it is exactly like how it is in real life. So they made a couple of them, and I managed to get my hands on one of them, and now it’s hanging in my living room.
GLITTER: Can you tell us anything about your upcoming thrillers between the White Devil and Deliberation? What are they about, and who do you play?
CAMERON: Those have been in pre-production for a while, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure where they’re at, so I don’t want to speak on them too much. I am actually in the process of filming a thriller at the moment. I can’t say too much about it right now because I’m under an NDA. But it is for a couple of major studios, and we have a really great cast, and I’m the starring role in it. It’s extremely, extremely intense, is what I’ll say about it. It’s probably the most intense and physical role I’ve ever played, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. So I can’t wait for people to learn about what it is.
GLITTER: Well, congratulations on that. We also know you are currently filming My Love Affair with Marriage, where you play Sergei. Can you tell us more about it and the role?
CAMERON: Yeah. So that is a project by an Eastern European filmmaker who makes these really amazing and surprising animations. She does them all completely by herself. She does them over the course of a few years. So they take a bit of time for them to come out. But they have so much of her voice and authenticity, and they’re really just about her life and her experiences with relationships, specifically abusive relationships. They’re told through this lens… and slightly surreal and can be very strange, and they just have their own tone to it. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever really seen before. So I was brought into the project by this actor, Matthew Modine, and we have a really good cast. Actually, my Shameless costar, Emma Kenney, also lends a voice in the movie, but I’m looking forward to that one. I think it’s getting close to being completed, so I can’t wait for people to see it often.
GLITTER: Do you have any other projects not officially announced yet that you can tell us about?
CAMERON: I mean, I’m under NDA for the couple of things that I am definitely signed on to. I can say that I will be working pretty much non-stop for the next year on at least two projects. It’s looking like it might actually be three or four, which is very exciting. It’s going to be a busy year. I’m also writing at the moment, so I’ve been writing a limited series. So far, I have two episodes done with that, and I’d like to get the third one done as soon as I’m done filming what I’m currently working on at the moment. But hopefully, I’ll be able to continue writing more and start getting into the process of creating things and being a part of other people’s vision. So it’s a very exciting time right now. It’s sort of the transitional phase off of Shameless, and everyone is going off and doing really, really cool things. I’m really excited for everyone involved and also excited for what’s coming up on my horizon as well.
GLITTER: Is there anyone that you would love to collaborate with within the industry?
CAMERON: Oh, yeah. I mean, there are so many people. Cate Blanchett, I always wanted to do something with her because she’s just awesome. LaKeith Stanfield, I think, is one of the most interesting guys. He’s always surprising in every project. I think he would be a fun energy to be in a scene with. There’s a lot of really great filmmakers right now. There are studios that are always making really interesting stuff. A24 generally makes strange, surprising, and awesome movies. I would love to do something with them at some point. I mean, honestly, I would just love to work with people who have a strong voice and a vision and who make stuff that surprises me in some way. That it’s uncommon from what my own approach to it might be. To be able to then want to bring your own views and aspects and that vision to someone else’s wildly different views, I think it’s really fucking cool. So I don’t know if I’m allowed to swear, but yeah, that’s the hope.
GLITTER: What’s one standout highlight from your career so far?
CAMERON: It was really cool to go to Sundance with a movie called Jamie Marks is Dead. It’s a movie a lot of people haven’t seen. But I think that that was one of those things on my bucket list, and hopefully, I’ll be able to go again in the future. But that is my favorite film festival. I think that there’s always really exciting and interesting stuff coming out of Sundance. So to be able to go there to be a part of that conversation was really exciting.
GLITTER: I have a few fun questions for you. Who’s on your playlist right now?
CAMERON: The new Brockhampton album dropped, and I really like those guys a lot, so I like giving them a shout-out because they’re really cool. I always listen to music that relates to the character a lot of the times that I’m playing. I have to look at my Spotify. (laughing) Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I don’t know, uh. Portishead, I was listening to a bunch. Radiohead. Kind of like music that is sort of like about isolation and emotional vulnerability and that kind of stuff. Like things that are just sort of getting me in a mood to be very on the edge emotionally is sort of where I’ve been at and listening to the most. So it hasn’t been a lot of like listening to Prince and party chants, to just being like, “All right, everything’s good.” (laughing) So I’m looking forward to being done with this so I can take a breather and relax on that stuff.
GLITTER: What’s the one thing that you love to do in your spare time?
CAMERON: Look, it’s cheesy, but it’s true. I really do like to watch movies, I kind of set up a fun projector system, and I used my earnings from Shameless last year to set up a surround sound system and a proper couch and stuff to really just watch movies on a big screen. That was really amazing, and it is just what I love to do. I love to study specific filmmakers and kind of go and watch all of their stuff and try to learn about the process of how they made it and then move on to someone else and continue to kind of do that. I know that kind of seems silly that I spend most of my time working and then when I go home, I kind of still want to work and be studying people, but I really do get so much enjoyment out of it. The Criterion Channel just has so many awesome movies on it. I’ve just been working my way through the catalog, just trying to watch as much as I can. Besides that, I play music myself, and I am also trying to hang out with friends. I recently was vaccinated, which is very exciting, and I have a few friends who have as well. So trying to be responsible but starting actually to get to see people again has just been really, really nice. A lot of my friends are really cool and really smart and really creative. So I’ve been reading the stuff that they’ve been working on and talking to them about things and helping whenever I can, and they’ve been helping me too. I think the collaborative atmosphere is really cool to see people who I love and respect also doing cool and exciting things.
GLITTER: You’re a great actor. So that’s probably why you love it so much. It goes hand in hand.
CAMERON: Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of other jobs out there that are so much harder than being an actor. But there is a realistic thing about when you’re an actor. Generally, you’re on a set for 13, 14 hours. You might be sitting in a makeup chair for hours at a time. Right now, I’m covered in bruises all over my body from fighting. I have been strapped upside down for hours at a time, screaming at the top of my lungs, like all sorts of crazy stuff, and I think at the end of the day, like, there is a certain level of physical and emotional demands of the job. And if you don’t love it, I don’t really know why you’re doing it. (laughing) Because there are other things that you probably can be doing that you’re going to get a lot more enjoyment out of it. But for me, I do love it. So it’s like all of this is worth it. But I don’t know; I think that you need to watch the things that are happening, especially as an artist. If you don’t have strong opinions on paintings, I don’t know why you’re a painter. If you don’t like novels, why would you be a novelist? It’s the same as the director. I love supporting other people’s work and the new cool stuff that’s coming out and telling people about it because that’s awesome that people are making interesting stuff.
GLITTER: What is the best advice that you were ever given?
CAMERON: Oh boy. Jeez. You mean like about like acting or like relationships?
GLITTER: It could be, in general, on life.
CAMERON: Boy, that’s so hard.
GLITTER: Pressures on.
CAMERON: Well, I guess it is kind of an acting thing, but it’s also a life thing; I think it’s worth whenever you feel strongly about something to take a breath, step back from the situation, especially if it was an interaction with someone else. Take a second to consider their perspective. You know, why they say what they’re saying, what they might have experienced, who they are, where they came from, and understand that people are different. And that’s OK. I think it’s always worth just taking a breath to reevaluate. Sometimes it can be so easy just to get caught in a mindset. This could literally be anything. It could be a choice in a performance. It could be a choice in an argument. It could be a choice in anything. I think it’s always worth just taking a second to reevaluate and just take a breath and just breathe. Sometimes you just got to breathe in life, and sometimes you feel so strongly, and you’re so caught up about something, and then you walk outside, or you wake up the next day, and you go, “Boy, why was I so hyped about that.” I think that that is just a good rule of thumb in general, as it’s like the old thing of like when you’re upset about something, you write a letter, but then you don’t send it, and you reread it the day afterward. I mean, it’s cliche, but it’s true.
GLITTER: Glitter has a celebrity self-love campaign that we started in 2015. What does self-love mean to you?
CAMERON: I think self-love is choosing to be kind to yourself and kind in general. I think when you put love out to people, they give love back to you. I also think that the most satisfying way to receive self-love is to try to give it to others when possible, especially those in your life who support you. I think it’s really important, but I think that when I say kindness, I just mean to set goals for yourself. To understand what it is that you want, but also to try your best and to forgive yourself when it doesn’t work out; when it’s not perfect; when it doesn’t always make makes sense, and to evaluate your mistakes and to go sometimes, “This was a mistake. But I also learned from it.” And that’s OK. I think it’s so easy to just be hard on yourself. Going back to that breathing thing. Sometimes you just have to take a breath and be like, “OK, I tried, or maybe I didn’t try, but now I want to,” you know. All of that is OK. You just have to be forgiving and loving to yourself and the people around you.
GLITTER: Once things open up fully again, is there any special place that you want to travel to?
CAMERON: Gosh, so many places I would love to go around Asia. I would love to see Japan specifically. I want to visit places in and around the U.K., like seeing Scotland and Wales and not the U.K., but also visiting Ireland, which I think would be amazing. I mean, to be honest, the list is kind of endless. I want to travel around South America if I can. There’s a lot of places. Cuba is high on my list as well. I would just love to continue to experience different places and cultures, and hopefully, we will be able to do that in the near future.
GLITTER: Where is the craziest place that you’ve ever traveled to?
CAMERON: I shot an H&M campaign in Rome, and we were in these castles that were hundreds of years old, and we were just surrounded by the most insane, beautiful renaissance art and sculptures that you’ve ever seen. Obviously, we weren’t touching them, but we were just everywhere, just surrounded by these masterpieces and these beautiful sprawling gardens, and it felt like such a piece of history. To know that those have been there for literally like five hundred years is pretty incredible. So, I mean, that definitely has to be up there.
GLITTER: What’s the best place for fans to follow you on social media?
CAMERON: Probably Instagram, which is at @CameronMonaghan. I use Twitter sometimes. So maybe at @CameronMonaghan there. I don’t know. Social media confuses me, so I don’t know, maybe one of those two places. (laughing)
GLITTER: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with Glitter, and I look forward to seeing you in whatever you do next.
CAMERON: It was a pleasure. So great talking to you. Good to see you.
Creative Director: Nikki Fowler | Art Director: Zoe Fowler | Photo: Ted Sun | Styling: Luca Kingston | Grooming: Christopher Miles | Editor: Heather Riccio | Production: Kameron Piriani
Look 1: Boglioli shirt + suit | Iceberg loafers | David Yurman jewelry
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