When Emmy Rossum enters a room, you know it right away.
I'm sitting on the couch in a suite at the Mondrian Park Avenue, and Rossum, I'm told, is in the bedroom, polishing off room service and getting touchups with Burt's Bees products (she recently became the ambassador for the brand's new cosmetic line, Burt’s Bees Beauty, and I Am Not Synthetic campaign). Suddenly, the mirrored door panels dramatically slide open and Rossum appears in the frame striking a pseudo-pose, as if the stage curtain was just pulled and she's standing on her mark. Lights, camera, action.
The energy in the room is palpable as Rossum works the Polaroid for our shoot, whipping her thick, wavy brunette hair in the air and letting out a booming laugh that spreads from person to person like a germ. As it turns out, Rossum's infectious presence is the product of over two decades of being a performer, from singing in the Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus at age seven to portraying hardened-by-life-and-better-for-it Fiona Gallagher on Showtime's Shameless.
On the surface, one wouldn't assume private school–educated, immensely poised Rossum was typecast for the latter, but within mere minutes of chatting with the actress, it's clear she's not a spoiled theatre kid (or even your typical Hollywood 30-something). The actress was raised by a hard-working single mother in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, a humble upbringing that's engineered her grit and tenacity. She's sincere, leaning in close enough that our knees almost touch, her brown eyes piercing into mine to punctuate the candor of her every word. Soon, I'd learn more about what sets her apart in Hollywood (the factors abound), why she's the perfect fit for Burt's Bees, and how she deals with the immense pressure of celebrity.
On Her Favorite Beauty Look
I used to do [my own makeup] a lot for red carpet, but now I do it more for every day because sometimes I get help. I usually like to start with a pretty natural look. During the day, I don't use foundation—usually I just use a little cover-up, a pop of a bright pink blush. I don't like lip gloss—I really don't even own any lip gloss. I don't like anything that's going to kind of stick to my hair. And when I do wear foundation—one of the things I like about the Burt's Bees foundation is that it's very light and it really kind of buffs into the skin, so when you go to touch other people or if I'm standing next to my husband on the red carpet, I'm not going to come off on his suit. I like to keep it pretty fresh and natural, and blending is everything, I think. I'm not particularly good at one thing. I can definitely do any pop of lipstick, but I'm not particularly good at any bold eye, so I just kind of keep things pretty minimal structurally and clean.
On Natural Beauty
I think [Burt's Bees] probably saw that I was posting about the lip balms and using them on Shameless and told me about the campaign and the newly expanded beauty line, sent it to me, then we used it a little bit on set and really liked it. I'm kind of a blush junkie, I've never been one to shy away from a bright cheek because I think it’s the first thing that can make you look immediately awake. I really like the blush. And I just liked the whole philosophy behind the campaign—the idea of it not being synthetic, the idea of a return to still a polished and glamor look, but something that is made with natural products. I feel like we're so saturated with images that are retouched or Snapchatted or Facetuned that it's really hard to tell what's real and what's not anymore, so I'm really in my life I'm hungering for something that is real and natural that feels attainable, and so when I saw the images behind the campaign of real women really bringing out their individual beauty and the idea of broadening our perspective on what is considered beautiful, which has become quite narrow, I think I felt very empowered and inspired to partner with this campaign.
On Her Skincare Routine
I work with a facialist in L.A. named Shani Darden and one here in New York named Nachi who works at Mist Beauty, and so I pretty much get a facial every six to eight weeks and that kind of keeps me at a base level. Because I think of your skincare as a computer hard drive and your makeup is all the apps that you play with, but if your hard drive isn't running very well, you can't really play with any of the apps, so I think skincare is half of makeup. I like a foaming cleanser, sometimes I use one from IS Clinical—the gel cleanser. I always use SPF, eye creams—I use retinol from Shani. And other than that, I keep it pretty simple. For years, we used the Burt's lip balm on Shameless for Fiona because she has a very natural look, and Burt's Bees has this one that's rose, and it just gives a little bit of a tint, but it looks really natural and like you're not really wearing anything, so it's nice.
My skin definitely responds to food and to my cycle as well through the month. But I think that I can generally keep it pretty clear if I manage what I'm eating, but I think we're so concerned about what we're putting in our bodies that we don’t also think about what we're putting on our bodies, and because the skin is the largest organ in the body, I think it's important that we try to make as much of our skincare and beauty routine as natural as possible. I was using products from the BeautyCounter and RMS Beauty for a long time, but what I'm excited about for this line is it's just as high performing, but it's more affordable.
On Her Diet and Fitness Routine
I try to lead a healthy lifestyle so that I can do the best work possible. And I try to use makeup and use wardrobe and my own body weight and whether or not I work out to conform to a character. I'm lucky enough that I'm not a model—although I'm sure that’s some people’s dream, it wasn't mine—and so I feel that that's only one small part of how I'm judged for if I'm right for something. And I feel more than ever that it's our own responsibility to create our own material to write and direct as much as we can and to learn other aspects of the industry so that we are deciding what we are right for and not continually sitting on a bench waiting for people to think we are right for those things.
[My relationship with fitness is] more love than hate. It's usually hate when the alarm goes off and I have to go to the gym, but then about two minutes into it, I start to feel the adrenaline and start to feel better. I like the way that I feel and the boost of energy that I get from exercise.
I like a lifestyle and I like an approach to eating that is healthy and nutritious and balanced and eating whole foods, trying to limit the kind of things that you eat that are in packages. It's the same idea that what you put on your skin should be from natural ingredients—what you put in your body will fuel you best if it's from natural ingredients, and I don’t exclude anything eating or drinking anything except that to which I’m told a doctor has said "you're allergic."
I stay away from alcohol when I'm stressed out. I try to only use alcohol in celebratory environments and I think that can be something we can reach for as a quick fix for stress and it actually makes it worse for me the next day. I think it's a Band-Aid and really you need a yoga class or to take a nap or a bubble bath. Or I reach for my favorite television programs or I binge-watch a show—Better Things or Mindhunter—or I read a book or find another way to activate my brain, like find a crossword puzzle or a sudoku or other things like that.
On Self-Image and Social Media
I don't think much about what I post or what filter—I post things when I want to and not other times. Obviously I don't have the most average life, but I also don't agree that we should only show images that are aspirational. I'm sure there are a lot of girls who want to be actresses and want to be on shows like I am, but I think it can become this kind of homogenized version of a glossy "Look, I'm on the beach!" "Here's my açai bowl!" "Here's my hashtag yoga!" and I think the pressure to, not necessarily post like that, but make other people think you have it all together is a real thing for people—it's not something that I feel, but I can get a sense of it from other people. And I just try to remind myself that what I'm after is a little bit more nuanced than that.
[My self-image is] much better. It's still a struggle, I think that the pressures of social media and advertising affect our fluctuating relationship with our own self-image, and I think for me, focusing on the other things that I have to offer the world in addition to just my hair or my face really grounds me. I find the world infinitely energizing and frustrating and exciting and want to live and learn and create at every second. My brain is just like a little battery.