Interview: How does Jeremy Allen White watch 'Shameless'? Alone and illegally

Jeremy Allen White

"Shameless" actor Jeremy Allen White at Lockdown Bar and Grill Feb. 15, 2012. (Abel Uribe/ Chicago Tribune / December 11, 2014)

Jeremy Allen White had been craving Kuma’s Corner all morning when we met in front of the popular Avondale burger joint Wednesday. The 21-year-old actor visits Kuma’s every time he is in Chicago filming exterior scenes for Showtime’s “Shameless” and was hoping to continue the tradition while in town promoting the series.

Unfortunately, Kuma’s was closed due to remodeling.

And that’s why we next headed to Lockdown Bar & Grill in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood, which, like Kuma’s, is known for its burgers and heavy metal music. There was no wait for a table at Lockdown (White once waited an hour and a half for a table at the perpetually crowded Kuma’s) and there was little wait for our matching orders of Big House burgers with bacon and BBQ sauce.

“I haven’t eaten all day … anything would be really good right now,” said White, sitting next to me rather than across from me so that we could hear each other over the Metallica concert playing on the TVs.

White had been up since 7 a.m. doing interviews, but he looked like he had just woken up. He always does. Maybe it’s the messy hair or the dark rings around his eyes. Either way, the look works for White — especially on “Shameless,” a Chicago-set dramedy revolving around the dysfunctional Gallagher family. The New York native plays Lip, a straight-A student who has done almost everything to make money, from selling beer and weed on an ice cream truck to taking SATs for students.

It appeared none of the staff or customers at the half-empty Lockdown recognized White. Still, he said he gets approached in Chicago more than he does in the Los Angeles area, which is where the show films its interior scenes and where he lives. He said he was stopped several times walking three blocks from his Chicago hotel to a Walgreens two days earlier, and he fondly remembers the warm reception he and co-stars Justin Chatwin and Steve Howey received while attending a Blackhawks game after the first episode aired in January 2011.

Asked if he had ever been on the other side of a celeb encounter, White pointed to a meeting with “Dexter” star Michael C. Hall at a Showtime holiday party.

“I was really nervous and I happened to know too much about him,” White said, yelling over the music. “I was like ‘My Mom is from North Carolina. You’re from North Carolina. My Mom went to (the same school as you).’ Once I got it out of my system, I calmed down a bit. He was very complimentary of (‘Shameless’).”

Behind “Dexter,” “Shameless” is Showtime’s second-highest rated show, and it was recently renewed for a third season. The show — which also stars William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum and Evanston native Joan Cusack — films its exterior scenes in the North Lawndale neighborhood twice a season and is expected to return to the city this summer.

“Everyone loves it in the (North Lawndale) neighborhood,” White said. “We didn’t expect them to keep up with it, but they’re very proud to have something being filmed there. I don’t think a lot of them have Showtime, but they download it illegally on the Internet.”

White admitted he, too, watches the show illegally because he doesn’t have cable, but he watches the episodes for the first time long after they’ve aired. He said he has a hard time watching himself — and not because of his sex scenes. He’s more self-conscious about his acting and remembers sweating while watching his 2008 film “Afterschool” at the Cannes Film Festival when he was 17.

“I don’t watch (‘Shameless’) until there is some distance. Otherwise I’ll get too critical of myself and drive myself crazy. I’ll watch in a dark room alone in the fetal position and maybe have a notebook and write things down …” White said, just as the restaurant went silent due to a break in the music.

“Holy (crap). I didn’t realize how loud I was talking.”

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