Karen Bryson is the face behind the feisty, sexy, loveable, Avril Powell in the hit TV show, ‘Shameless’. After 11 seasons of the show, it is now coming to an emotional end this Tuesday (28th May), where we will wave goodbye to some of our favourite characters to ever embrace TV. We caught up with the lovely Karen, to discuss ‘Shameless’, Avril and life after the show.
1. Where did your love of acting stem from and how did you first get into the business?
Oh gosh! That was from way back when I was a child. I was one of those quite quiet, shy kids but I’d always be making plays up and showing them to kids in the playground. It was never a case of me singing and dancing or doing anything like that, it was just a word. A love of word! When I was about thirteen I found an agency/school to get involved in, which was sort of extracurricular out of school time. I got involved in that and that was when I was truly bitten by the bug!
2. What was the first acting role you got?
I actually did Romeo & Juliet at Birmingham Rep and I was understudying straight out of drama school, I went to a drama school called LAMDA and straight out of drama school I did that job. In fact, it was with Damian Lewis, from Homeland.
3. You play Avril Powell in the hit show, ‘Shameless’. When you were given the script to the show, how did the character appeal to you and make you want to be part of the show?
Oh, she was amazing! It’s the one-liners – the king of writers behind ‘Shameless’ are shockingly brilliant. I was giggling reading the script to audition; I was giggling my way through. I just thought, “I really need to get this part.” She’s funny, she’s strong, she’s quite sexy, she’s loyal – there were so many facets to Avril, even in the first couple of scripts I was given. It was interesting so I just thought writing like that doesn’t come up often so when you see something like that, it’s like a diamond.
4. And what is the best part about playing the feisty Avril?
(laughs) The fact that she’s feisty! The fact that I got to knee Mr David Threlfall stroke Frank a couple of time. When I watched the show, I always looked at Frank and he looks like he smells! Do you know what I mean? He looks like you want to smack him and the fact I got to do that a couple of times… It was just such an amazing scene! The minute I met Kira Martin and Manny Ighodaro the guys who played my daughter and Jackson, we got on so well. The thing that was so fun about playing her was exploring who she is on her own as well as in a family setting. We use to have the best laughs, as well as cries – that family went through a lot of ups and downs but it was just brilliant! Fantastic to be in!
5. How did you prepare yourself for the role of Avril and really put yourself in her shoes?
One difference between Avril and I, is the fact that she’s a Manc lass and she needs to be from Manchester, so it’s that whole thing of researching. In fact, I researched voices before I auditioned to make sure I wasn’t taking the mickey out of a Manchester accent, you know giving it the (in Manchester accent), “Mad fer it!” or anything like that and really just getting various examples of Mancunian voices. Other than that, the creation started to happen just a few days before we started, so things like getting Avril’s hair done because she thinks she’s Naomi Campbell - but not quite, a Chatsworth estate version of Naomi Campbell. Those bright clothes, which are completely opposite to the way I dress – I’m not into these bright clothes, the headscarves…So once you start to layer who I am with those sort of things it kinds of gets you into it and as I said, the writing does the rest. In terms of putting myself in her shoes, that was pretty easy because I liked her, even with her failings, I liked this woman. If I met her in a pub, I’m sure we would have a really good laugh.
6. You have been given some really strong storylines as Avril in ‘Shameless’ but was there anything you found hard to film?
No. The hardest part was getting in to that whole physical business with my clothes off. My very first scene was with Tina Malone, the VERY first scene ever was with Tina Malone in a dream sequence where it got a bit sexual. I can remember at the time I had just started and was really nervous but I just thought “You know what, Karen? You’re grateful to be in the show, go for it, go for it! There’s no holding back for this show. The show doesn’t hold back so why should you?!” It was one of those things that once I got that over with, everything else just sort of seemed to please. It was a bit hard at first but once we got the first three minutes over with, we got over it because we trusted each other. At first we were like “Oh my! My backside is going to be out! Do you know what? Sod this!” Good on Shameless for showing a woman’s sexuality past a size 8 and the age of 30.
7. Did you ever think you character in ‘Shameless’ would become as successful as she is with the viewers?
No! I really didn’t! I really, really didn’t! To be honest with you, when I approach a job I just want to do the best I can do and I don’t necessarily think how it is going to be perceived. If you think about that, you’re going to be self-conscious and you’re not in the moment so I try and be a good actress first, do the writing justice, do the character justice, do the show justice and whatever happens afterwards is great. What was amazing was literally two episodes into season 8, when we started and it was shown on TV, it was overwhelming. We were quite shocked that people loved the family, loved the ins-and-outs of them…they seemed fairly normal when you first met them and then you see the story behind closed doors, you see the ins-and-out and their ups-and-downs. There was something really lovely about the resurrection of family feuds. I think that is what ‘Shameless’ is about – community, on the bigger picture. Family values! You’ve got the Gallagher’s, a strong family even though they’ve all parted; with the patriarch of a mess that is Frank, you’ve got the McGuire’s, with Mimi being the matriarch, putting those boys together, they’re a real team – they’re the McGuire’s than you have the Powell’s, again about family values and the fact that Jackson and Avril were together since school until of course they split up at the end of season 9. You have two full seasons of seeing a family’s ins-and-outs, their ups-and-downs, the way they get through things and become stronger which I think mirrored real life which is probably why she was quite popular.
8. When fans approach you in the street, do they expect you to be like Avril and are they surprised when you’re not?
Yeah. Yeah, it’s weird. I’ve been doing some publicity for the show, for example and I did a couple of TV interviews and I’ve been tweeted from some lovely fans saying, “Never in my life did I think that Karen Bryson sounded different to Avril #HadMeFooled”. People come up to me like, “Oooh!” They either say oh, I’m posh, which I’m not or, “Oh! You’re funky in real life!” because of all these bright clothes you see on Avril. People are kind of shocked! First they think they know me and then they’re like, “Oh no! That’s Avril!”and then I go, “Hi, you alright?” and they go, “Oh my gosh! You sound like you’re from London! Are you from London?” Yeah…So yes, people are shocked to say the least.
9. What was the best part about being in a long running, hit TV show?
I think what’s great is that we’re never sure what is going to happen with the characters so we’ll get our scripts, sometimes we get them 2 – 3 at a time and literally read through them and go, “Oh my gosh! That happens! Oh my gosh! That happens!” We would never get a whole load of scripts for the whole season; you’d get them bit by bit. You’d get one, film one and then get the other whilst you’re filming the other and it’s a continual thing. What was exciting for me was having absolutely no idea what was going to happen with Avril, or Avril and Jackson, you literally had no idea until you got the script so that was really exciting. I suppose it’s like life, we never know what is around the corner, so that was really good to be able to go, “Okay, great! We’re doing this! This is what is happening with her.” Also, being in a long running show, you really get to understand who your character is but in the same breath, always be open to the fact that something could shock you. For example, when I got the script about the young lad who I worked with, people were really upset about that actually…I was in shock! Somebody said to me, “Oh, I don’t know if Avril would do that”, and I said, “Okay, have you ever been cheated on?” and the person said yes and I went, “Did you ever think your girlfriend would do that?” and he went, “Okay, point taken…” and that what was so wonderful about ‘Shameless’. You think you know people and then something changes; you might have had that in your life incidentally where you think you know somebody and then they go and do something that really surprises you. That was what was so rich about that programme! You know, we take you on a journey and then, BOOM! Something opposite happens so that what was really exciting, we really had no idea what was going to happen and you go, “Okay. Oh right, okay. I get that! Let’s work with it! Let’s rock!” It was brilliant!
10. After 11 seasons of ' Shameless' and you being in 4 of them - was it emotional to film the last ever season of the show?
Yes, it was really emotional actually, especially the final week. It almost didn't feel real,we couldn't quite believe it. A few days before the end it really started to feel eminent We all finished at times ( as a show is shot out of sequence). As each actor completed their last scene, a speech would be made. The one that really got to me was Tina's, because I literally started my Shameless journey with her. She was also one of my pals off set too. I was fortunate enough to film the final scene of the entire shoot. As we wrapped I can remember thinking "We've made an absolutely great show here! I'm proud of all of us!"