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The Conners closed out its third season Wednesday, wrapping up a run that featured cast and crewmembers abiding by COVID-19 safety protocols on set that also meant not having live audiences present for tapings of the multicamera comedy.
Or at least, not an audience sitting in the seats on the show’s soundstages.
“We shot the whole season with no live audience, which was different because we’d been doing that the whole time, and they did it back in the ’80s and ’90s as well,” Emma Kenney, who plays Harris on the ABC series, told The Hollywood Reporter. But it’s interesting. … The multicamera aspect still has an audience feel to it because there are so many people on set, and everybody’s supposed to react if they feel like it.”
Kenney also documented the unusual season by taking photos on the Conners set, some of which are below. The actress says she’s been interested in photography most of her life, and she carries a Contax G2 film camera (“I don’t really shoot digital,” she said) with her on set. She spoke with THR about working on The Conners and the final season of Shameless at the same time, Harris’ trials this season and her love of photography.
When you started going back to work at the start of the season, how different was it? We’ve all heard a lot about the changes in effect on sets, but I’m curious what your experience was.
It was obviously literally different because we were wearing proper gear and everything so we could work during the pandemic, but other than that, nothing was really that different. Everybody has the same goal to keep each other safe and get the season done and make it a good one and have fun while doing it. I was shooting two shows at the same time, and both sets we had great runs and kept each other safe as best we could. Other than that, it wasn’t very different.
Did all the extra protocols and rules become normal after a while, or did it always feel out of the ordinary?
I got pretty used to the COVID protocols. It’s kind of just force of habit now just to wear your mask, wash your hands, everything. It’s crazy though, before COVID I never carried sanitizer.
I never did either.
People were kind of like that before. Yeah, it’s insane. Now I’m like, “Oh my God I can’t believe I used to do that, that’s disgusting.” [The protocols] also kind of worked in my favor in a sense because I hate hugging people, so I was completely fine with social distancing.
Was this the first time that The Conners and Shameless production overlapped for you?
No. Honestly, the entire time I’ve done The Conners and when we had that one season of Roseanne, I was always doing both shows at the same time. A few seasons, it was pretty great because both shows were shooting at Warner Bros., so I would literally walk over from one stage to another. It was so surreal. But this past season I was going from CBS Radford [for The Conners] to Warner Bros. [a distance of about 5 miles].
Was it tough to toggle back and forth between the two characters and the two environments? Or once you’re on whichever set, does that set the tone for what you’re about to do?
I feel like I’m very good at focusing at the task at hand, so I kind of just go into that. It’s less confusing for me to hop from character to character as it might be for it to be the tone, with one show being a multicam sitcom and the other is a single-cam dramedy. So it’s more of a tone thing or even just the style of rehearsal and filming.
That is always interesting to me, because at Shameless it would be like if we had a three-page scene it would take at least three hours. It would be about a page an hour. But for The Conners we’ll have six page scenes that we shoot in an hour, and we do three takes.
Harris has gone through some tough times this season. Can you talk about any kind of input you may have had on her story, and where she will end up as the season comes to a close?
Harris — she’s 18, she goes through her ups and downs. I think she kind of knows where she wants to go, she is interested in being a tattoo artist, which I think is great because she has found her passion and it’s a beautiful form of art that she gets to make. So yeah, that and I think that she is kind of just going with the flow, I guess, as we all are. Or at least I know I am.
Turning to Shameless, you’ve been part of the series for almost half your life. What was it like to say goodbye and to shoot those final episodes?
I think it was something we kind of all knew was coming, so everybody had different reactions and feelings as we wrapped up. I’m excited for the future. We have these amazing connections, we made this dope show that people got to connect to for so long and hopefully will live on for a long time and be timeless that way. It’s sad that we’re not going to be together every day anymore, but nothing lasts forever so what can you do?
I couldn’t have asked for a better first gig in Hollywood. John [Wells], from the get-go, taught us. On the call sheets it’s written you don’t come to set without your lines memorized, you don’t bring sides to set, he doesn’t like phones on set — that rule kind of got broken a little bit. But we were always taught to be prepared. Come to set memorized.
Have you taken photographs on set in the past, or is this just something you decided to do for the season?
Photography is something that I’ve always done and been enthused about. I remember when I was young, my mom, she got sworn into the Supreme Court [as an attorney] and I had my little camera that I would take around everywhere. And I got this insane photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg actually. I remember I did that when I was like 4, so it’s kind of just something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve kind of always shot but I never really thought about showing people, I guess.
What’s the appeal of it for you?
I just love capturing the moment and capturing the beauty in people. I also try and do kind of more like fashion shoots, too, where I’m shooting my friends. So I like to bring out the life of people and talk to them and shoot people I have a connection with or just capture the vibe right there.
This interview has been edited and condensed. More of Emma Kenney’s set photos are below.
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