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William H. Macy, ‘Shameless’ cast return to add Chicago ‘texture’

With the Chicago skyline as their backdrop, William H. Macy (in chair) and Ethan Cutkosky appear in a fourth-season episode of "Shameless." | SHOWTIME

Chicago locales offer an ideal stage for Frank Gallagher’s antics.

The “Shameless” character’s family threw its alcoholic father off the North Avenue Bridge into the icy Chicago River at one point. In a different episode, he woke up on a Grant Park bench, with no recollection of the previous night.

“My head was hanging off the bench,” said William H. Macy, who portrays Gallagher. “It was a fun acting role — waking up after the bender of all benders.”

Frank Gallagher will be back in the city Monday — maybe for his beloved Old Style, but mostly to engage in more “benders” for the show’s eighth season, which comes out early November.

“Shameless,” the Showtime favorite that follows the lives of the large and rambunctious Irish-American Gallagher family on Chicago’s South Side, will return to its roots to film exterior scenes through Friday.

Though based in Los Angeles, the show shoots in Chicago for two weeks per season. (The other is in the winter.) Cast and crew pack in as much exterior filming as possible, said line producer Michael Hissrich.

“The work we do in Chicago helps us get away with what we do in Los Angeles,” said Hissrich, who also produced “The West Wing” and “E.R.” “Even the sky in Chicago is bluer than in L.A.”

The house used to represent Gallaghers’ run-down home in Canaryville actually sits in Lawndale, and is occupied by an actual family.

“We are pals with the people who live there,” Macy said.

Actress Emma Kenney does a seventh-season “Shameless” scene at the Lawndale home used to depict the Gallaghers’ house in Canaryville. | SHOWTIME
Actress Emma Kenney does a seventh-season “Shameless” scene at the Lawndale home used to depict the Gallaghers’ house in Canaryville. | SHOWTIME

Most exterior filming takes place at the house, in city parks and near the historic stockyards. Cast and crew also branch out to tourist attractions such as Michigan Avenue.

“Shameless” has featured imagery from the Lincoln Park Zoo, Lake Shore Drive, the L, and even Evanston.

“You gain the texture, the color and all of the dimension,” Nash said. “Just having the trains come by, and the water [adds to the effect].”

At the start of each season’s development, writers set aside scenes best fit for Chicago, Hissrich said. They film interior scenes in a bigger makeshift Gallagher house in L.A. and fill in the gaps later.

“It’s not unusual to do half a scene inside the Gallagher house in Los Angeles at Warner Bros. and to walk out the door and finish the scene outside in Chicago,” said Macy. “And they are [shot] three months apart.”

Everyone has it in their purview to maintain the continuity of the scenes, he said. The costume crew takes copious photographs to replicate outfits. Cast members can look back at previous film, always on hand, to stay completely in-line with a scene.

The crew also makes a lot of snow in L.A. in anticipation of filming in Chicago at least one week during winter, said Hissrich.

“Shameless” is a remake of a popular British television show of the same name. When John Wells took on the U.S. project as director, Chicago drew him in as a setting with its “working-man stoic” vibe, Macy said.

Macy started his career here. The star — known for movies including “Fargo” and “Jurassic Park III” — lived in a three-flat on Sheffield Avenue and turned an abandoned printing company on Halsted Street into the venue for St. Nicholas Theater, launched with a few friends.

“I sort of imprinted on Chicago,” he said. “People from Chicago had a secret—they were from the best place on Earth and they didn’t really want to talk about it.”

After he’s wrapped up filming, Macy, who said he frequented Wrigley Field in the past as a “bleacher bum,” will throw out the first pitch at the Cubs game on Aug. 6.

In the eighth season, he is looking forward to Frank Gallagher “starting over” and “acting more like a grown-up.”

“He brings his A-game as a respectable adult and does pretty well,” Macy said. “But I think there’s a fall coming. He’s going to fall hard.”

Follow me on Twitter: @AmandaSvachula