Emmy Rossum Q&A: A ‘Sentimental’ Return to Music for the 'Shameless' Star

Jeff Kravitz, FilmMagic
Actress Emmy Rossum attends the 18th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at Barker Hangar on January 10, 2013 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Actress talks first album since 2007, why it took so long and whether the "Phantom of the Opera" star wishes she'd been a part of "Les Mis"

Emmy Rossum is a versatile performer with a growing list of movie credits and a starring role as Fiona Gallagher in the Showtime series “Shameless.” The 27-year-old actress also has some serious musical chops.  As a child she appeared in the children’s chorus at the Metropolitan Opera and played Christine in "Phantom of the Opera." The native New Yorker is one smart cookie. And she has a new album out, entitled "Sentimental Journey." It’s a lovely stroll through some standards. Rossum spoke to Billboard.com about her love of opera and oldies.

Your last record came out in 2007. Why so long?
I was getting pressure to make a record that I didn't want to make. So it took me a while to legally get out of my contract with the other label. I made this record with my own money, with friends of mine and a producer I'd worked with before. And it was kind of the first opportunity I'd had to put it together between making "Shameless" and movies.

What album did your old label want you to make?
Straight pop, almost dance pop.

So why an album of standards?
I grew up in New York. When I was seven I started singing in the children's chorus at the Metropolitan Opera. I grew up in a household of all-women who were much older than me and they would play oldies music like Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke and Judy Garland. To me that music seemed like contemporary music because I grew up singing opera which was from hundreds of years ago.

So this feels totally contemporary to me. I grew up loving this music, there's a simplicity to the melodies and a poignancy to the storytelling and a sweetness that now might seem a bit hokey. To me there's such a romantic notion about nostalgia so I really wanted to make this record. I mean, I made it with my own money.

I really wanted to make it exactly like an old record was made. I did it in three days and got it done. We used old recording systems and ran it through plates and mastered it to tape, not digital. And I put all the musicians with me in one room in the vocal booth. Most of the songs were done in one take.

Did your accountant faint when you told him you were recording an album and paying for it yourself?
No. Because when you make a record by yourself you can circumnavigate a lot of the unnecessary expense that are on lunches and B.S.

So Domino's Pizza for lunch?
No. It wasn't super low budget. I mean, I fed them well. They're still my friends. I bought them Starbucks.

But you got the tall lattes right?
I got them Ventis.

There is a theme to the album.
In order to narrow-down the hundreds of songs from the '20s to '60s that are great standards, I came up with the idea of a calendar concept. There are 12 months in a year and usually there are 12ish songs on a record. And what if by listening to the whole record from start to finish it took you on this emotional musical journey for a year? So each song was assigned a month and the song I chose had to have the spirit of that month. April - April Fool's, so my choice was "I'm A Fool to Love You" or "These Foolish Things." "These Foolish Things" won out.

What's your favorite track?
Probably "Apple Blossom Time" because my mom sang that to me as a bedtime lullaby and her mom sang it to her when she was a kid.

Does it kill you a little bit that you weren't in "Les Miserables"?
No, I didn't even audition. I was working on "Shameless" at the time they were shooting, so I wasn't even available. I haven't seen it but I hear it's brilliant. I love the success of any movie musical because that opens the possibility that this could be a legitimate genre that could re-emerge. I was in "Phantom of the Opera," that was a coveted role that everyone else wanted at that time. I feel very grateful to have had that opportunity. You can't focus on what you don't have.

Did you have a favorite musical growing up? Is there one you'd love to star in?
My favorite thing that I used to grow up watching was the opera. I didn't really watch musicals. They were sort of looked down on in the opera world, which was ludicrous. But I loved "Wizard of Oz," "The Sound of Music." I think "Damn Yankees" could be really fun. I love the "Lola" role.

Do you wish opera were more mainstream?
It's hard. It's in a foreign language. It doesn't get mainstream publicity. It's a very expensive thing to put on as is a lot of high production-value theater. There is a small percentage of the population that loves it and hopefully will pay for it to not die off.

Do you listen to contemporary music?
Sure, I listen to Top 40. I do love pop music. Right now I'm really into Passion Pit.

What's your go-to?
Probably Ella Fitzgerald or Bing Crosby or Sam Cooke if I'm depressed. Sam Cooke in the bathtub, it's just to die for.