This story is part of, our podcast featuring interviews with actors, artists, celebrities and creative types about their work, career and current obsessions.
Fans of the award-winning Showtime series Shameless know Cameron Monaghan. When he was just 15, he started playing Ian Gallagher, the gay teenage son in the long-running comedy/drama series about a poor and dysfunctional family living on the South Side of Chicago.
It was a show that helped change the way people viewed poor families struggling to survive, says the 29-year-old actor. It was also an opportunity for him to learn from a talented ensemble cast, led by William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum, and to appreciate the value of working on a project with characters who were "well rounded and interesting human beings."
"My character at the start of the story, is gay, living in the ghetto, and he wants to be a soldier. And yet the preoccupation with the character was not simply that he was gay," Monaghan says in an interview for CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast series. "He was flawed, he was able to make mistakes, we were able to understand him."
"Not only was the show respectful in how it portrayed people from this background, but also it was funny, audacious and ambitious," he adds. "I do think it changed how some of the stuff was portrayed in American media."
It was an appreciation for well-conceived characters that drew him to Paradise Highway, a crime thriller being released July 29 in theaters and on Apple TV that tackles the problem of sex trafficking in the US. Variety calls it "a shrewdly constructed melodrama that does not transcend cliches and conventions so much as show how useful and effective they can be in the right hands."
Juliette Binoche stars as a world-weary, foul-mouthed truck driver who unwittingly gets caught up in a sex slavery ring when she discovers the cargo she needs to transport to protect her jailed brother is a young girl. Morgan Freeman is the seasoned FBI agent searching for the girl, while Monaghan plays his partner, a by-the-book special agent who learns about real-life crime in his first foray into the field.
"When you say words like human trafficking, or sexual slavery, I think it's very easy for your brain to shut off because it's so bleak. It's so uncomfortable and it's so horrible. How do you even process such a thing?" Monaghan says.
"But what I liked about the script was for as dark as the subject matter was, it wasn't preoccupied and just sitting in this misery. It was finding elements of these characters and exploring them from a human perspective," he adds. "These characters get put into very difficult circumstances and it asks the questions of what they're going to do within those circumstances."
I spoke with Monaghan about his already extensive career, which includes roles in 40 TV shows and films. That includes a turn on the Batman-centered TV drama Gotham, in which he plays twin brothers who provide a possible origin story for the Joker. "I grew up as an avid comic book reader, and I was specifically a huge fan of Batman. I do think that there's no greater villain than the Joker."
I ask if it's more fun to play a supervillain or a superhero? "You know, I still haven't been a superhero," he said with a smile and laugh.
Listen in to my conversation with Monaghan in the podcast player above. And subscribe to I'm So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, CNET's Patrick Holland or I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about their work, career and current obsessions.