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KAREN'S GOT NO SHAME; Chatsworth's teenage sex pot seduces vicious killer in raunchy fourth series of hit black comedy.

Byline: By Graham Keal

LOTS of Shameless characters do their level best to live up to the title - and none more so than Karen, the sarcastic, saucy, lollipop-sucking Lolita of the sink council estate, whose growing pains have been punctuated by one shameless fling after another.

But, according to actress Rebecca Atkinson, teenage tease Karen is about to meet her match when the hit saga roars back into action for a fourth series on Channel 4 tonight.

Episode one sees Aaron McCusker join the cast as Jamie, one of the fearsome Maguire brothers who, despite being just out of jail after a 10-year stretch for agruesome murder, is going to make Karen swoon.

"He gets a job in the pub with Karen, moves into the flat above and turns her world upside down," says Rebecca.

"She falls head over heels in love with him and he absolutely tames the wild beast that we know."

Rebecca, 23, is actually four years older than her Chatsworth estate alter ego and is not to be confused with her creation, although people do - especially lads congregating around her while on location in Manchester.

"Sometimes the general public, especially young boys, don't see the difference between myself and the character and they can be a little bit boisterous," she said. "They might heckle you a bit when you're in the street and things like that but it's part and parcel of the job.

"And once you talk to them they go 'Oh! You're quite different!' But that initial reaction can be a bit embarrassing at times."

It's hardly surprising that playing Karen provokes a reaction. As the daughter of highly-sexed Sheila Jackson (Maggie O'Neill), Karen maintained the family tradition from the word go.

In series one, she got bored with dating "Lip" Gallagher (Jody Latham), so when Lip's dad Frank (David Threlfall) moved in with her mum, Karen set out to seduce him instead.

And Rebecca made it all look horribly convincing. Her biggest challenge was the scene where Frank innocently walks in on her as she lounges in the bath.

He mumbles his apologies and tries to retreat, while brazen Karen flashes her boobs, coolly asks him to pass the towel and makes fun of his confusion.

But this was fiction - the reality was very different.

"That was really quite difficult," admits Rebecca. "I had nothing on my top half and you just feel so vulnerable. It's just so embarrassing, with everybody being around you. But Karen being Karen makes it easier for me to play those scenes. She's got more front than Blackpool, so I probably hide behind the character a lot of the time."

So how will Rebecca cope with the raunchy scenes to come with new lover Jamie, as the tart-without-a-heart is transformed into a young woman whose ironclad emotional defences are crumbling?

Rebecca added: "It's really interesting to show that side of her. The two-dimensional Karen that we've established doesn't seem to have many morals or feelings.

"But you see a completely different side to her and she becomes so vulnerable, so emotional and so wrapped up in this man.

It's really quite touching."

But Shameless fans might be relieved to know this transformation doesn't happen overnight. Karen is her usual sassy self in episode one then, when hard man Jamie comes out of jail, it seems only she has the guts to give him a piece of her mind.

They carry on sparring for several weeks but, by episode four, they finally realise they fancy the pants off each other, literally.

And according to newcomer Aaron McCusker, it's Karen who makes the first move.

"I'm lying in bed sleeping and she comes home drunk, jumps into bed and starts kissing me - and one thing leads to another," grinned Aaron, 28. "It sort of cuts away before it gets too serious."

Such Shameless shenanigans have virtually saved Aaron's career after several years in the wilderness. The amiable Irish actor has spent most of his career working behind bars and waiting for a job, despite walking straight into a top role after leaving drama school. He played opposite Julie Walters and Imelda Staunton in Murder, a gritty four-parter shown in 2002 that won a BAFTA for Julie.

He was on the verge of giving up when Jamie Maguire came on the scene.

Jamie is a man determined to transform his life and Aaron, originally from Portadown, puts his own change of fortune down to a similar conversion.

"I graduated from drama school when I was 21 and the very first audition I did was for Murder, and I got it," he explained.

"I didn't let it go to my head, but I sort of thought 'Well, I'll probably get them all'."

So, in other words, he did let it go to his head.

"After that, it just stopped happening. I had a good agent who was getting me lots of auditions but I wasn't getting the jobs.

"It was my fault. I wasn't putting the work in. I wasn't reading the scripts as well as I should have and I was going to auditions unprepared. It's only now that I can look back and take responsibility for it myself."

Tired of bar work, after five years of it and only the odd, small part, he hit rock bottom when his agent dumped him.

"I was so close to giving up. That was about six months ago, not long before I got this job." said Aaron. "So I had no agent and I was thinking, 'What do I do?' So I thought 'Right. I will try and get a new agent, turn over a new leaf and start again.

"Then I got a phone call from an agency I'd written to. They interviewed me, liked me and took me on. A week later they phoned me with this audition.

"So this time I read the scenes. I learned the scenes, went into the audition and got it. It's a brilliant, fantastic job and it's just opened up so many doors now."

Being a new leading actor in a hit as big as Shameless is a great testimonial, even if your character is as nasty as Jamie's track record would suggest.

"He was a vicious, vicious person. That's why when he walks into The Jockey pub for the first time, all the regulars jump under the tables," said the actor.

"Not much is said about the murder he committed but it's mentioned once that he killed a 16-year-old. It was to do with drugs -the family business. He killed the teenager and sent his hand to the family.

"He did 10 years in jail for it and that's the reputation he has. But he has turned over a new leaf."

Aaron also had to cope with his first nude scene - on his third day on set. "It was a bit daunting, having a dressing gown on and just pulling it off and doing the scene," said Aaron.

Was it chilly?

"Yeah, well, that's my excuse," he laughed. "I said 'It's awful cold up here, so it is.' I think that's everybody's excuse."

Shameless, Channel 4, tonight at 10pm.

'Karen's got more front than Blackpool, so I probably hide behind the character quite a lot'

CAPTION(S):

WILD CHILD: Actress Rebecca Atkinson plays teenage tease Karen in the hit black comedy' SINK OR SWIM: Irish actor Aaron McCusker, right, joins the cast of Shameless, top, as bad boy Jamie Maguire. Ciaran Griffiths, above, also joins the cast as Jamie's brother Mickey
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 9, 2007
Words:1257
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