Emmy Rossum Defends Controversial 'Modern Love' Episode: Art 'Makes You Uncomfortable'

"It was a subject matter that was close to my heart, my father having not been in my life for the majority of it," the actress and director told PEOPLE

Emmy Rossum knows her Modern Love episode is controversial — and she’s perfectly okay with it.

Speaking with PEOPLE at the fourth annual WWD Honors on Tuesday night at New York City’s InterContinental Barclay, the Shameless star opened up about directing episode 6 of the Amazon Prime Video series, which is based on a long-running column of personal essays in The New York Times.

“All the directors actually wrote their episodes except mine,” the 33-year-old actress, who attended the star-studded event to support John B. Fairchild honoree Giorgio Armani, told PEOPLE. “The writer got sick and sadly passed away before we started shooting, so I was kind of the fill-in, and it was the greatest honor of my life.”

(Writer Audrey Wells, who is credited alongside the Times essayist, Abby Sher, died in October 2018 at the age of 58, according to IMDB.)

The episode, titled “So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?”, follows Maddy (Julia Garner) as she searches for unconditional male affection from a much older co-worker named Peter (Shea Whigham) after the death of her dad.

Emmy Rossum
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock
Emmy Rossum
Emmy Rossum and Roberta Armani at the fourth annual WWD Honors. Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Amazon summarizes Rossum’s installment with a quote from the episode: “He was very handsome. He wore gray turtleneck sweaters and smelled like mint aftershave and old books. He was 55 and recently divorced for the second time. He was my father. He wasn’t really my father.”

While the controversial subject matter has drawn backlash — one reviewer even called it “explicitly creepy” — Rossum is proud of her work on the show and says “the script is beautiful.”

Modern Love
Shea Whigham and Julia Garner. Christopher Saunders/Amazon Studios

“It was a subject matter that was close to my heart, my father having not been in my life for the majority of it,” the star explains. “I was immediately struck by the complexity of the male-female relationship, the awkwardness and the inability to express what you’re really looking for.”

The 30-minute episode dives deep into what the Internet has dubbed “daddy issues” without turning any overt sex scenes, which Rossum says is a “slam dunk and a really good fit.”

“A situation that could have been potentially very explosive was treated very delicately and with humor from the female point of view,” she adds, adding that she “of course” anticipated the backlash. “ I think when art gets an intense reaction, that’s a good thing. And people have had wildly different opinions of the episode.

Emmy Rossum
Brian Ach/Getty

“Some people find it incredibly sweet and touching and, and somebody else thought it was like scarier than any horror movie they’d seen this year. For me, art sometimes stirs up a lot within you and makes you uncomfortable and that’s what it’s supposed to do.”

“I’m very happy. The writer who wrote the original piece found that the way that we did it was incredibly reflective of the way that that relationship felt,” she says. “It’s a really beautiful, complicated, f—ed up dynamic. And, ultimately, no one ends up getting hurt in this story.”

Gabriela Hearst show, Front Row, Fall Winter 2019, New York Fashion Week, USA - 12 Feb 2019
Masato Onoda/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Earlier this week, Amazon Prime Videos renewed the buzzed-about and binge-worthy show for a second season.

While details for season 2 of the series are still under wraps, Amazon confirmed that writer/director John Carney will return to helm the sophomore season, scheduled for a 2020 release.

“Being given a green light to proceed with Modern Love is a great opportunity for us to continue to tell stories of love, while opening up the series into new cities and worlds,” Carney recently told Variety. “The possibilities are truly endless. Subsequent seasons can really branch out and dig deep into what it means to love in this complicated world. It’s incredible news for everyone involved in the series, and we are dizzy with possibilities moving forward.”

Modern Love is streaming on Amazon Prime now.

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