You can’t choose your family—and Showtime’s critically acclaimed series Shameless continues to expel every ounce of hilarity, pain, love, and drama that comes with along with that fact. Led by the patriarch Frank (portrayed by William H. Macy), the Gallagher family continues to fumble through a seemingly never ending carnival of chaos. Now entering its sixth season with dozens of Emmy, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globe nominations (plus some wins) under its belt, Shameless welcomes back the beloved and outrageous character Svetlana Milkovich—the tough-talking prostitute with a heart of gold. She’s a character whose traits could feel stale if it wasn’t for the indisputable charm of Isidora Goreshter backing up every jaw-dropping, hilarious line that comes out of her curse-happy mouth.
Talking over the phone from her home in Los Angeles, Goreshter reveals that Svetlana came from very humble, ambiguous beginnings. “I think it was ‘Russian prostitute’ or ‘Eastern European prostitute,’ not even a name,” laughs Goreshter. The character, originally slated as a one day co-star with a chance of recurring (“Which usually means you’ll be there for one day”) wasn’t especially promising at first. But now, entering her second season on the series, Svetlana is much more than Goreshter could have ever anticipated.
Born in Long Beach just outside of Los Angeles, Goreshter has been an actress, on and off, for essentially her entire life. “I acted as a little kid, lots of commercials, modelling, dancing, gymnastics, a typical Russian kid who had a lot of activities going on,” she says. After studying theatre in college, then taking a small leave of absence, Goreshter returned to acting, running her own theatre company and doing stage work before returning all-in to acting once again. “I got really serious when I met Anthony Meindl who is my acting mentor, and I started studying with him. I started focusing all of my energy on acting, and the ball really started to get rolling for me,” says Goreshter. Meindl, known for his work with young starlets such as Shailene Woodley, Ruby Rose, and Alexandra Daddario, puts Goreshter in good company.
Goreshter’s refreshed dedication led to a series of back-to-back guest roles on Fox’s Ben and Kate as well as CBS’s sitcom 2 Broke Girls before landing Svetlana, all within a few short weeks. Connecting the three roles were their Eastern European roots, which Goreshter, a first-generation American with Russian lineage, was happy to play to. “It’s so funny because on Ben and Kate and 2 Broke Girls I have a Russian accent, which I was really actually excited about because there are so many incredible Russian actors in Los Angeles, that a lot of the time what you see on television they are not hiring real Russian actors to play these parts and the accents to me are very jarring and not very authentic,” she says. With Svetlana, Goreshter has employed her Russian heritage to build a dynamic and intricate character. “In a way, the writers and I have kind of built her from scratch,” Goreshter explains. “So I got to really make her my own from nothing.”
When asked if playing Svetlana—who often shines as the crudest of the already impressively rude ensemble—is enjoyable, Goreshter replies: “Are you kidding? It’s the most fun ever. You kind of get to live out your most wild, deepest, darkest fantasies. The things that you’re able to say at work, you could never say on the street or in real life.” More than the raunchy one-liners, Svetlana also benefits from the subtle intricacies Goreshter identifies as her own traits as well. “At the same time, Svetlana and I are very similar,” she says. “We both have a very dry and sarcastic humour; we’re both very honest and blunt.”
Just as Svetlana has been welcomed by the Gallaghers et al (married to neighbourhood disturber Mickey Milkovich), Goreshter has experienced a similar kind of reception with the show’s cast. “Everybody kind of embraced me with open arms and welcomed me to the family and I felt so comfortable so fast with everyone,” she says. “Everyone really cares about each other. It’s been said so much, and I’ll say it again, that we really are just like one big happy family.” If only it was that simple for the Gallaghers.