Rebecca Ryan: The greatest child actor

An RT writer explains why he's astounded by the 15-year-old Shameless star's talent

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All admiration has its roots in jealousy.

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I think Wayne Rooney is an amazing footballer, and then I remember how many years younger he is than me and how many more millions of pounds he has (which is lots, because I don’t have any millions of pounds).

I’m jealous because in my head I can picture myself playing football like him. I can visualise scoring a hat-trick on my Manchester United debut, like he did. I know that I couldn’t, of course, because I’m rubbish.

But nonetheless a small part of my brain, the part that is in charge of denial, makes me believe I can. I am jealous because I still wish it was me.

Then I see Rebecca Ryan in Shameless, and that same part of my brain is rendered completely defunct. See, all of us like to believe we can act too, whether we actually can or not. Secretly we believe it’s easy. But Rebecca shows us that it’s not. We know instantly we could never do what she does as well as she does it, and she’s only 15.

She’s the best child actor on television, and that’s only by virtue of the fact that at 15 she is still a child. Pound for pound, or year for year if you like, she may well be the best actress on the box, full stop. We’re not jealous, we’re astounded.

Rebecca first popped up, aged 12, in Paul Abbott’s State of Play, a programme remembered almost as much for the plaudits thrown at it than what actually happened in it.

It’s in Paul Abbott’s Shameless, however, that Rebecca has made her name. She plays Debbie Gallagher, daughter of David Threlfall’s Frank, a man who opted out of life at 25, went for a beer and never really stopped. She is the other type of teenage mother, the one that the Daily Mail doesn’t notice so often, the matriarchal figure herself not out of her teens.

There are other child stars on TV, of course, but none bring weight to their role like Rebecca effortlessly does. There is Chesney from Coronation Street, for instance, a fine little actor in his own right. But Rebecca is something else, blessed with a screen presence beyond her years and a maturity exceeding that of wannabe music show presenters twice her age. On TV, she is immense.

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If she doesn’t win an Oscar one day, I’ll eat one.