‘True Lies’ Stars Steve Howey & Ginger Gonzaga Talk Playing Action Heroes
Mar 3, 2023
Inspired by the James Cameron action-comedy film of the same name, the CBS series True Lies explores how the lives of Harry (Steve Howey) and Helen Tasker (Ginger Gonzaga) are affected when the language professor looking to spice up her life learns that her computer salesman husband is actually an international spy for the U.S. intelligence agency Omega Sector. Uncovering such a secret means that Helen suddenly finds herself on Harry’s team of operatives, carrying out covert missions to save the world from any number of dangerous scenarios while strengthening their relationship as spouses and parents.
During this interview with Collider, co-stars Howey and Gonzaga talked about wanting to be action heroes, working with a cast that watched out for each other during the grueling shoot, why it was important to modernize the Harry and Helen relationship, the incredible experience of working with Beverly D’Angelo, the fun that guest star Matthew Lillard brought to episode four, and the importance of working with the right people.
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Collider: When the opportunity to do a True Lies TV show came your way, what was your reaction to that? Did you immediately want to be an action hero, or did you hesitate about taking this on?
STEVE HOWEY: Anthony Hemingway directed the pilot. I think McG was supposed to do it, but he had another project, and then Anthony got hired. He called me and said, “I’m directing this show. It’s the TV version of True Lies, the movie. You have to do this. This is perfect for you.” I’ve always wanted to punch the guy, crack the joke, kiss the girl, and shoot the gun. That was my goal, to be in an action comedy. I grew up with action comedies, from the ‘80s and ‘90s, so this was always a dream of mine. I had no idea how hard it actually is to pull off. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, in my life. But yeah, I was really enthusiastic about it. I was preparing. I was working out. I was training with with guns. I was training in Muay Thai. I knew I could do this, but once we got there, it was like, “This is an impossibility. This is crazy.”
I think one of the reasons why we pulled it off is because of the care, camaraderie, and synergy that was created among the cast. We really, really like each other. Ginger is amazing. She’s gonna be my friend for life. I had a support system and a lot of people who cared about me. Ginger would check in on me, and she would send me Epson salts and muscle pain things. Omar [Benson Miller] brought me dinner, one time. All of us have hung out, at different times, and all of us hang out, separately amongst each other. That was one of the main reasons that this got pulled off, along with the fact that we had amazing crew. This cast was so game for everything. We have so much fun, when the five of us are together. I don’t think all seven of us have been together with the kids.
GINGER GONZAGA: Yeah, we’ve gotta wait for them to get older.
HOWEY: And then, they’re gonna join the Omega Sector and be Omega kids. That will be Season 2.
GONZAGA: For me, I actually passed on this project, several times. I passed on it three times. I was like, “I haven’t seen the movie. I don’t know about a remake.” But it kept knocking on my door. I was like, “What is this? It keeps not going away.” It felt like a magical thing. I was like, “I think I’m supposed to engage on this.” So, I went to the chemistry test. I do this with almost every audition, where I do exactly what I wanna do, which means I’m gonna improvise and change things, and I’m gonna do a very weird version that makes me happy. And then, I’m gonna see if people are on board with it. If they are cool, and if not, then they don’t want me, and that’s that’s fine. I always try to do as much Gingeriness in these auditions as I can, and it really worked instantly with Steve. Steve knows how to like roll with everything, and he was super funny back. He’s sharp and fast, so we were firing on all cylinders together. It was just easy and natural, and they let me improvise. It was really fun. And it was really after that test where I was like, “Oh, I have to do this show. We’ll make it really cool. We’ll update this.”
We come from cable. I respect him, as an actor. I don’t look at Steve as some factory actor. Sometimes for network shows, you’re like, “There’s someone who’s been in the system for forever.” He’s unique. He’s an artist. He’s done a lot of cable. He’s free and he makes weird choices. He knows what he’s doing and he’s using the full realm of his talent, and that’s not everyone. I was like, “Okay, I wanna work with this person. I can get on board with this. We know how we like to work, and it’s in a way that will be cool. It doesn’t matter that it’s a remake. It will be our own thing. We will keep winking at the film, but we’ll also make it truly our own and not make it feel like a procedural from the past.”
We were lucky in that. If it hadn’t been like that, I think I would have been like, “Hey, guys, just kidding. I don’t wanna do this.” But it was so obvious from my test. I’m glad that I picked up on the universal signs that I was supposed to do this. I also knew that taking this job meant that, if I took it, they would be hiring my children, and then my children, because of my own casting, would have to be diverse, which means a lot to me. All of a sudden, I had this half-Filipino son and a daughter who looks like me, but I think she’s Colombian. I realized the impact of that, so I felt more of a responsibility, and a responsibility to protect this character, who has written a certain way in the nineties, but I know how to make sure that a woman is coming off a certain way, regardless of anything.
If I don’t like something and it doesn’t ring true for women, or it’s not something I wanna put out there, I’ll change it. Steve is insanely supportive. I knew what I would be leaning on for this show, and it’s very much Steve, in so many different ways. We’re running this ship in Atlanta, and we have a really loving cast, who’s cool and supportive, and everyone’s kind and really talented. It’s a comfortable group of people, and a loving group of people, in the midst of really high stakes, really intense work days.
Image via CBS
How fantastic is it to have Beverly D’Angelo around, telling you what to do and just talking to you in that voice?
HOWEY: It’s the best. It’s an iconic voice. We were all geeked out because she’s a legend. She has so much energy and power, in such a tiny little body. She is so small, but she’s one of the biggest personalities on the show. As a unit – with Harry, Helen, Gib, Luther, and Maria – that Omega Sector group has our matriarch, which helped us. It just raised the stakes for the show and gave us a sense of legitimacy because of her.
GONZAGA: Also, I will say that it’s so fun to be told what to do and have our tiny little Beverly D’Angelo in that boss position that she plays so well. What’s really fun is when she’s talking to you in that voice, off camera, and being silly Beverly D’Angelo, with that voice of gravitas. She’ll be like, “Listen, this is where we need to go lingerie shopping, honey. I’m gonna take you to Burbank. You’ve gotta know the places.” She’s so silly and fun, but it’s still in that powerful voice. She’s really, really rad. She’s a pro. I find it so funny that she considers herself a supporting actor. I’m like, “No, you’re the lead of things. Your fancy and you have that energy.” Maybe that’s why she’s so good. She’s always thinking about giving. Even though she’s playing these alpha characters, all the time, her purpose is to make the other people shine. It’s a very generous, beautiful wiring that she has. She’s so fun.
I loved episode four because I loved the whole dynamic with Matthew Lillard.
HOWEY: That was one of our best episodes. That was a lot of fun. He brought a lot of energy with his Rain Man-like portrayal of The Wolf.
Ginger, you go on such a journey with Helen in that episode, with her just trying to figure out where this side career fits into her life now. What was it like to have an episode like that, where she really has to figure things out pretty quick?
GONZAGA: Oh, my gosh, so quickly. I loved it. I loved everything about it. It’s very real and very Helen. She’s got this new job, and it’s so silly that she’s lonely at work. She doesn’t have any friends at her spy training, or to practice putting guns together with. I love when Helen is bugging Harry with it. I feel like Helen is forced into this childlike position where she’s like, “Hey, I have feeling today about my spy school.” Harry is actually trying to save the world, and I’m bugging him, like a child. It makes things so funny. I get to have so much fun, and there’s a lot of comedy to be mined. Helen is smart, but she has so much naivete in this area. She doesn’t really understand Matthew Lillard completely. She’s trying to process that he’s an assassin. Harry is like, “Dude, this guy is not all right,” and no one is agreeing with him. He’s the smartest one in the episode. He’s like, “I don’t know about this dude,” and everyone else is just charmed by him. Everything in that episode worked for me. It’s really fun to play Helen, having to come to terms with all of this and the anxiety that comes with all that multitasking.
Image via CBS
Steve, what was that episode like for you? Harry has his wife, and he’s also got this whole team dynamic happening, but then you have this character come in, who’s creeping around the outside of their house, and who just has this whole different vibe and energy. What was that like, as an actor, and how was that to find, as your character?
HOWEY: It was a play. I was trying to find the balance between not reacting in a way that would make him look bad. We need this guy. Omega Sector obviously recruited him for this specific mission. But at the same time, Harry just wants somebody to acknowledge his apprehension of how dangerous this guy is. Harry is the only one that saw him do a clean up, after all these people were slaughtered, and then he goes and has a Gyro, so obviously this guy’s got some quirks. The challenge with this show is that, in one scene it’s drama, in the next scene it’s comedy, and then the next scene is stunts and action. We’re all over the place, and we have to find our rhythm. Harry’s got to find his rhythm. And then, Ginger and I were each other’s straight man. Sometimes she had the jokes, and sometimes I had the jokes. That was a lot of fun.
Specifically with Matt Lillard, I didn’t have to do a lot. He was bringing a lot of funny stuff, and I was just had to react. I think my favorite scene of ours is the scene where he walks into the shooting range. Harry is says, “How do you think I’m supposed to feel, that my wife is around some psychopath?,” and he’s standing behind me with that look. I thought that was so funny. The challenge was always, where do we bring the levity? Where do we bring the humor? How do we bring it, so that it’s believable? At the same time, we have to keep the integrity of the mission at hand, while we’re cracking jokes. So, I was always in my head about, what level am I at? What am I trying to do here? Harry is a computer salesman. He’s good at it and he likes it. But he’s also an assassin and a spy who’s saving the world. He also loves his wife and he loves his family. All these different things are at play. That’s why I was so lucky to have Ginger. Her portrayal of Helen helped me play Harry because it was easy to love her. It was easy to share moments with her. It was easy to let her have the joke. Because I care about her off screen, that chemistry came through, which just made my job easier.
GONZAGA: It’s like the film, where we use each other’s names so much. If we were ever in a scene where we weren’t sure of something, we’d use each other’s names. We realized, as early as the pilot, that it’s like a call and response between the two of us where, if we do it, then we’re right back in it. It was our easiest shortcut, and we would also find very specific moments where we could have that.
Image via CBS
You guys are great to watch together in this, but you’ve also each given us great on screen relationship dynamics in the past, whether it’s between Kevin and V on Shameless, or Nikki and Jen on She-Hulk. What made those relationships special, to you guys? When you have a relationship like that, does it help you figure it out any easier, the next time, or is finding that chemistry always something that feels kind of mysterious and elusive, and you don’t know if it’s really going to work until you just get in it?
HOWEY: That’s a really good question. I think it takes one to know one. It’s hard to recognize something in someone, if you don’t recognize it in yourself. Ginger always sings Tatiana [Maslany]’s praises, about how amazing she is. You see it in what a brilliant actress she is, but I don’t think it’s an accident that Ginger and Tatiana got to work together, and became so tight and created this amazing chemistry. I don’t think it’s an accident that Shanola Hampton and I got to play Kev and V. Ginger still hasn’t met Shanola, but Shanola is is one of my best friends and will always be. She’s my opinion leader. She’s my sounding board. I go to her with everything. Whether we like it or not, I don’t know what your beliefs are, but mine are that we pull in things, to have lessons. We pull in things to learn from it, to grow from it, to struggle from it, or to succeed and have joy from it.
It’s like when Ginger said she listened to whatever was going on in the universe. She and I are in full agreement about what’s out there in the universe, that universal soup and the zeitgeist. We were aware of that. As amazing as those relationships were and those actor joint efforts were, I have that now with Gigi. We have this amazing chemistry, and we’ve only scratched the surface. We were trying to figure out our own individual journey with these characters. Like Ginger said, we winking at the movie while making it our own. But also, we’re now friends, and when you have that respect, it makes the job so much easier to get on path. At the end of the day, you know that they want the best for you, and you want the best for them, and that doesn’t happen all the time. It’s very special. I do believe that we bring things into our lives. I’ve experienced it in my career, and I’ve been very lucky, or I’ve been tapped into something. I don’t think it’s an accident, as much as it’s meant to be. I know that sounds so self-help book, but there is some truth to it. I wouldn’t have been able to do this job, if it wasn’t for the cast. There’s no way. I wouldn’t be able to do 3/4 of the stuff, if it wasn’t for Ginger making me laugh, every day. Working with her, I know I’m gonna laugh, all day.
GONZAGA: I was so excited to work with Steve, and I got so much comfort, based off the way that he talked about Shanola. I’ve never met Shanola, but trust me, Shanola is my friend. Shanola is producing her own show right now, and he’s proud of that. He’s excited for how talented she is and how much she can be a leader. Those are things that I’ve been, unfortunately, patriarchally shamed for, in the past, in a way that I have to shrink myself to navigate the other people that I’m working with and to hide whatever gifts I have. That’s the opposite of Steve. The way that Steve talks about women, and powerful women, and talented women, and smart women, it makes me so happy. I will always take the permission to give my performance and do what I want, but I got to do it without any strings attached and without having to navigate any bullshit, which honestly I do, on most shows. That, unfortunately, isn’t every person. Steve would be like, “Women are intuitive and we’ve gotta protect them!”
There were just all these things that I was excited to hear, and I was excited to know a person who’s shining, that’s talented, that has a platform, and exist with those thoughts. He’s not archaic. He’s never putting women in a certain lane and, because of that, everyone can shine. He cares about Erica [Hernandez]. He cares about Annabella [Didion]. He cares about everyone. There’s an equality that’s given, with his views and with the person that he is, that’s so refreshing to work with and really sets everyone up for success. It’s just really, really great. We got to giggle so much together, and I trust him. Even when I got cast, we launched into it on the phone together, and we were gabbing about a bunch of stuff. He doesn’t question anything that I say. That energy inherently updates our show. The film is from the nineties. It’s no one’s fault. So, I’m just so grateful for that. Steve very much supports everyone and is nondiscriminatory with women . . . It’s nice to have a proper teammate, who’s talented and rad, in spades. We’re very lucky.
True Lies airs on Wednesday nights on CBS.
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