Steve Howey, star of the new television adaptation of the iconic 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick “True Lies,” often appears on-screen with an incredible physique, but never did he expect to one day take on one the Austrian Oak’s legendary roles. Fortunately, however, in taking the gig, Howey was not expected to do an impersonation of the seven-time Mr. Olympia, but he was able to bring his own unique experience of acting and staying in shape to a character that clicks in 2023.
M&F caught up with the 45-year-old from San Antonio to find out how his training has evolved since we last interviewed him five years ago, and why the actor is in the best physical and mental shape of his career.
You attended Northeastern Junior College (Sterling, CO) on a basketball scholarship. Was this your first taste of the importance of being physically fit?
I was a late bloomer in basketball. I didn’t start playing until my freshman year of (Crescenta Valley) high school and then from there I went and got a scholarship to a junior college with plans of moving on to a Division II or I, but I couldn’t keep up with those guys. I was pounding protein shakes, working out all of the time, and I still couldn’t compete at their level. But, I grew up on sale boats in southern California so I was always swimming. Like a fish, I was always in the water, so I think that had a lot to do with (being fit). I have pictures of me swinging on ropes connected to the top of the mast, so I was a pretty athletic kid but yeah, basketball was my love and I had lofty goals that I was gonna be a professional basketball player but then I went to college and those dreams were crushed.” [laughs]
You are often seriously ripped on-screen, like for “Stuber” (2019). How did you prepare for that role?
That was jacked. I was cut, that was just timing. I think that one of the reasons why I got (the role) was because of what I looked like in Shameless. In 2017 or 2018, I started running marathons and I started doing sprint triathlons. With all that running and training, it was hard to keep a lot of muscle on, so it was a lot of fun to realize how much you can eat while training like that. To play a stripper in Stuber was a lot of fun. It was a great scene.
With so many of the roles that you have taken in movies and television requiring you to be in great shape, has it been easier to stay consistent with your physique because you were so active in your youth?
A lot of my workouts are for physical reasons, but I think the main reason is for my mental and emotional health. If I could go back in time, and give myself some advice I would say “work out more.” There were times, like, when I was on the TV show “Reba” (2001-2007), I was definitely enjoying the party scene, and there were times on “Shameless” (joining in 2010) where I was doing the same, but working out was always part of my lifestyle. For “True Lies” in particular, I knew I was going to be doing my own stunts, I knew it was going to be a lot of work. Being the ‘number one’ on the show, every scene, all day every day, so being in good physical shape was paramount. It had to be done. So, I lifted weights, I ran, I was in Muay Thai classes and just preparing and I’m glad I did because if I didn’t, it would have been bad. Like, my body would have broken.
You certainly gave your all in True Lies, and you actually did break!?
My body did break at the end! I broke my finger, just the tip. It went back all the way and the nail hit the knuckle, and stayed there. The stunt had me dodge a swinging baton, and then I throw the stunt guy into the wall and then throw him through a glass window. We did it a couple of times and then this one time I went to grab him and my finger just went back. I finished the stunt scene and popped my finger back. Now I have around another month before I can do any pullups!
When you last talked with M&F around five years ago, you were spending two to three hours in the gym, per session. With the more functional training and running that you now do, has your training changed?
I think muscle memory is a huge part of it, so I don’t have to go that hard. During that time, five years ago, I was going through a lot personally so being at the gym was cathartic. It was my therapy, away from therapy, if you will. It was more like; “I have to exhaust myself, so I can stop thinking.” [laughs]
Talking of thinking; what did you think about filling the gigantic boots of Arnold Schwarzenegger for the television version of “True Lies”?
The man is a legend! I just wanna say how hard it is, as an actor, to throw a knife and have it go through that person, and then they go into the wall, and then say to that person, “Stick around!” That is tough, and he pulls off those looks around the corner and pulls it off so effortlessly that to fill his shoes, if you will, is a daunting task but we tried to keep our originality. We tried to do our own thing so that we weren’t mimicking anything that (the original movie) did but it was a lot of responsibility to try to pull this TV version off. Schwarzenegger is the man.
It’s such a great project that manages to play homage to the original without trying to copy it, but when you first read the script, were you relieved that you didn’t have to play the role with an Austrian accent!
Yeah! (laughs) I said, do they realize that I’m not an Austrian bodybuilder?
“True Lies,” starring Steve Howey and Ginger Gonzaga premieres on CBS and Paramount+ on March 1, 2023.