"True Lies" Stars Steve Howey and Ginger Gonzaga on Bringing a Big-Screen Blockbuster to CBS

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CBS' highly anticipated new series True Lies  begins its action-packed run tonight. Inspired by the 1994 James Cameron blockbuster of the same name, the series stars Steve Howey and Ginger Gonzaga as married couple Harry and Helen Tasker (roles originated for the big screen by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis). On the surface their lives seem pretty mundane; he's a computer consultant, she's a language professor. However, things get interesting after Helen discovers her unassuming hubby is actually a first-class international spy for the intelligence agency Omega Sector. After unknowingly accompanying her husband on an operation that goes awry, she impresses Omega enough to be recruited by them, beginning Helen's fish-out-of-water life alongside Harry as a top-notch spy operative.

"This was definitely a case of 'be careful what you wish for because you just might get it'," laughed Howey of landing the lead. "I've always wanted to do this, and I manifested and put it out there. I grew up on James Cameron's movies, and Schwarzenegger was a huge influence, so it's just a dream come true to be able to do this TV version.

"What's funny is during the pandemic, and the lockdown, I was looking for activities for my two kids, so we made vision boards," he continued. "A few months after I got the pilot, my oldest son pulled out my vision board, and the one picture I'd cut out, the one human I cut out, as it was all about cars, money and houses, was Sean Connery as 007 from James Bond in the black blow tie and tux. My son goes, 'Dad, do you think you created this by cutting this out?' I go, 'Of course. Look at it!' But it's something I've been working at. I practice Muay Thai, and I was a competition rifle and pistol shooter. People were like, 'Why are you going to these competitions to shoot guns?' I'd reply, 'Because I'm gonna play a cop, an FBI agent, or a military guy. Now I'm a spy.'"

"I had a very magical guidance towards this show," Gonzaga said. "I passed on it three times. They had already tested people and I told myself, 'OK, after this test if they don't pick anyone, for some reason I'm supposed to do it.' I definitely wanted a physical role, but I guess I manifested the freedom that I have in [doing] this. I want to do a lead, but still be able to improvise. I went into my audition doing that, so they'd know what I'm doing and not be mad at me. It was weirdly divine that I couldn't shake that. I was meant to do this job."

Unlike Howey, Gonzaga hadn't trained her whole life for the role, and as the inexperienced newcomer to the team, that worked to her advantage. "I just made sure that I was very healthy and physically strong," she revealed. "I was doing a lot of Pilates, which who knew I really needed for the pilot? There's a helicopter scene and lifting myself up on the rig is like a weird level of workout that I didn't know was possible. I have a handful of gymnastics still in my body from childhood, but it was a lot about being limber and being ready. I took Parkour classes. I took circus classes, anything that would give me a well-roundedness. I also leaned on the excuse that Helen is a brand-new spy."

While both stars admit to being huge admirers of Cameron's work, when filming the series Gonzaga had never seen the movie that inspired it. That's something she has since remedied. "I [can now] say I watched it," she laughed. "But I'm endlessly grateful that I hadn't seen it. James Cameron is an amazing filmmaker, but for me, it took all the pressure off and helped me [avoid] any sort of judgment of my performance. I didn't know who Helen was and wanted to make her [my version] of who she is. But it was fun to watch Tom Arnold, who's also on the show, and have him talk about his experience."

"It was daunting filling these shoes," added Howey. "I'm a big fan of [the movie]. Bill Paxton was hilarious, as was Tom Arnold. Then you have legends like Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who I believe people underappreciate because of his accent. He delivered funny lines with a look, effortlessly. But what Ginger and I talked about was just making it our own. Have fun, make it our own, and I think that's what we did."

Being atop the daily call sheet, both stars, as first-time leads, gladly accepted the responsibility of setting the tone on set. That's where their offscreen camaraderie came through. "I thought I was ready for that," admitted Howey. "I wasn't. That trickle-down effect is real, especially on a set, and there's a tremendous amount of responsibility. But what made it great is I had [co-star] Omar (Miller) checking me, I had Ginger checking me, and really good people in the crew. Every time I saw that Ginger Gonzaga was No. 2 on the call sheet I was like, 'Oh, I'm going to laugh all day'."

"It ended up being a very good team with our personalities," agreed Gonzaga. "We're both very protective. My goal on any job is to make everyone laugh, as that keeps the vibe up. I'm a morning person; Steve's an evening person. By the evening he'd pick me up, and in the morning, I'd pick him up. We're similar artists driven by a care of making things as good as possible."

With the first season's 13 episodes shot, both stars are eager to reprise their roles for a second. "We have so many ideas for the show we still want to do, things we're itching to get out." Gonzaga said. "Everyone on our show is very creative and I can't wait to revisit Helen."

"I'm so ready to jump in again," agreed Howey. "Hopefully the audience enjoys it, as it's a little different from a lot of CBS shows. It's kind of like the movie, but it's kind of not, and hopefully, it translates … because we had a really good time doing it."

True Lies is telecast Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. on CBS and is also available on the CBS app and to stream on Paramount+.

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