EXCLUSIVE: 'Shameless' Star Steve Howey Talks Final Season and More Ahead of Premiere
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
With Season 11 arriving on Sunday, Howey describes the emotional roller coaster the cast is on, filming in a pandemic, and the depth of his character.
Showtime's smash hit series Shameless is ending its long, successful run this winter. On December 6, the 11th and final season premieres.
This will mark the second season without matriarch Fiona Gallagher, played by Emmy Rossum. Rossum decided to leave the show in 2019 after Season 9. It is unclear as of yet whether or not Rossum will reprise her role for at least a cameo in the upcoming final season, but fans are certainly hopeful.
Since its debut in 2011, Shameless has become Showtime's top comedy. Created by Paul Abbott and developed for American television by John Wells, it is also the network's longest-running scripted series. Season 10 averaged 5.7 million weekly viewers across all platforms.
While the show is anchored firmly by the dysfunctional Gallagher clan, one pillar has stood tall alongside them, both physically and figuratively. Kevin Ball, played by Steve Howey, has arguably been the show's most reliable character for 10 seasons. Along with his girlfriend Veronica (Shanola Hampton), the pair have provided help, guidance, and love to their next-door neighbors while they were growing up Gallagher.
Howey has been a steady talent on television for nearly two decades. In 2001, he was cast as Van Montgomery on the hit WB/CW series Reba. The show ran for six season totaling 125 episodes. After a few gigs that included a guest starring role on the hit USA Network show Psych and feature films like Bride Wars and Something Borrowed, Howey was cast as Kevin Ball in Showtime's American adaption of Shameless. The rest, as they say, is history.
In an exclusive interview with Kulture Popped, Steve opened up about Shameless coming to a close, his friendship with on-screen partner Shanola Hampton, filming in a pandemic, and what fans can expect in Season 11. There may even be a spoiler in there somewhere.
The final season is here. I imagine when you're first starting out, its impossible to even think about this moment. What are your thoughts right now as we get closer to the premiere date?
It's bittersweet, you know? Eleven seasons is a rarity. The cast and crew - specifically the cast - we all grew up together. Shinola [Hampton, "Veronica"] and I are partners in this [show]. We grew to develop a really tight friendship and she's turned into one of my best friends. I'm very close with everyone else as well. They were all kids. Cameron [Monaghan, "Ian"] was a kid, Jeremy [Allen White, "Lip"] was a kid and now he's married and a father. Ethan [Cutkosky, "Carl"] and Emma [Kenney, "Debbie"] were 9 or 10 when we started and now they're 21. A lot of life has been lived and a lot of journeys have happened. There's a lot of ups and downs.
This show is a testament to John Wells, the creator. He brought it over from England and we got lucky enough to be cast in it. We really had no idea [what to expect]. We thought it was definitely going to go a couple of seasons and it just kept going and going. Now that it's coming to an end, it's hard to describe.
KP: This may sound like an odd thing to ask, but is there any part of you that's happy or relieved?
A part of me is actually excited to think about moving onto something else. Then the other part of it is thinking, "Oh my God, I'm going to miss this so much. It shoots in LA [Los Angeles] at Warner Bros. It's so much fun. There's debauchery, drugs, sex, alcohol, and comedy. It has all the elements."
I'm looking forward to the next step, because 2020 has been really difficult and I'm a lucky one in all of it. I'm so grateful for being able to go back to work, and I'm grateful for everything I have. I can't imagine what everyone else is going through. People who haven't been as fortunate or as lucky, or have just been caught in a bad circumstance.
I think we're all kind of like looking forward to it coming to an end, if that makes any sense. It's exciting, but scary. A lot of the crew has come and gone. The producers and some of the writers are still here. As far as the cast, these people are my family and they'll always be in my life hopefully, if they'll allow me. Maybe they to get away from me, haha.
It's sad, but I don't really want to put myself there just yet because I feel like there's going to be a lot of emotion. I've definitely taken a lot of the time for granted because you don't realize it while you're in the middle of it.
I think it's going to be the latter. I think everyone is going to keep in touch, I would imagine.
I mean, that's one of the things that you can't predict. You can hope for it, but it doesn't always happen that way. It's all about the synergy created amongst the cast. If you've got it, then it all trickles down. William H. Macy has been a gallant patriarch. He's been so wonderful because he's allowed to be one, you know what I mean? He's been so gracious. He shows up prepared and on time. He humors me by allowing me to be a goofball which I really appreciate because there have been some males in my past that have not been into my goofiness, as it were. Bumping heads has occurred, literally and figuratively.
Bill [William H. Macy] just allows everyone to be themselves. He wants it. He wants you to just play, have fun, find it, work on it, and get it. Then on spend it. It's truly been a master class in acting and professionalism class. I've ruined takes just watching him do stuff. It would be my cue and I'm just in it [the moment]. And I'd say, "Sorry, can we take it again? I'm so sorry Bill! I was just watching you right there." It's a testament to what an amazing actor he is. American television and film royalty, for sure.
I'm a lucky guy. Really, really lucky. I got to be able to be surrounded by people that I have come to love, which was the most rewarding thing. Going to work was never a task. It was never a dread, you know what I mean? It was always joyful. It was always something that was fun.
And the bar [in the show] - The Alibi. I grew up watching Cheers. So, I definitely felt kind of Sam Malone-ish in a way. Then there's Shanola Hampton. Talk about a godsend. She's not only been there as my acting partner, but she's been there as a personal friend. And that won't end [when the show does]. We're still going to stay in each other's lives.
It's sad, but exciting. Bittersweet, for sure.
Do you ever find yourself thinking, "Why don't we just keep this train rolling?"
We're proud of what we've done, but we feel like we could do more. I guess we could have gone more [seasons], but it's just not the time or the place to keep going.
It's amazing how you have not only maintained an audience, but grew it throughout such a long run.
We have an amazing fan base. We have new people who caught on in the later seasons. There's people who got Showtime specifically to watch this show. Then we had a whole new crop of fans when Netflix started streaming us. Everybody's got their favorite character. To be a part of something that was based in love and fun, and overcoming obstacles because the thing is - we're a show about poverty, and poverty is not "sexy." It's not "hot." But the writers and John Wells, who's one of the smartest men in Hollywood, created this world where you could talk about a lot of different subjects and if you talk about it in a humorous or clever way with irony, sarcasm or sincerity, you could get by with it. We have brilliant writers.
You guys are still shooting currently. How has the [COVID-19] pandemic affected working on set?
Yes, we're still shooting. Thank God that Warner Bros., John Wells and the whole production team got everybody back to work. We're going through the protocols. We're masked up and socially distanced. We're block shooting, and shooting a lot of scenes out of order. We're probably not going to be done until February. This season is going to be a lot longer. It's drawn out because everything is so safety-orientated. It's all a lot slower than it used to be.
Have you noticed any affect on actually doing rehearsals and takes?
Well, yes and no. Some actors wear masks in the scenes. Most of us don't, so we're taking our masks off [for the take]. Otherwise, we're masked up the whole time, but it's not that bad. We just have to be aware of what we're doing. There's no touching or hugging [on set]. In the years of Shameless past, Shanola and I have pretty much done more things on camera than real married couples, you know what I mean? There's none of that this season. Everyone is spread out and distanced. It is what it is, man.
It's not the hill that I'm going to die on to say that this is wrong, off, or doesn't feel right, because it's not about me. It's about those hundred-or-so crew members that have a job. So we're all there to support each other and to make it the best [show] we can while being safe. We don't want to be shut down. If you get shut down - if one or two cast members in a production test positive [for COVID-19] - then you have to quarantine for 14 days. Productions don't have the money, patience, or time for that. You're just shut down.
I think we've definitely taken precautions. We've been involved in safety meetings and we take it to heart. The elbow bump is the new fist bump. In the new trailer. Noel Fisher ["Mickey"] and I actually do it. I said, "Do you want to put that in? Let's put that." It's a whole new world now.
It seems like you've already answered my next question. Will the show address the pandemic? It sounds like you guys are filming this season as if coronavirus is happening in the show.
Yeah, we are, but we're not like making it all about it [COVID-19]. We talk about lockdowns. There's a scene where there is a knock at The Alibi door and I say, "Who the hell is that? We're closed due to the mayor's, you know, the very smart mayor that told us to lock down." And then it's Frank and I'm saying something like, "God, Frank, you're supposed to knock in the back door!" And when V and Kev get the girls ready to walk out the door, they put their masks on them. Casually complaining about a lockdown. It's stuff like that which is creatively interwoven into the Shameless world. A lot of impoverished areas don't have the time or money to take a virus as seriously as people in affluent areas. It is what it is. We're not making the season about COVID-19, but it's definitely a part. It's another character in this season.
I think it's going to be very interesting this season for Kev [Kevin] and V [Veronica] in particular, because they own the bar and fans have to be thinking - what's going to become of The Alibi? I know real life Kevins and Veronicas. I see them on my Facebook announcing their new safety protocols, new marketing plans and promoting take-out just trying to survive. With the bar and restaurant industry possibly being the most impacted industry by COVID-19, do you think that Kevin, Veronica, and The Alibi now become maybe the most important part of this season in terms of relating to American public?
Wow, man, you are a writer. That is way beyond what it is, but yes - and no. I think it's in the eye of the beholder. You're going to take away from what you want to; that's art. We all have a different interpretation of what it is. My character, for example. I'm someone's favorite, right? Someone's absolute favorite. They love me. But their friend might say, "Yeah, I like him, but he's goofy," or whatever. People see things differently, and how people are going to interpret this is really up to them.
We do address Kev and V's situation, thought. SPOILER ALERT - we get into the weed business. In real life, Illinois passed a law to make [recreational] marijuana legal. So, they [Kevin and Veronica] get into the weed business and it helps to keep them afloat because the bar is suffering due to the pandemic. So it's definitely addressed and we hit on what you were talking about. We don't dive into it that much, though. We're not sitting there saying, "What the are we going to do? We have bills to pay. We have mortgages, we have food [to buy], we have all this stuff and we have no income coming in." That is a whole other storyline that we haven't really done yet. Again, it's touched upon a little bit, though. They [writers] did a good job about being in reality, but also staying in this South Side Chicago-Gallagher-Shameless world.
There was a big for Kevin and Veronica as they got engaged in the Season 10 finale. I think a lot of fans were kind of wondering that with so little time left in the show are they taking this big, new step in their lives? I mean, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
I mean, do you want the answer, or do you want the honest answer? I think the honest answer is just that they were running out of ideas for us. There's only so much [material], you know? We tackled the marriage thing in the pilot. We get married. Eleven years ago. The following season, we find out that Kev still married. And so our marriage is null and void.
So now there's this "marriage," but there's a love story there and they're trying to take it somewhere. I don't mind it. As actors, sometimes we just have to shut the up and memorize the lines. I have tens of thousands of hours being an actor. I don't have tens of thousands of hours of being a writer. I have ideas. I've had great ideas, but my job is to be the actor, Miles Davis doesn't get handed a trumpet and say, "You know, if we actually bent it this way, this might work better." No. Here's the trumpet, now play it and make it sound good. So, whatever they give me, it's my job to act it out and make it a good scene.
At the end of the day, who know's why we're getting married? And you know what - who cares? They [writers] do their job, we do ours, and at the end of the day, we're doing something right because we've lasted this long. To use your words - if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
So, with everything going on with Kevin and Veronica right now - the bar and now, as we've just learned, the weed business, and of course the engagement - is there potential for a Kev and V spinoff in your mind? Clearly you guys are loved by the fans. You've been with the Gallagher clan for 11 seasons and with everything happening to them right now in the final Shameless season, is there potential for them to continue?
I don't think so because the show is owned by Warner Bros., Showtime, and John Wells. For that to happen, it would have to be a whole new show. I get messages from fans about it all the time. "Hey, when's the Kev and V spinoff? You guys should have a spinoff! Why don't you have a spinoff and make it about The Alibi? Call it The Alibi," you know?
Shinola and I have talked about it. We would actually entertain the idea because we get along so well. I mean, my kids are friends with her kids. They spend the night over at her house. My family is friends with her family. We've become this big family, so it makes sense, but I just think there's so much bureaucracy involved. And it's also because of where we're at in 11th year of the show.
I haven't been campaigning for it. I can ask again, but it's really out of my hands. People will give all the reasons why [we should]. "There's material and a storyline and you guys are great on screen together," but at the end of the day, it's a business. If it doesn't work, it just doesn't work.
Sure, it might make sense to do a spinoff, but the studio would rather just start a new show. Even though that the potential might be awful, there's more incentive for the studio to launch new show because the actors' salaries will be low. If it's successful, then the actors will get their pay day. Right now, they're paying us a lot of money for this last season. So with a spinoff, because it's the same characters, they would have to keep up with this pay scale for the most part. Would it be worth it to them? I don't know. That's the big question.
It was definitely on the table. We definitely thought about it and we would probably do it because, you know, like you said - Kev and V are just loved. On screen, it's just so easy with Shanola and I. We actually worked together on Reba. Shanola was a guest star in 2001. Wow, talk about someone who's supposed to be in your life, right? She's my best friend. I love her. She's helped me, and I help her when I can. It's mostly her helping me though [laughs]. So, I'd totally do a spinoff with her.
I'm so lucky in my career. I've been on two TV shows for 17 years that have each done over 100 episodes. That's crazy. And most of the messages I get [from fans] are about a Reba reboot or a Kev and V spinoff. I think that's so awesome.
The character Kevin is very lovable. I feel like people can really love and really hate everybody else on the show, but Kevin is pretty much the purest one. I remember there was one scene between Kevin and Ian. Kev is with the girls [his daughters] and he says something like, "Dude, I just need like five minutes of adult conversation." Ian proceeds to try and explain to you that he's dating a trans person who is also gay, if I'm remembering that correctly, and Kev is just not getting it. But he tried so hard to be supportive of Ian in that moment. I think that scene is a great definition of the Kev character. What do you hope that people take from from Kevin? What do you want people to know about him?
You know, that's a really good question. The way you articulated it, I haven't been asked that question in that way before. I never went into this to be a arbiter of anything. I wasn't trying to inspire or become a role model. I just was doing it because I love it. I don't work when I'm on set, you know what I mean? There's that old saying: "You get paid to wait, the acting is free." It's really true. I love what I do. I have fun when I do it.
With this character Kev, you know from the get-go, he was a foster kid. He didn't have a proper education. He was kind of was a hustler. Then he found the love of his life. I think that relationship with V is part of who he is. If he didn't have V, he wouldn't be him. That's the foundation. The base level is this love for another person. Everything else that comes out of him comes from that love. That's why I think a lot of people like the character, because if he does something stupid or if he does something goofy, if he does something f--ked up or wrong or mean, it still comes from a good place. He's got a good heart because that heart is loved.
Also, I'm a big guy, but I'm not afraid of being goofy or play the fool. I think that's kind of refreshing for a lot of people. There are some alpha males out there who don't know how to be vulnerable.
The true definition of vulnerability is to affect and to be effected, right? I'm allowing Kev to be effected by things. I'm not putting on stoicism or this aloof attitude. Then nothing would bother him. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He is who he is. He's not the brightest bulb and that's okay. People love him because of who he truly is.
Back in the first season, there are those moments with Ethel [Madison Davenport], the young girl we Kev fosters with V. Madison killed me in this one scene where she thanks Kevin for taking care of her. I was responding more to the moment than I was acting. It's moments like that where Steve comes out.
It all goes back to that relationship with V and that love. Love can truly transcend any kind of language barrier, cultural background, race, gender, or sexuality. I think you can really have an amazing character whether there's a lack of love or if there's a lot love. This is going to sound so cliché, but it's true - I think that at the end of the day, the greatest thing that humanity has is love.
When hear the fans respond to polls and articles asking who their favorite character is, I'm always up near the top and that's really awesome. It's so cool. And it's not me. It's not that I'm doing anything different than any of the other actors. I think it's the character.
What's next for you, man? Do you have anything in the works or any projects lined up that you're able to share with us?
I have nothing right now. I am reading stuff. It's a little weird out there right now, for sure. You've got a lot of A-List actors who aren't working. This town is definitely in dire straits, but there a lot of us who are okay. Things are moving, though. A lot of productions have started again, and a lot of us [actors] are back to work.
I went out for the role of a game warden in Wyoming. The show is based on this book series that CJ Box wrote. It's a detective-type series, and the protagonist is a game warden in a rural area.
A lot of things aren't shot in LA anymore. They're shot in Vancouver, Toronto, New York, Atlanta, North Carolina, and Arizona. It's wild. Casting isn't even happening in the room anymore. Castings are happening on Zoom.
I'm not sure about it. I am very responsive to the energy on set. I'm way too sexy. I'm always trying to crack up to the crew. If you can make the crew laugh, you can make anyone laugh. That sets the tone and everybody's in a good mood. Let's have fun, then let's get to work. So, I don't know what doing a drama right now would be like, because there's so much drama in the real world as it is. Plus, I don't know if I'm going to stay with TV.
I kind of want to create my own thing, really. The thought of it excites me. And I wouldn't have to answer to anybody.
We'll see what happens.
Shameless stars Emmy® and SAG Award® winner William H. Macy, Jeremy Allen White, Cameron Monaghan, Noel Fisher, Ethan Cutkosky, Shanola Hampton, Steve Howey, Emma Kenney, Christian Isaiah, and Kate Miner.
The final season of Shameless premieres this Sunday, December 6, at 9pm EST.
Check out the official trailer for the final season below and get ready to say goodbye to the Gallaghers.
- Matt Bishop