In many ways, the best kinds of allies are those we least expect. For Shameless star Steve Howey, speaking out for what he knows is right has become an art form, one that is unpredictable but always strikes a nerve.
Last December, the Texas-born actor came out on Twitter, he says, to fight the stigma behind saying the words "I'm gay." His tweet, which read simply "I'm gay and proud," sparked dialogue and a fair amount of confusion about the straight, married father of twins -- but he isn't bothered by that.
Some fans thought Howey, who plays gay in Netflix's Game Over, Man!, might have been texting in character, but he insists, "My whole point was to be a champion, a supporter, of the movement. I can say it and have no problem with it. If you are, be proud and say it. I'm just here to hold the flag up and say I'm in support. If that helps you come out or say it with pride, that's all my intention was."
Growing up in Los Angeles, Howey and his family lived on a 67-foot yacht called Valkyrien, where his dad (renowned acting coach Bill Howey) hosted many of Hollywood's elite, including George Clooney and Patrick Swayze. Male role models like these shaped him to be the man he is today.
"I don't think being a man is furrowed brow and mean and emotionless," he says of the toxic masculinity that keeps men from being emotionally vulnerable. "There's a misperception, and I think that we all have a job to change that."
Howey says that in order for Hollywood to start showing the "juxtaposition of what it is to be emotionally available" as a man, the material has to change. "A lot of things are changing, so it's really exciting. ... The role models we're seeing now [in TV and film], they're kind of like the everyday man trying to do something good in the world. Not stuck on an image of what a man needs to be."
Going against his usual roles (Kev in Shameless and Van in Reba), in Game Over, Man! Howey plays Rich, a "bad guy and a goon" who happens to be gay and works alongside his lover (Mac Brandt), another eccentric thug.
"It's a different character because I play it serious, but in that serious comes the comedy," he says of his role, which required he and Brandt to "make out and get all funky on the bed together."
The fact that he and Brandt both play against type -- hypermasculine bad guys who happen to be gay -- is part of the movie's charm.
"I happen to be straight, but kissing another girl is the same thing as kissing another guy," he laughs. "We had a great time."
The last few years have brought Howey a roster of dramatic parts, a change from the comedic roles his fans know him most for. He says, "I do comedy [and] it's going to take some effort and some other projects for the industry and the public at large to realize that I can do drama, too."
Howey is also starring alongside Eliza Coupe in the independent film Making Babies, about a couple going through the arduous cycles of modern infertility treatments. Moving forward, he hopes to tackle more challenging roles that bring awareness to stories less told -- like that of his best friends, Nick and Jim, a gay couple, whose kids go to the same school as Howey's twins.
"I wish I could be half the father that Nick is," he says. "They're the sweetest, most gentle, most kind people. To me that is the strongest man."
Howey credits his mission to tell more inclusive stories to his "personal friends and associates that have been in the closet." After all, "if it's difficult to come out of the closet in Los Angeles, it's got to be fucking terrifying in Des Moines, Iowa; or Boulder, Colo."