In the world of professional wrestling, there’s always a story. Two athletes enter the ring, one the fans cheer for while the other typically ignites an array of jeers from spectators—it’s a tale as old as time with leagues such as the WWE and WWF. But what actually goes into conducting a match that almost always has a story, and what goes on behind the scenes? That’s something that Michael Waldron’s new Starz show ‘Heels’ examines.
But it also goes much deeper than that.
‘Heels’ follows brothers Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace (Alexander Ludwig) Spade and their family business—the Duffy Dome wrestling ring set in a small town in Georgia. After their father’s abrupt and tragic death, the brothers are trying to pick up the pieces to help make the ring survive. Amell’s Jack starts out as a heel in wrestling, or the villain of the match, while Ludwig’s Ace is a face, aka the hero. But behind the scenes, the characters are not so cut and dry. The world of heels and faces doesn’t exactly hold up when it comes to human nature, but audiences are taken on a ride to figure out just where the story may lead with the ideology of is the “bad guy” truly all bad and is the “good guy” truly all good?
With a talented cast and a story that pulls on your heartstrings as much as it does entertain, star Stephen Amell sat down to discuss why ‘Heels’ was a no-brainer for him.
What was your interest to want to sign on with this project?
Well, principally, Michael Waldron just wrote an amazing script. I read it, and being in the world of professional wrestling and being a fan growing up, [I was] able to immediately recognize that this was written by a wrestling fan and a wonderful writer at that…I felt like I was in good hands.
I had a great conversation with the show-runner Mike O’Malley and he and I shared a similar vision and a similar love of sports. He’s an actor, which I think is always a huge bonus for a show-runner because actors understand other actors. He also spoke from working at Starz. I loved my experience working with the CW and WDTV and it was important to me to be involved in another group that was going to make me feel good about the people I was going to call my coworkers and my bosses. It checked all of the boxes. Every once in a while, you sort of [ponder] over a decision…this was not a hard decision. I was just ready to go.
What can you tell me about your character specifically?
Jack Spade is in charge of the DWL (Duffy Wrestling League.) He’s been thrust into this position by the death of his father and he’s doing the best he can, but he’s making mistakes along the way—as you do when you’re all of the sudden thrust into something that maybe you weren’t entirely ready for. Jack’s doing his best, but he’s struggling sometimes.
You mentioned part of the reason why you took this was that you were a fan. What made you love wrestling when you were younger?
Ah man, oh gosh… it was Hulk Hogan, it was Macho Man, it was Ultimate Warrior, it was Roddy Piper. It was on Saturday mornings at 12 o’clock and 1 o’clock and occasionally there would be a Saturday night main event. This was right around the time that WWF started doing pay per views too, so I couldn’t watch them live because we didn’t have a satellite dish or however they did it back then. But, I would wait for them to come out at our local video store—Video Flicks down on Avenue Road in Toronto and they would come out on a Tuesday.
I’d go after school on a Friday and rent the newest one and wouldn’t sleep that night because my mom wouldn’t let me watch it until Saturday morning and I don’t know, it just got me…it got me at the right age—7,8,9 years old. It just sucked me in and I’ve been a fan ever since. My fandom has obviously changed over the years, as you transition from a kid to an adult—allegedly I’m an adult now—but the passion has always been there and my fandom has been stoked over the last several years because I’ve become involved with professional wrestling. My level of respect for these performers has grown exponentially.
So personally, what was it like for you then to get to step into that whole experience?
It was incredible. The set that they built on Tyler Perry’s studio lot, the Duffy Dome set, is the greatest set that I’ve ever been on in my entire life. You didn’t have to fake it—it could probably fit 800-900 people, maybe even 1,000 people, it’s a full arena. You get to walk out an entrance ramp and you get to hear your music play.
We couldn’t fill it with as many extras that we wanted because of COVID protocols but the people that were there brought it. We moved them all around the arena depending on the camera to really make it feel full and boisterous. Gosh, it’s such a rush. The fact that we’re actually doing it for work is amazing.
How was the training that went into preparing for the show?
We did a lot of training before we got to Atlanta. Bill Hill and the whole production team used a soundstage and built the ‘Heels’ gymnasium for us to train at my request, and all credit to them for following through with this. They built the training into my day.
Some productions will say I need you on set at this time, but with this I said well, I need to train guys… figure it out, and they did. On the other side of that soundstage with all of the weights and equipment, we had a practice ring and a wrestling coach there all of the time—a successful wrestler in his own right—Luke Hawx. All of it was just baked in.
For the cast who were all getting to know each other for the first time, it was a real efficient, awesome way for us to bond and format camaraderie. It really felt like a family because of the times we were filming in and because I don’t think any of us were from Atlanta, all we had was each other. It was great, I loved it.
Michael Waldron has said that he likes to take peeks into characters and how they can change and also the true dynamics between who is “good” and who is “bad” meaning no one is fully just one typecast all the way. Where does Jack fall into that idea?
Jack’s got layers to him, that’s for sure. He’s struggling. He’s struggling with the death of his father and he’s struggling with how to define his relationship with his brother, with his wife, with his son and with his mother…and he’s doing that thing that people do that is really challenging, which is he’s trying to be everything to everyone.
If you try to do 10 things well, you’re not going to anything great. It’s when you can stop, slow down and focus and really understand when you need to lead, when you need to follow, when you need to do something yourself or when you need to delegate. These are not things that he understands yet. It doesn’t make sense to him. The only time that he is in control fully and he is not necessarily happy, but he’s not making mistakes, is when he walks out there in the dome, his music hits and his time in the ring bell to bell. He’s at peace then, but everything else is a struggle.
‘Heels’ premieres on Starz Aug. 15.