Stephen Amell spent eight years dealing with the heavy physical demands of starring in the action series “Arrow.” Alexander Ludwig spent almost the same amount of time working on the physically and emotionally demanding series “Vikings.”
After such demanding work, it would have been understandable if their next deep dive into a TV series would be along the lines of a light comedy. But, the Canadian actors are not playing it safe as they are starring in “Heels,” a series about costumed heroes who face the emotional and physical challenges of small time professional wrestling.
“Heels” launches on Starz at 9 p.m. Aug. 15. The initial order is for eight episodes.
When asked about making the decision to return to such demanding work, Amell dryly says, “I think people have an inflated opinion on how much control we have over our careers.”
Ludwig jokes that when he saw the title, he thought it was a series about shoemakers. In this case, the term “heels” refers to professional wrestlers who take on the bad guy roles in the ring.
The new Starz series is a family drama that unfolds in a close-knit Georgia community. Jack Spade (Amell) is the heart and soul of his family-owned regional professional wrestling business. He not only writes all the scripts for the matches and takes care of the money matter elements but also is the top heel in the group.
His younger brother, Ace (Ludwig), is the golden boy of the group who dreams of life in bigger arenas. The clash between loyalty to family and the pursuit of personal glory takes on another level because of the brotherly connection.
The wrestlers are tolling away at this lower level of professional wrestling with many seeing it as a way to get to a higher goal. Both Amell and Ludwig can relate as they both took small acting roles when they were younger with an eye on it leading to the type of starring careers they have found.
“That’s kind of what I loved about this story. Of course the wrestling world is incredible and the athleticism that goes into it is incredible and super colorful. But, at the end of the day, the heart of the story is about people wanting more out of life and being willing to do what it takes to get there,” Ludwig says. “For most actors, you have to earn your stripes and when you are first starting out you think ‘Wow. Is this going to be forever?’ But it is really a war of attrition and you just have to hang on.
‘I think for both Stephen and myself, we have been incredibly blessed to be a part of this show which is something we are both so deeply proud of. We made the show we set out to make.”
Picking up on that, Amell jokingly points out that the saying that there are no small parts only small actors is a lie. His serious response is that all jobs for an actor should be leading toward a higher goal.
Both actors went through training to make sure they didn’t get hurt once they stepped into the ring. Amell knew the basics of the professional wrestling world before filming started.
“I was very aware of it and a really big fan growing up in Toronto. I knew that the independent wrestling world existed and had a really good friend go up through it,” Amell says. “I thought it was great fun that we were going to shine a spotlight on it.”
There’s more to “Heels” than just the clashes between the brothers. Mike O’Malley plays the owner of a rival wrestling business looking to eliminate the competition. Mary McCormack is the logistical brains of the business. There is also an oddball group of wrestlers played by Allen Maldonado and James Harrison.
Then there are the women closest to the brothers. Alison Luff plays Jack’s wife Staci while Kelli Berglund’s Crystal Tyler is Ace’s valet and love interest.
Luff’s character is the most grounded of all the characters in the series as she is a wife and mother while still finding a way to help her husband chase his dream. At the same time, she gets to show off her musical skills through performances at her church.
“I have always seen Staci as this creative individual. Had it been cultivated, who knows where she would be,” Luff says.
The term valet is used to describe the attractive women who wait outside the ring to support the wrestlers. Tyler is not content just to be Ace’s eye candy.
Berglund says, “I think the women are the unsung heroes of this show in a way just in terms of being very level headed for the men in their lives. What I love about Crystal is that she is in these unfortunate circumstances where she sees herself beyond it but having to deal with it.
“I wish opportunities would come for her sooner but she knows her place.”