When Stephen Amell hung up the suit and the spandex for his long-running CW superhero series ‘Arrow’, he was sure he was taking a break from television for a bit. But when the opportunity to star in a show about pro-wrestling came knocking, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Set in the fictional small town of Duffy, Georgia, ‘Heels’ goes behind the scenes of the world of professional wrestling. The show centres on Jack Spade (Amell) and Ace Spade (Alexander Ludwig, famous for playing Bjorn on ‘Vikings’), a pair of wrestling brothers who’ve inherited a wrestling business from their late father, also a wrestler, and squabble over the best way to run the company.
But for those wondering if you need to be familiar with the world of pro-wrestling to enjoy a show like ‘Heels’, Amell is quick to assuage those doubts.
“I’ve been saying this a lot that in the show, the wrestling is the icing and not the cake,” said Amell in a virtual round-table interview. “Jack’s relationship with Ace and his inability to relinquish control of anything so that he can feel like he’s protecting and taking care of his younger brother — that’s the underpinning of the show for us and ultimately, it’s what brings Jack down through the first season.”
Amell’s Jack is a hard-working proprietor, a husband and father who is trying to breathe new life into his family-owned independent wrestling promotion, the Duffy Wrestling League (DWL). He has the imagination of an artist, the athletic skills of a fighter, and the ambition of a maverick. His relentless pursuit of excellence brings him and his family rewards, but as many conflicts.
And in the ring, somebody must play the good guy, and somebody must play their nemesis, the “heel”, and Jack takes it upon himself to be the bad guy. But in the real world, those characters can be hard to live up to — or at least hard to leave behind.
“They’re creative people who want to make it work,” the showrunner Mike O’Malley said of the ‘Heels’ characters in an interview with New York Times. “All of the people who make it in show business and professional sports, they had to start somewhere. And were they met with disappointment or encouragement? That’s what the story is about.”
And although Amell is a lifelong wrestling fan who has actually participated in matches and other events for WWE and other companies, he wasn’t initially interested in taking on another series so soon after ‘Arrow’. But he was drawn in by the script and especially the chance to work with head writer Michael Waldron.
I’m just hoping that the fans like it. I hope that people who love wrestling respect the effort that we made. I hope that people that don’t know a thing about professional wrestling, maybe we make a few new fans...
“The fact that Michael Waldron is scripting ‘Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness’, working with [Kevin Feige’s] ‘Star Wars’ and just completed ‘Loki’, I think that speaks for itself. He’s a superstar. He’s a comet. And he created such a rich world with ‘Heels’,” said Amell. “It’s so rare that you’re watching the first episode, but it doesn’t feel like a first episode. I mean, obviously, a little bit of work has to be done to familiarise everyone with the settings, but he does it in such a smart way.
“When I read the first script of ‘Arrow’, the immediately had this picture of it in my mind and all of the aesthetics. When we actually completed the pilot, we were pretty close to what I had pictured in my mind’s eye. And when I saw Jack and when I thought of Ace because I because I knew that Alexander was possibly involved with the project or that he was considering it, I just picture that right away. And it was just such a blessing to find two of my greatest hobbies and interests in life — film and television and professional wrestling — and to be able to marry those two things together.”
About leaving behind a fantastical world of superheroes with ‘Arrow’ and moving onto a more grounded show like ‘Heels’, Amell said, “I mean the set decoration was so wonderful on the show. So the minute that you step into the Duffy dome or Jack’s office, it just immediately feels different and all the exteriors that we shot principally in Palmetto Georgia, I mean, it’s a small town that randomly has like three tire stores, or like lawnmower shops or something like that, but it just became very, very easy.”
What definitely comes through in the conversation is Amell’s deep affection for the sport and the show that they’ve created.
“I’m just hoping that the fans like it. I hope that people who love wrestling respect the effort that we made. I hope that people that don’t know a thing about professional wrestling, maybe we make a few new fans, and maybe they want to check out WWE on the television or go to a local show, and support local independent wrestling,” said Amell.
“Because there are a lot of wrestling leagues around the world. And so I hope that they like it. And, man, I’m just excited for people to see it because I saw when I went to Comic Con in 2012 with the pilot of ‘Arrow’ — people are like trepidations, they’re pushing you away a little bit and basically saying, ‘Don’t [expletive] it up’. Pardon my language,” he said.
“And I think it’s sort of the same with wrestling fans right now, or even fans of ‘Arrow’ or ‘Vikings’. It’s like, well, we kind of want you to play Oliver or Bjorn. And now you’re Jack and Ace, and we’ll give it a chance. But as with ‘Arrow’, as we move through the seasons, you think that the pinnacle of a show is going to be that first season — that press, that crazy push that we’re doing right now to get it out there and to get it into the culture. But it’s really that journey where people become attached to the characters. That is just so rewarding. So ultimately, I’m just hoping that that the biggest takeaway from the first season is that we get to do more seasons.”
“Sometimes I wish that I lived in a small town. Because you think, there’s an assumption that because these folks are poor, they’re dumb. Well, that’s not the case at all. These are hardworking people. They care about one another. And when I think of a small town, I think of community and I think of helping your neighbour. And I love the fact that in the first episode, Jack sees a number on his phone and immediately knows that it’s Mr. Cooper, who has run the convenience store that he’s gone to since he was a little kid. I love the idea of a small town. I love representing something like fictional Duffy, Georgia,” says actor Stephen Amell on telling a small town story.
Don’t miss it!
‘Heels’ is now streaming on Starzplay.