Ahead of the second episode of Heels, showing on the STARZ channel on Sunday, August 22nd at 9:00 pm EST (and streaming across devices through its app) star Stephen Amell speaks about combining his passions for acting and wrestling, his affection for small town life, and how the in-ring wrestling of the show is the icing but not the cake.
Amell plays Jack Spade, the current champion, owner, and booker of the Duffy Wrestling League (DWL) in Duffy, Georgia. He inherited the business from his late father, and is tasked with managing the developing feud (both in and outside of the ring) between him and his younger brother, Ace (played by Alexander Ludwig). Although he obviously has an established love of wrestling, as his time in the ring for WWE and AEW has proven, Amell acknowledges that the quality of the material, and not simply the subject matter, is what drew him in to working on Heels.
“It’s really well written, and watching the first episode — it doesn’t feel like a first episode,” Amell begins. “Obviously, a little bit of work has to be done to familiarize everyone with the settings, but (show creator Michael Waldron) does it in such a smart way. The fact that he’s scripting Dr. Strange, working on Star Wars, and has just completed Loki, I think speaks for itself. He’s a superstar, and he created such a rich, rich world.”
Amell is most famous for his time on TV as Oliver Queen in DC’s Arrow, and he says that he recognized the same quality of tangible realness in the script for Heels as he did for the super-hero show. “When I read the first script for Arrow, I immediately had this picture of it in my mind, and when we actually completed the pilot we were pretty close to what I had pictured in my mind’s eye,” he explains. “And (after reading Heels) I just saw Duffy, Georgia, and I saw what the Duffy Dome would look like. Two of my greatest hobbies and interests in life are film and television and professional wrestling, so to be able to marry those things together … I count my blessings.”
The show received what was certainly some welcome pre-release buzz in the wrestling world when it became known that CM Punk (Phil Brooks), the target of many fans’ hopes for a return to wrestling, was involved the show. Amell is aware of the significance of Punk’s inclusion, and is enthused about what he brings to Heels. “Well, Phil is such a lovely guy, first and foremost, you know, he loves his wife, loves Chicago — not necessarily in that order,” Amell says with a chuckle. “It was a given that he was going to be great in the ring, but he wasn’t CM Punk (in Heels), he was Ricky Rabies. He knows that character. He knows the guy that’s the lifelong indie star that’s been travelling since the late ’80s, early ’90s. And he brought that sort of rickety old persona into the ring. But what I thought was really impressive, and the reason that we bring him back later in the season, is that his acting chops were all there. I mean, he got into that character, and he was really spectacular.”
“To have him there as a rich, colorful character, but also to have him there for some advice when it came to putting together matches and coming up with fun little gimmicks to run between Jack and Ricky, that was amazing. And then the tweet that he put out, just sort of blessing the show when the trailer dropped … I mean, you just can’t ask for anything more. It’s like the stamp of approval in the wrestling world if CM Punk’s on your side.”
Considering Amell’s connections to wrestling, and Waldron’s self-described fandom that led to his creation of the show, it’s no surprise that the production takes its dedication to authenticity seriously. To ensure that the wrestling was up to snuff, the cast and crew (which included people brand new to the wrestling world) had some big names to lend a hand. “We had Luke Hawx as our wrestling consultant, Phil Brooks was one of our wrestling consultants, and I always have Cody Rhodes at the other end of my phone if I want to bounce an idea off of him,” Amell explains. “Michael O’Malley (the series’ showrunner) really threw himself into the world of professional wrestling, and Michael Waldron is a huge fan, but the whole point of kayfabe is you don’t really know what goes on behind the curtain. So, having seen (the backstage) a few times, I tried to impart as much wisdom as possible, and we just made sure that if there was ever a question, we didn’t press forward until we got it right.”
“I’ve been saying this a lot, that in the show the wrestling is the icing but it’s not the cake,” he continues. “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, is really the underpinning of the show. We’re trying to showcase a very specific and important part of the professional wrestling world, and those matches are just as important and they get the same amount of blood and sweat and tears put into them as the main event at WrestleMania does.”
The tip of the cap to small-town wrestling is also a nod to small towns in general, Amell continues. “Sometimes I wish that I lived in a small town. I think of community, and I think of helping your neighbor, and I love the fact that in the first episode, Jack sees a (phone) number and immediately knows it’s Mr. Cooper, who runs the convenience store that he’s gone to since he was a little kid. I love representing something like fictional Duffy, Georgia.”
Amell wraps up by expressing that his hopes for the show, as with any type of entertainment, is that it finds an audience and makes them happy. “I’m just hoping that (fans) like it, and I know that that’s not a super, unique answer,” he says. “I hope that people who love wrestling respect the effort that we made, and I hope that for people that don’t know a thing about professional wrestling, maybe they want to check out WWE or AEW, or go to a local show and support local independent wrestling. There are DWLs all over the world.”
“Going to Comic Con in 2012 with the pilot of Arrow, people were trepidatious, basically saying, ‘Don’t f— it up’, pardon my language,” he continues. “And I think it’s sort of the same with wrestling fans right now. As with Arrow, as we move through the seasons, you think that the pinnacle of a show is going to be that first season, but it really is that journey where people become attached to the characters that is just so rewarding. So ultimately, I’m just hoping that the biggest takeaway from the first season is that we get to do more seasons!”
Stay tuned to Slam Wrestling for more interviews with the cast and crew, and reviews of each new episode of Heels.
- Slam Wrestling’s Heels story and review archive
- Check out the STARZ-created website for the Duffy Wrestling League
- Watch episodes of Heels through the STARZ website