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How Starz's Heels Made Stephen Amell And Alexander Ludwig Better Appreciate Pro Wrestling

stephen amell's jack spade and alexander ludwig's ace spade in starz's heels

Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig are no strangers to fight sequences, with their respective duties on Arrow and Vikings alone putting them through the wringer by way of physical exertion. But it's a different ballgame for their well-reviewed new show Heels, which isn't so much superhero fisticuffs as pro wrestling body slams. The drama stars Amell and Ludwig as brothers and co-headliners of a struggling local wrestling promotion in Duffy, Georgia, with Amell's Jack Spade also running things behind the scenes. And you can bet that living in this fictional world during the production impacted how the actors viewed the WWE and pro wrestling in general.

CinemaBlend spoke with Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig about the first handful of Heels' stress-inducing episodes, and I asked both of them if getting all bruised up on the new Starz series reflected how they viewed wrestling in general. Amell, who built up some legitimate cred in the WWE some years ago, gave his answer in the form of a challenge to any naysayers out there. In his words:

Well, I mean, it's really simple. Anyone that thinks that wrestling is easy, you put them in the ring, and you have them do two things: hit the ropes at full speed and do a flat back bump. And then, I mean frankly, I feel like anytime we hire someone on the show going forward, we should make them run the ropes into a flat back bump before they decide if they actually want the job. Because the moment that you do that, you realize, 'Oh, man, okay. People make it look easy on TV.' It's not. It's not at all. It's really, really hard, physically demanding. And the acting and selling the pain makes us look good.

It was back in 2015 when Stephen Amell temporarily split his time between working on Arrow and building up a Green Arrow-infused rivalry with then-WWE superstar Cody Rhodes in his Stardust persona. (Rhodes later went on to join AEW and now serves as its Executive Vice President.) While Amell had to curb those particular interests in order to avoid career-altering injuries, he definitely had a blast during his WWE stint, which even peaked with a match at the annual SummerSlam pay-per-view event. So it's almost the best of both worlds that he was able to land another potentially longterm gig that combines both mentally emotional acting with physically daunting stunt work...and staying totally ripped without a shirt on.

That said, one can have the goal of wanting to be a pro wrestler while ALSO having a goal of "not wanting to be thrown down on my back and/or head for a dozen times a night." And Alexander Ludwig partly speaks to that idea with his answer, as he's thankful that he and his Heels co-stars only have to go into high-endurance mode for short bursts while filming, as opposed to the lengthy matches that take place on WWE's Monday Night Raw or AEW's Dynamite. Here's how Ludwig put it:

Absolutely. You know, I was grateful to be able to lean on Stephen a lot, because he's had wrestling experience and I hadn't. And, you know, the kind of athleticism that goes into being a professional wrestler is insane. This has certainly been the most preparation I've ever done physically for a role. You need to put yourself and your body in a place where it can take the kind of abuse that the ring demands to make this look real. And you're talking to somebody who's done this for five minutes, then they say cut; I can't imagine doing this for 40 minutes. What these guys and women do is truly incredible, and I have the utmost respect for the wrestling community, having done a small amount of it myself.

To Alexander Ludwig's point, my body just starts cramping automatically at the thought of headlining one of the WWE's hour-long Iron Man matches. Not that anyone would willingly hire me to do so, mind you, but possibly as a punishment. In any case, Ludwig and Amell's devotion to learning the craft of pro wrestling is on full display in Heels, which really digs into all the aspects of that particular world that are purposefully avoided in lieu of the electric performances. And mic skills are on another level from fight skills, but that's a different conversation.

Hailing from wrestling fanatics Michael Waldron (Loki) and Mike O'Malley (Survivor's Remorse), Heels will premiere on Starz on Sunday, August 15, at 9:00 p.m. ET. While waiting for the show to make its way down to the squared circle, be sure to keep track of everything else hitting the 2021 Fall TV schedule.

Nick Venable

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.