HomeInterviewsHeels : Interview with Actor Stephen Amell and Showrunner Mike O’Malley

Heels : Interview with Actor Stephen Amell and Showrunner Mike O’Malley

Actor Stephen Amell and showrunner Mike O’Malley say they expect their new Georgia-set dramedy, Heels, to appeal to more than just pro wrestling fans.

The show follows Jack (Amell) and Ace (Alexander Ludwig) Spade, brothers who can’t agree on how to honor the legacy of their dead father, the star and owner of the struggling, small-time Duffy Wrestling League.  Jack writes the scripts for the league’s matches and also plays a “heel” or villain in the ring. He loves the rural region where they live and is determined to transform their shows into something his family and neighbors can be proud of, even though it takes every penny he has to keep it all going.

Ace plays a “face” or hero in the matches. He is sick of taking direction from his sibling, and eager to leave the Duffydome behind for a bigger, more successful league. Dragged into the conflict are Jack’s supportive wife Staci (Alison Luff,) his no-nonsense business partner Willie (Mary McCormack,) Ace’s underappreciated girlfriend Crystal (Kelli Berglund) and the flamboyant pro wrestling scout Wild Bill Hancock (Chris Bauer.)  


Interview with Actor Stephen Amell and showrunner Mike O’Malley

Q: What made you want to star in this show?

Stephen Amell: It’s very well-written. Michael Waldron? The fact that he is scripting Doctor Strange [in the Multiverse of Madness,] working with Star Wars and just completed Loki, I think, speaks for itself. He is a superstar. He’s a comet. He created such a rich, rich world [with Heels.] Watching the first episode, it doesn’t feel like a first episode. Obviously, a little bit of work has to be done to familiarize everyone with the settings, but he does it in such a smart way. When I read the first script of Arrow, the pilot script of Arrow, I immediately had this picture of it in my mind and all of the aesthetics, when we actually completed the pilot, were pretty close to what I pictured in my mind’s eye.

When I saw Jack and I thought of Ace — because I knew that Alexander was possibly involved with the project or he was considering it — I pictured that right away. I saw Duffy, Ga. and I saw what the Duffydome looked like. I’ve wrestled in places like the Duffydome, nowhere near as cool as the Duffydome, but like the Duffydome. … Two of my greatest hobbies and interests in life are film and television, and professional wrestling, so to be able to marry those two things together, I count my blessings.      

Q: How did your knowledge and experience with wrestling benefit your performance and did you pass on any wisdom to the cast and crew who might be new to this world? 

Stephen Amell: Unlike Jack, Stephen left people more to their own devices and trusted that they would figure stuff out. … Mike O’Malley really threw himself into the world of professional wrestling. Michael Waldron is a huge fan of professional wrestling. But the whole point of “kayfabe” [staged performances presented as authentic] is that you don’t really know what goes on behind the curtain, so having seen it a few times, I tried to impart as much wisdom as possible and we just made sure that, if there was ever a question, that we didn’t press forward until we got it right and I think we got it right. You can pick anything apart. It is a TV show, but we’re trying to showcase a very specific and important part of the professional wrestling world.   

Q: After playing a superhero in Arrow, was it easy to act in a more grounded and realistic story like Heels?

Stephen Amell: Sure. The set decoration was so wonderful on the show, so the minute you stepped into the Duffydome or Jack’s office, it immediately feels different. All the exteriors were shot principally in Palmetto, Ga. It’s a small town that randomly has three tire stores and lawn mower shops. It just became very, very easy [to get into character.] Jack’s got that Southern twang and Laura Bauer did such a great job as our costume designer, putting Jack in his jeans and his T-shirt and his work boots and his jean jacket, so even though I am in the South, I have the Canadian tuxedo going. You feel like you are in Jack’s skin the moment that you get going.   

Q: What can you say about the paradox of having tension between two brothers who are trying to keep their family business together?

Stephen Amell: In this show, the wrestling is the icing, it’s not the cake. Jack’s relationship with Ace and his inability to relinquish control of anything, so that he can feel like he is protecting and taking care of his younger brother, is really the underpinning of the show for us and, ultimately, what brings Jack down through the first season.   

Mike O’Malley: They both are at different stages of their lives. One is a single guy who wants to be rich and famous and wants the glory and the fame and the adulation — that’s Ace Spade. I think that Jack Spade wants this to grow and be sustained and be something that he can, eventually, quit his day job and provide not only an outlet for his creative aspirations, but be a harbor for his family so he doesn’t have to struggle anymore. When someone like Ace has the opportunity to leave and he is the star and he is the reason people have been coming to the shows, Jack is thinking to himself: ‘This might be good for my brother, but it’s not good for our business. What should I do?’ 

Q: What was the key to making a drama that will attract viewers other than pro wrestling fans?

Mike O’Malley: I think everyone understands what it is like to have someone in their family who is an artist — they’re a painter or an actor or a musician. And when they first start expressing themselves, they get encouragement by family and friends and they play at the family reunion or they play after dinner or everyone gets together to go see the young actor in the school play or they pass around the drawings or the paintings or the artwork someone’s done. Everyone understands having those friends and family members who have something they want to stay and do and create and they should be encouraged. Wrestling is like that. Wrestling is a promotion.

This particular promotion, the Duffy Wrestling League, is something that has cost the family a dear amount. They lost their father. And, so, I think people relate to a father who has worked so hard and tried to build something and has left this life a failure and the burden that that puts on the people left behind to make it all worth it and to carry that torch and try to breathe life into something and to think, ‘Well, if I can make this something, then maybe my father didn’t suffer and die in vain.’ And, so, it is the family connection. ‘Oh, my gosh! My father did something to try to provide for us and I respect and want to honor that.’

And then there is the creative element of, ‘Well, just because you want to be a creative person that doesn’t mean he gets the financial reward.’ It should be enough [just doing the work.] Van Gogh sold hardly any paintings in his lifetime. There are plenty of great singer-songwriters who don’t have what it takes. And what it takes isn’t necessarily the talent. They don’t have the connections. They don’t have the platform. They can’t suffer through the rejection.             

Q: A lot of shows set in small towns come across as condescending. This show doesn’t. Was it important to you to treat this rural community and the people who live in it with respect? 

Mike O’Malley: We didn’t want to do the ‘hang the bunting around,’ ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy,’ small-town America. We didn’t want to create a space that was just idyllic because people do want to get out of there. But we also [wanted to show] the Internet is in rural towns. People in rural towns read books. One of the things we really wanted to show in the Spade household — both in Jack Spade’s house and Tom and Carol Spade’s house — there are books everywhere. These are people who read, they seek knowledge, they are college-educated. They are performers, but they are trying to run a business and they are smart about that. They are trying to entertain people and they love where they are. It was really important to us to not only not have caricatures, but that people are three-dimensional. They have dreams that they want to achieve.       

Here’s the trailer of the show.


The series premiere of Heels airs Sunday, August 15 from 9:00-10:05 p.m. ET.

Karen Butler
Karen Butlerhttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Karen Butler is based in the New York metro area and has written about film, TV, music, books and theater for more than 25 years for media outlets such as United Press International, The Irish Echo, The Brooklyn Paper, Book magazine and The New Jersey Herald. She loves speaking with artists about their passion projects, then sharing these conversations with readers in the form of accurate, entertaining feature stories. In addition to interviewing celebrities, she also covers breaking news, film festivals, premieres and themed conventions.


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