Premiering August 15th on Starz, Heels is the story about the men and women who chase their dreams in the world of small-town pro wrestling. In the ring, somebody must play the good guy and somebody must play their nemesis, the "Heel". But in the real world, those characters can be hard to live up to and hard to leave behind. Creator and Executive Producer Michael Waldron has skyrocketed in recent years as a writer in Hollywood. His career began as an assistant for Dan Harmon on Community, which would lead him to an Emmy for his season four work on Rick and Morty. All this hard work paid off for Waldron and he is now the head writer on Marvel's Loki, currently writing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness for Sam Raimi, has a Star Wars project with Marvel head Kevin Feige (The Mandolorian, Black Widow), and has scored an overall deal with Disney. The eight- episode Starz series Heels, set in a family-owned wrestling promotion within a close-knit Georgia community, showcases the drama both in and outside the ring.
If he wasn't busy enough, Michael drops all this today and joins Bleeding Cool's Jimmy Leszczynski for a chin wag about his upcoming wrestling drama Heels, premiering this August. Waldron shares his favorite wrestlers growing up, the process of getting Heels made, and how he was able to cast Steven Amell (Arrow, Code 8) and Alexander Ludwig (Vikings, Bad Boys for Life) as two brothers and rivals who war over their late father's legacy and chase their dreams in the world of small-town pro wrestling.
Bleeding Cool: You have been working on this project for quite a while now. Why has it taken so long to bring this to the screen?
Michael Waldron: It was 2017. They picked it up to a writers' room, a mini room, and I ran that. … We wrote the first season but couldn't cast it, couldn't find the right actors to satisfy the network to play those two main parts, and so the show went on a shelf. And I went off and I worked on Rick and Morty and then in 2019 I took over and was doing Loki and that was when Starz approached me about reviving it and you know they brought on Mike O'Malley (Snowpiercer, Glee) who had created Survivor's Remorse for them, as the showrunner and he kind of took the reigns, and I passed the baton to him.
BC: A lot of folks don't realize just how ingrained professional wrestling is with American history on a personal level. How personal is this story to you?
MW: I grew up, just a huge wrestling fan, that was my comics growing up. The myth that I was most enchanted by as a kid. So, to get to do a story in this world and kind of like, you know, pull back the curtain a little bit. But also celebrate, I think, some of the beauty and artistry of that, of the world of wrestling as opposed to just the dark side of it, is really exciting.
BC: For me growing up it was Hulk Hogan, Randy Macho Man Savage, and Junk Yard Dog in the early '80s when wrestling was ubiquitous with pop culture. Who were your favorite wrestlers growing up?
MW: In the WCW it was Sting (Steven Borden) with first the bleached blonde hair, and the painted face, and then later "The Crow" Sting. With the dark hair, and coming down from the rafters and then in the WWF it was Shawn Michaels. With the long hair and, you know, just sort of a great anti-hero, rascally villain type. Those were my two, respective two favorites for sure.
BC: What themes are you hoping to get across to viewers in-between the in-ring action in the storyline of "Heels"?
MW: I think identity. I think, you know, it's a story about, who are we really? Is it the character we play? You know it's all sort of a ring, to some extent. We are always playing this character that is shaped by who we think we are performing for, or our own family legacy, and everything. And so just trying to figure out, who is the real me? The character in the ring, the bad guy, or the good guy I hope I am outside of it. All that stuff as it relates to a family and everything. I think that sounds really exciting.
BC: You mentioned the casting, How did you get stars Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig? Was there any overlap with "Arrow"?
MW: He had just wrapped on Arrow. It was, you know, really the stars aligned because Steven is such a tremendous actor. Coming off of Arrow obviously, he's got a huge following but he's just a huge wrestling fan. He's been in the ring. He's wrestled before with WWE and was involved with AEW and so getting him was huge. And then getting Alexander Ludwig, coming off of Vikings to play his brother, his baby brother Ace. It was like suddenly we had just the two perfect guys for these roles. Not just in terms of physicality but in terms of just great dramatic acting chops. So yeah, it all came together around the two of them.
Heels premieres on Starz on August 15th with stars Stephen Amell as Jack Spade, Alexander Ludwig as Ace, Alison Luff as Staci Spade, Mary McCormack as Willie Day, Kelli Berglund as Crystal Tyler, Allen Maldonado as Rooster Robbins, James Harrison as Apocalypse, and Chris Bauer as Wild Bill Hancock. Written and created by Executive Producer Michael Waldron with Executive Producers Mike O'Malley and Peter Segal
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