Starz’s ‘Heels’ Emerges Victorious Swinging Out of an Uphill Battle of Production during Pandemic
The 2021 television series Heels, which premiered on August 15 on Starz, is a family drama that takes us behind the scenes of the once-secretive world of professional wrestling.
The series stars Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig as blood brothers Jack Spade and Ace Spade, who play scripted wrestling matches in the fictional town of Duffy, Georgia.
Since its release, Heels has received positive reviews, with many praising the series for showcasing wrestling's outside-of-the-ring compelling action on the screen.
However, the cast and executive producer, Mike O’Malley, have also pointed out the challenges they faced while filming the series since the production was set right in the middle of a pandemic.
O’Malley on Isolation, Discipline, and Testing
Speaking with Deadline in August 2021, Heels' executive producer and showrunner O’Malley talked about how the pandemic posed challenges while filming the series.
"Everybody had to be very disciplined," he said. "We started shooting in late Aug., so the pandemic had been going on for about six months and people were scared they were never going to work again."
O’Malley explained that the fear was valid since many live events and film productions were called off in the wake of the situation.
He added that his team showed responsibility to tell others that making films and shows was possible if done with consciousness and proper care.
Showing their responsibility, the team regularly tested themselves for the virus, stayed away from people, indoor restaurants, and remained isolated.
The executive producer particularly praised the commitment from the production houses Lionsgate and Starz for playing an integral role in making things possible.
Their support was remarkable to me because you hear about corporations that don’t care. In my experience, there was never a hesitation. We worked closely with CTH, our health and safety protocol team who were unbelievable. I will say it’s a crazy expense to corporations because of the testing.
The Cast Speaks
In addition to O’Malley, the cast members also openly talked about the tough time and their roles in various interviews.
Actor Allen Maldonado, who plays Rooster Robbins in the series, shared that he never felt unsafe while working on set. However, he added it was an interesting but tough time to stay in quarantine and work longer schedules due to all the safety protocols and delays.
In the Deadline interview, American actress Kelli Berglund, who plays Crystal, also shared her pleasant experiences working in the series.
She revealed that starring as a female wrestler was a big opportunity for her. Berglund noted her character motivates other aspiring female fighters to put their goals first.
Getting to essentially apprentice under someone like Cody Rhodes, who’s filling that same Jack Spade role in AEW, and certainly what he did for himself on the independent circuit prior to that, being able to draw on that was invaluable.
On the other hand, Ludwig told the latter publication that he had to work hard to get into his role since he had zero wrestling experience.
He even recalled training with his co-star Amell under veteran wrestler Chavo Guerrero Jr. for several months to make the wrestling moves in the scene look seamless.