For many TV viewers, pro wrestling is slick and sleek and corporate.
In shiny arenas, sweaty millionaires (current or future) collide for the cameras. It’s all quite impressive – but there’s another world out there.
That’s “when you’re on these independent circuits and you’re not on broadcast television,’ said actor Stephen Amell (shown here). It’s the world of “Heels,” his show at 9 p.m. Sundays (rerunning almost daily) on Starz.
Such wrestling circuits fill the South and beyond, offering temporary stardom to people who also have day jobs. Michael Waldron, the series creator, recalls talking to a guy who used to wrestle for one. “He said for 15 minutes a week, they got to be a superhero.”
As a kid in Atlanta, Waldron liked the big-deal TV and arena matches – but often found the others.
“I grew up a huge fan of the big promotions,” he said, “and then inevitably would end up going to one of these small things in and around the South, with different family members or friends.”
So he created the fictional Duffy Wrestling League in small-town Georgia. Jack Spade (Amell, the former “Arrow”) star, runs it and functions as the villain; his younger brother Ace (Alexander Ludwig) is the “face” or hero. Others struggle, including Willie (Mary McCormack), Jack’s business partner; Staci (Alison Luff), his wife; Crystal (Kelli Berglund), a valet – and Ace’s love-interest – with dreams of stardom; and assorted wrestlers.
“These people are as dedicated to their craft as the people who make millions of dollars doing it,” Waldron said. They deal with complicated lives, so that they can sometimes “go play pretend.”
Except the pretending still requires physical skill. “Pretty quickly,” Ludwig said, “we realized how much athleticism goes into this sport.”
The people they learned from also have experience in the indie leagues. Chris Bauer, who plays Wild Bill on “Heels,” is a Yale drama school alumnus who has worked with Pro Wrestling Guerrilla – which was started in Los Angeles in 2003 by wrestlers with such names as Disco Machine and Super Dragon.
Then there’s Luke Hawx, the show’s wrestling coordinator. Once an Xtreme Pro Wrestling star (under the name Altar Boy Luke, complete with prayer robe), he went indie in New Orleans. He “is kind of the Jack Spade of his world,” Luff said. “He runs a professional wrestling league called Wildkat Sports.”
It’s a “Heels”-like world, possibly with more money and less family drama.