TV Fanatic spoke with Heels creator Michael Waldron and showrunner Mike O’Malley; both gentlemen are also executive producers on the series.
They shared thoughts on the creative process, including why wrestling was chosen as the backdrop of this new Starz drama.
Get all of their insights into Heels below.
Michael, what instigated you to create Heels in the first place?
Michael: I love wrestling, really. I mean, honestly, it’s that. I’ve loved it since I was a little kid. I was drawn to it, I think, because growing up in the nineties, that was the only serialized storytelling that I could find on TV. I would watch the Power Rangers, and what happened one week did not affect what happened the next week.
And as a little kid, that really irritated me. And I didn’t know why, and then I was drawn to wrestling because of the serialized nature of it. What I realize now is that there were stakes; it was high stakes.
And so I’ve loved it from the time I was a little kid, and I think it’s such a rich world with a rich history and such an eclectic cast of characters populate the world of wrestling. And so, it just felt like a great place to set a drama and to tell a story.
And Mike, what was your affinity with wrestling, and how did you get involved with Heels?
Mike: Well, Michael Waldron, as evidenced by his success writing this show and the fact that he’s won an Emmy for another show and was busy with another show, he can’t be in a million places at once.
So what happened was, this is a show that was in development for a long time, but we couldn’t find the right cast. When we finally found the right cast, the show was greenlit, Michael had already extensively worked on the scripts, and I was tasked with really just not messing the show up.
And so, when I read the scripts, I loved it.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some great shows and work on some not great shows, and I’m able to tell the difference.
And I was really blown away by just the storytelling, the characters, the emotional connection they had. I really related to it. And I thought if we could find the right cast, this would just be limitless.
Really just the family stories, the brother stories, the friendship, this idea that people are trying to make a living at something. And sometimes just, not even make a living, do it as a hobby, just because they love it. That’s what I loved about it.
So I’m a fan of great storytelling and stuff that combines humor and emotion. And that’s what I found here.
Michael, you obviously have watched wrestling since you were a boy. How much did you know about the off-Broadway of wrestling, if you will? And did you have to do a lot of research into that, or did it just kind of come naturally to you? It seems pretty authentic.
Michael: I was familiar. I had been to some of these small-town shows, growing up in the south myself just over the years. And just as a wrestling fan, you end up consuming so much of the content that you just build a wealth of knowledge about it.
Reading books, and then certainly as podcasts became a thing, I’ve gained so much more in-depth interviews about the history of wrestling and the indie promotions and all of that.
And so it was kind of a combination of my own knowledge, certainly research, but also just a little bit thinking, well, if I was a wrestling promoter, how would I do it? And that maybe that’s our suspension of disbelief, but just imagining, God, wouldn’t this be cool to do it this way?
And Mike, you also have a role on screen.
Tell us a little bit about who you’re playing.
Mike: Well, when you’re the showrunner and an executive producer, it’s easy to throw your hat in the ring as an actor. You just got to get everyone to maybe just squint and be like, “Ah, gosh, I guess we’re going to have to say yes to this guy.”
But the role of Charlie Gully is as a rival promoted a Jack Spade. And I think what we wanted to do as we developed this character was to show… This is something that I thought Michael does really well is he honors the people and the place of this small town in Georgia.
And I think a lot of times Hollywood has either rendered it one way or another. And I think that this is an authentic portrayal of this town and these folks aspiring to be creative people, thoughtful people, people who have their dreams and want to make something happen.
Charlie Gully is not from that area. He’s someone who came from up north, came down, decided to make a living in the fishing, tackle, guns, and ammo business.
He doesn’t want just to be a proprietor of a fish and tackle shop. He has aspirations to be a performer too.
And when Jack Spade, inadvertently with an offhand comment, insults his business on a small podcast, the guy takes it really personally. And we’ve all witnessed this where someone, “Wait, somebody said what about me, where? I’m now going to go all out to get my good name back.”
And this is not a guy who’s just like, “Ah, whatever; the guy made a comment. He doesn’t like it. That’s fine.” This is someone who decides he needs motivation to take it personally. And I think that was what was fun about playing the character.
Michael, this is a family story nestled in the world of pro wrestling. How did you determine where the personal drama would unfold, whether in or outside of the ring?
Michael: I thought that what would be compelling to explore is the way all of the family drama outside of the ring builds up and builds up. And then ultimately, like performers in a play, these guys have to go out in the ring together and put on a show.
And they have to pretend to beat the hell out of each other when maybe they actually want to beat the hell out of each other.
Or maybe they actually have deeper feelings for one another. It’s carrying real-world feelings into a scripted performance, and an explosion of feelings is just a compelling, interesting thing.
That was somewhere where Mike’s background as an actor, as a performer was so informative as he came onto the show was just suddenly we had as a captain of the ship, somebody who understands what it’s like to carry your own personal life onto set and onto a character that you’re inhabiting and how do you leave that behind? Or how do you not?
And I think that’s what made Mike such a great showrunner and why the cast loves him so much is he’s just able to relate with these guys and relate with these wrestlers and everything, because that is very much the struggle that they deal with, as opposed to a writer.
Somebody who’s just a writer who can just be a sociopath all the time.
Heels premieres on Starz on Sunday, August 15 at 9/8c.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.