Vikings star Alexander Ludwig says Heels more "painful" to film


Heels episode 1 spoilers follow.

Alexander Ludwig "instantly fell in love" with his character when he first read the pilot script for Heels, and he won't be the only one who does, not by any stretch.

That's not to say Ace Spade is a decent human being, or even one who's instantly likeable. In the first few episodes of this new wrestling drama, Ace often lets his temper get the best of him, and even in his calmer moments, there are some instances of cruelty.

But Heels isn't concerned with morality in a fixed, concrete sense. Because even though Ace is more troubled than his brother Jack, he's also more vulnerable in many ways too. Ludwig's character holds on tight to bravado and toxic masculinity as a kind of coping mechanism to deal with trauma, and while that doesn't justify his actions, it does make Ace far more sympathetic when the world suddenly turns against him.

And then there's that good old- fashioned Southern charm to reckon with too, something which Digital Spy experienced firsthand while chatting to Ludwig over Zoom. Together, we discussed training for the role, working with Stephen Amell, and how Heels compares to the brutal world of Vikings.

First off, what was it like to physically prepare for this role?

It was certainly the most demanding thing I've ever done for a role. One thing that was really, really important to Stephen and I and everyone involved, was just really honouring the true intensity of what it takes to be a wrestler.

These guys use and abuse their bodies on a daily basis. They have no help if they get injured. It's remarkable what they do. They're some of the most incredible athletes. But for us, we needed to be able to look like that on camera, and perform to the best of our abilities.

"These guys use and abuse their bodies on a daily basis."

I fortunately had a few contacts that had been in the WWE Hall of Fame and stuff, so I was able to hit them up and ask for their help. But, yeah, man, it was definitely the most physically demanding.

Life is intense for Ace both in and out of the ring. Did you ever find it hard to switch off from that mind-set after a day of shooting?

It's so funny. Usually, I don't feel like that stuff follows me home. But I think every once in a while, it does. I love to come in as prepared as I possibly can, and do everything I can to make it as real to me as possible. I guess naturally it would follow you home sometimes. It's usually only after really, really intense days. More often than not, it's just pure exhaustion.

This was the most painful experience, too, and the most rewarding. But it's like, I don't know how these– I mean, after five minutes in the ring, I'm absolutely gassed. I don't know how these guys do 40. It's incredible.

LionsgateStarz

Would you say Heels was more intense to film than Vikings?

Vikings was intense, but it was more like short periods. The real tough part of Vikings was the elements. Being out in the elements there, that was rough. But also, you get solace in the fact you're making a great show. It's kind of the similar effect for this one. Once you're in it with everybody, you can't complain.

It's that great mentality where it's like– I'll never forget, in the finale episode, Stephen and I were… not to give anything away, but we were in the ring. We did the first take. It didn't really land well. I turned to him, and I said, "Dude, we've got to do this for real. And it's going to suck. But we've got to just do it." And he was like, "Yup. Let's f**king do it."

Everybody was terrified because they thought that we were actually – you know, we weren't pulling any punches. There's that camaraderie in knowing that you're in it together.

LionsgateStarz

There's almost a Shakespearean element to Ace and Jack's dynamic. Can you talk me through what it was like to work with Stephen Amell so closely on this project?

It was remarkable. I didn't know what to expect. We clicked the second we met each other. I mean, he's family. I was talking to him yesterday. I love the guy. I love him so much. He cares so much. And he's super talented. He works his ass off.

That's all I want – you know, we don't have to be best friends. But it's like, when we're going to work, we have a whole crew relying on us. You show up – that's all I want. Just show up. And Stephen did – above and beyond. He had the exact same mentality I did. And I was so fricking grateful for that. And I think through that, we also became really close. I think we'll be brothers for life.

"I remember saying, 'Dude, if this moment doesn't land, the show is screwed.'"

It was such a blessing. He's had some wrestling experience, so it was also great because I felt that I could go to him, and we could collaborate on certain things. It meant so much to him that we do right by the community as well.

The first episode ends with a really pivotal breakdown scene where Jack embarrasses Ace in front of his fans. This sets the tone for everything that follows, so can you talk me through what it was like to film such a vulnerable moment?

I remember saying to our incredible director, Pete [Segal], "Dude, if this moment doesn’t land, the show is screwed." Because when you read that on paper, it's a scary moment. It's really scary as an actor – Ace is not a wimp. When you hear he breaks down crying… you know, he's got a lot of heart. He just wants to prove himself.

We really had to find that sweet spot. The only thing I could relate it to is, do you ever see in the Superbowl when an NFL player loses? It's not "poor me" crying. It's "shit!" and anger and frustration. You put all this time into it, and effort, and energy, and it all just… what is it for? – you know, in that moment. That's what Ace is going through. He's like, "I can't believe that I've been screwed like that. I put everything into this."

Quantrell ColbertStarz

It's so fun to see immediately this guy who masks himself in bravado. Deep down, he's just a child trying to figure out his own life. That was one of my favourite pilot episodes I've ever read. It was just like, "I did not see that coming."

Ace is also vulnerable physically too when it comes to baring his body in the ring. Did you ever feel awkward in terms of the onscreen nudity, whether in a sex scene or in your wrestling costume?

I've just learned to say, "F**k it" – for lack of a better word [laughs]. You get to a point where it's like, all that matters to me is that it serves the story. At this point in my life, I don't think anything could really faze me anymore. It's what I do. If it's going to serve the story, then let's do it.

Nothing's been confirmed yet, but do you think there's scope for a second season of Heels beyond this one?

Oh, man. I mean, honestly, if I were a betting man, I'd say we were going to have another season – and then some.

"At this point in my life, I don't think anything could really faze me anymore."

I think that wrestling is a funny one. It's got such a mass appeal, actually beyond America. In Japan, and all these other places in the world, it's really big. So I don't think there's any limit to where the show could go.

And I always think about it similarly to Vikings. With Vikings, we started really small, and I wasn't even a part of it at the beginning. And then suddenly, you see this world build out massively. So my hope for this is that's what will happen.

Heels airs weekly every Sunday on Starz in the US and StarzPlay in the UK.

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