These two are grappling with a lot.
A pair of Georgia brothers go to the mats to keep their family’s wresting empire alive — while trying not to kill each other — in the new Starz show “Heels,” which premiered Sunday.
Inside the ring, Jack Spade, played by Stephen Amell, is in complete control. He scripts the dialogue, the moves, the winners. Then his brother goes off book.
Ace Spade, portrayed by Alexander Ludwig, would rather wrestle his opponents and the blond du jour than handle the serious side of the family business, the Duffy Wrestling League. But the siblings make it work.
“I think that at the end of the day, they do love each other,” Ludwig, 29, told the Daily News.
“They’d take a bullet for each other. And the moments where they do show up for each other, you can’t help but cheer. But for the most part, they’ll do anything but talk it out.”
Instead, their brotherly battles play out in the wrestling ring, where Ace can’t help but go off-script when his temper gets the best of him.
And inside the ropes, “Heels” wanted to ensure that the wrestling was authentic.
“That’s a real ring you’re looking at. It’s not padded. We built a practice ring in our gymnasium and we wanted to really go for it,” said Amell, 40, a lifelong wrestling fan who has appeared on World Wrestling Entertainment’s “WWE Raw” and All Elite Wrestling’s “Revolution.”
“Alexander and I have a scene later in the year where he’s really getting after me and beating me up, and people were really worried. They thought it was really happening.”
For true wrestling fans, “Heels” drops Easter eggs throughout the first season, nods to WWE (which seemingly cannot be named, and is referred to as the company “up north”) and some of its most famous faces.
The brothers’ biggest competitor, an extravagant show based in Jacksonville, Florida, sounds like upstart AEW, right down to the founder starting the company with his father’s money.
For everyone else, “Heels” is a family story about trying to make it, a “Friday Night Lights” melodrama hidden behind piledrivers and headlocks.
“I think you can see a massive parallel in ‘Heels’ and the world and the story to how the industry treats the audience in general,” Ludwig said. “People are fed up with stories that just have the same thing, the explosions and this and that, to draw you away from what really matters, which is characters.”
And “Heels” has characters aplenty.
While Jack and Ace can’t stop bickering, Willie Day (Mary McCormack), Jack’s business partner, keeps the Duffy Wrestling League alive and functional, or as best as it can.
In their stable is a disgraced pill-popping wrestler named Wild Bill (Chris Bauer), shamed back to Duffy after a massive public relations failure. A crowd of wrestlers, some filling quiet nights, others trying to find meaning, fill out the roster.
The most endearing of all is Crystal (Kelli Berglund), Ace’s valet with dreams of being allowed to wrestle, who constantly fights a sexist system that won’t let a woman in the ring unless she’s cheering on a man.
It’s all part of the show’s emphasis on putting people first.
“If you don’t care about the characters, you won’t care about what happens to them when there’s an explosion. The explosions are great. The wrestling world is great. But you gotta care,” Ludwig told The News.
“And Stephen and I always bonded over that. If the audience doesn’t buy into these characters, they’re not going to give a s— about who wins or who loses in the ring.”
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