‘Heels’ Wrestling Coordinator Luke Hawx on Bringing Authenticity to the Ring
When you do a show about professional wrestling, you want to get it right. Otherwise, one of the most passionate and vocal fanbases around will voice their opinions. So, for Starz’s upcoming wrestling drama Heels, producers signed on expert Luke Hawx to serve as the show’s wrestling coordinator.
The veteran grappler, trainer, and promoter has more than 20 years of experience working in rings around the world. His resume also includes a number of onscreen work, even appearing in a memorable fight scene with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in the 2017 film Logan.
Heels‘ story of the Spade brothers Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace (Alexander Ludwig) looking to keep the family business, Duffy Wrestling League, afloat is a story that Hawx can no doubt relate to. Here, Hawx tells TV Insider about training the cast and the importance of presenting an authentic portrayal of this unique industry.
How did you become involved with the show?
Luke Hawx: When Heels got picked up I got calls from several people in the industry. They were like, “Did you hear this wrestling show got picked up? This is your show.” I started digging around. Several stunt coordinators were up for it. Word started traveling with my name. They wanted me to bring my son PJ with me.
He had gone super viral jumping off the second floor of a mall in 2020 at a live wrestling event. He got to play the ref Denny on Heels. It was one of the first shows up and running during the pandemic. It was a good opportunity for us because all our live events were shut down. The rest is history. We had a wonderful time filming.
What was the training regimen like for the cast?
Stephen had a wrestling background, but he didn’t have a full training background. For the rest of the guys, I didn’t know their level of wrestling experience or expertise. We built this wonderful gym [we] called the Heels Gymnasium. We had a full gymnasium and wrestling ring. One half was dedicated to wrestling and the other side was dedicated to fitness stuff. We had two workouts each day. My job was to train the cast not to wrestle fully, so to speak, but wrestle for the script because the timing was the big issue, especially with Alexander and Stephen. They are filming all the time. They had to fit in training and wrestling training. It was a lot. Everyone worked hard and got it done.
Were there a few weeks dedicated to nailing down the fundamentals?
It was all happening while filming took place. I want to shout out to [EP] Mike O’Malley and the rest of the team because they did such a phenomenal job during the pandemic with scheduling. We might have been shooting Episode 2 and also been filming Episodes 4 or 5 because every time we had to make changes due to the pandemic. The actors did a wonderful job and came in with a great attitude and came in at 150 percent. I honestly never saw a harder working cast, production, everyone that was involved.
Is there anyone, in particular, you can see as a legit wrestler if they wanted to pursue this as a career?
I got to give a shoutout to Allen Maldonado, a.k.a. Rooster. Rooster is a naturally gifted athlete who is very hard-working. Rooster has that personality on the big stage and is also super athletic and high flying. I’m a Rooster fan. James Harrison [Apocalypse] is a professional athlete and can pick everything up quickly.
What kind of input did you have in making sure this was an authentic representation of the business?
That was one of the reasons I was brought in. I run a company called WildKat Sports down in New Orleans, Louisiana. We’ve been around for 10 years. We work on massive live events around the country and in Mexico. That’s my day-to-day. Outside of filming, I’m always training. I’m running our school, our facility, and live events and putting everything together. When I first came on the project, Mike O’Malley said, “If you see anything that would not be a hundred percent accurate to how you do things, please speak up on how you would do it so we can fix it.” They were true to their word.
What were the challenges of doing such a physical show with COVID protocols? I heard how dedicated the extras were during filming.
The extras were crucial for authenticity. If you watch the wrestling product up until a couple of weeks ago they were performing before no crowds. It’s kind of odd. When we let the fans in there, it was critical for them to be part of our season because they really helped make the scenes what they are. The COVID team did a great job making sure everyone was safe. They were on point with everything. At one point we were testing six days a week. Then they had us in different zones and nobody worked outside of their zone. Everyone did what they had to do to work together.
I know there are some wrestlers on the show this season. How was it coordinated with those who are already trained in this aspect?
It was cool because I was in charge of hiring those guys. Of course, I had to get it approved by the producers. But I was the one who suggested who we hired for each scene. A lot of them were my students from WildKat Sports. I had guys like the “Wild Card” J. Spade, my son, Stevie Richards, Luke Gallows, Chuck Devine, Danny Flamingo. Many wrestlers who wrestled for WildKat Sports. Then there are guys like Nick Mondo, who had a background in stunt work. It gave a lot of guys jobs when they weren’t working due to the pandemic. It was good to have those guys around because they are these experienced wrestlers.
Another was CM Punk. What was it like working with him?
He is a good friend of mine. I’ve known him for over 20 years. It was wonderful to have him on set. He is one of the top stars in wrestling and always has a good attitude. It gives credibility to a show like Heels when you can have a guy like him on it. We were lucky to have him.
What does it mean to you to have this story told?
It’s awesome. If you were to ask me 10 years ago, my whole agenda would be to make the wrestling fans happy. Now, my agenda is to take the outside person who doesn’t like wrestling and have them watch the show and be able to have them feel emotionally connected to what we go through. There is a character on this show for everyone to relate to. No matter what position in life you’re in. Whether you are an underdog, athletic, someone who gets shut down time after time, There are characters like that across the board.
Heels, Series Premiere, Sunday, August 15, 9/8c, Starz