Interview: Alison Luff Dishes on Wrestling Drama HEELS!

The series premiered August 15th on Starz.

By: Aug. 20, 2021

Interview: Alison Luff Dishes on Wrestling Drama HEELS!

Waitress and Wicked Broadway star Alison Luff stars in Heels, a new drama series that premiered August 15th on Starz.

The series is a gritty, emotional underdog story with a Friday Night Lights feel and takes you behind the scenes of a comeback story. The drama tells the universal tale of chasing your dreams to try to make it big in a small town, while showcasing the art form of America's favorite pastime: wrestling. Heels is a classic Cain & Abel storyline that explores the complicated relationship of two brothers as they compete both in and out of the ring.

Written and created by Executive Producer Michael Waldron ("Loki," the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) with Executive Producer Mike O'Malley ("Shameless," "Survivor's Remorse") as showrunner, "Heels" stars Luff alongside Stephen Amell ("Arrow") as Jack Spade, with Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games, "Vikings") playing his younger brother, Ace. Peter Segal (Get Smart, 50 First Dates, Tommy Boy, "Shameless"), who directs several episodes, also serves as Executive Producer.

BroadwayWorld had the pleasure of speaking to Luff, who plays Staci Spade, Jack's wife who learns that she has to contend with the emotional stakes her in-laws have invested in their wrestling goals and the demands it puts on her family.

Alison Luff most recently portrayed the role of Jenna in Waitress and starred as Rachel in the original Broadway production of Escape to Margaritaville. She previously appeared in the Broadway Revival of Les Miserables as Fantine and played Miss Honey in Matilda.

Her other Broadway credits include Scandalous, Ghost, and Mamma Mia!

Read the full interview below.

Tell me a little about Heels as a project! What do you love most about it?

First of all, a little quick synopsis of Heels - it is a Southern family drama that's centered around two brothers that are at odds to keep their late father's legacy alive in the world of small town, professional wrestling. I play the youngest matriarch of the family, Staci Spade, who's married to the oldest brother, Jack Spade.

And what originally drew me to the script was - I mean, I was drawn to it within the first page, to be honest, which sounds cliche, but the way that they introduce my character... I thought it was super cool, and I'm super drawn to the character because I feel very fortunate to be able to represent mothers and wives that are kind of at a crossroads in their life. We meet Staci, and she's ten years into a marriage and a stay-at-home mom with an eight year old, but, that being said, this eight-year-old is going to school now. She's not staying home with them all day.

So we kind of meet her at this crossroads in her life, where she feels like she's losing herself or has forgotten, possibly, who she was, and I just think it's a very relevant and relatable thing for a lot of people that are mothers, and that are wives in a long relationship - that the honeymoon phase may be over, and it's real life, and the script just really taps into real life issues and challenges and that is what I think I'm most passionate about with this script.

I think especially right now, with the way especially mothers in households have had to step up over the past year, it's going to be a really empowering thing for people to see.

For sure. I definitely have mothers in my life that have faced the challenges that most mothers and fathers have faced with the pandemic and their kids being home, but that's so true. I didn't ever think of that in regards to the show, and how that can make her even more relatable.

Do you have a personal connection to professional wrestling? Is this your first time handling that topic?

I grew up watching it here and there, not regularly at all. I have three brothers. It was on from time to time in our house - very rarely. But every once in a while, my brother would watch it, and I would watch it with him. I was an actor since I was a young girl, and I remember just watching and thinking - guys, I think these people are acting. This isn't real. It looks really painful, but this isn't real.

So, no - I didn't really have a connection with it until whenever I knew I was being screen tested for the role. That's when I delved more into the world of wrestling, and when I was cast in the role, I started watching documentaries like Beyond the Mat, and Dark Side of the Ring, and I really tried to dig up accounts of the wives of these wrestlers, and how that craft impacted their families.

I've always felt like if fans of wrestling and fans of musical theatre sat down and really talked about it, they'd find a lot in common.

It's so true. I've been making that parallel so often. It really is just another form of storytelling, and it reminds me of theatre in so many ways. It's like campy, gory theatre versus singing theatre.

On the subject of theatre, what are you looking forward to now that it seems like, hopefully, we're going to be getting back onstage pretty soon?

I have missed being onstage so much the last two years. I know everyone has, and I feel a little bit of - it's not lost on me how fortunate I am that I got to do Heels at this time, because I've made my living from theatre for a very long time, and I haven't really made a living any other way. Therefore, if I didn't have Heels when I had it, I'd be in a really, really tough spot. I definitely would have run out of money. I definitely would have been in a very, very tight spot. So that's definitely not lost on me.

And the whole time I was filming Heels, I was definitely falling in love with that medium - the on-camera medium. But the whole time, I was just really, really missing theatre. And I think the thing I'm most looking forward to is just being in rehearsals again. I don't have anything lined up theatre-wise, but when I was filming, I really missed being in a rehearsal room, and I really missed theatre people and kind of the [catharsis] that came with being able to tell the story from beginning to end every night with a select group of people who come see it. When you're shooting a TV show, it's all out of order. It's a less selfish cathartic journey. You don't get to go on the whole journey from beginning to end.

So that's what I'll look forward to, honestly. Just rehearsing with my friends and telling the story from beginning to end in one fell swoop.

Was this your first TV project? How did you navigate the COVID restrictions?

We were one of the first - if not the first - companies that started filming during the pandemic. I don't have a lot to compare it to. The most I've done on another TV show is I did a seven-episode arc on New Amsterdam like a year and a half ago - actually, my last episode, the next day nobody went back to work because the shutdown happened.

So, that was kind of my only experience with really being on a set. And that's such a different show, too, because it's a procedural. There's quick turnarounds making those episodes. And this is an hour-long drama where the scenes are longer. I didn't have a whole lot to compare it to other than New Amsterdam, but it was definitely very tricky in the fact that we were so confined to this bubble, and we're meeting all these people we're working with - a crew of 200+ people, and you're working with them for, like, eight months straight, but you never know what their face looks like.

Like, you're meeting these people with a mask on. And they can see your face, because you have to take your mask off to film. But I remember walking onto the stage one day and there was this guy walking towards me walking to his car, and he had a hat on and a really cool jacket and he didn't have a mask on. And I was like, "I like your hat!" And he was like, "Thanks, Alison!" And I looked at him and I was like, "Cooper?!" And it was our first cameraman! Like, our number one camera operator. He's like, "You've never seen me without my mask." I'm like, "No, I haven't. If I ran into you at the grocery store, I wouldn't have known who you were."

Which is just so weird - meanwhile, you've filmed me naked, and I couldn't even tell you what your face looks like because I've only met each other with masks on. So that was kind of bizarre.

But, to throw it to a positive, because we were tested every day, and we were trying to do this so safely because everyone's livelihood is at stake, we were kind of confined to this bubble, so on days off, when most people would fly home to see their family, or go hang out with their friend that they have in Atlanta, or just do their own thing - the only people we were comfortable hanging out with were the people that were getting tested every day, which was our cast. It automatically made us closer in a way.

It must have been a very different bonding experience.

For sure. It definitely was. We bonded over things going up our nose! That sounds really weird - swabs going up our nose.

Could you tell me what you're looking forward to audiences experiencing when they watch Heels?

I'm really looking forward to witnessing who people relate to, because I think these characters are so well-rounded, and so well-developed, and the writing is so great that I really think that any person can relate to one of these characters. They're so relatable, and it's an eclectic group of characters. So, I'm excited to see who people relate to, and the storylines that they relate to.

And then, for selfish reasons, I'm excited for people to see a side of Staci that they might not expect. I think it's really easy to look at my character from the surface and say, "Oh, she's the wife." "Oh, she's the mother." "Oh, she goes to church," and have this preconceived notion of who this woman is when all the women in this series are the unsung heroes. The heroes without capes, so to speak. They are the reason this small town and these men tick and tock, and the whole reason that things get done. I think that's just super rad, and I'm excited for people to see that and for women to relate to her.


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