Wrestling coordinator Luke Hawx (right), in costume as The Hole, on the set of Heels with makeup artist Adam Walls
Wrestling is key to the new Starz drama Heels, but it's not the main event.
The center of the story, as one character notes, is a "tale as old as time: brothers sparring. Cain and Abel. Esau and Jacob."
Brother one is Jack Spade (Stephen Amell), a heel. That's wrestling jargon for villain. He's inherited the Duffy Wrestling League — a broken-down arena in small-town Duffy, Georgia — and hopes to restore it to glory. Brother two is Ace Spade (Alexander Ludwig), a "face" or good guy. Popular with the fans and courted by promoters, he may leave Duffy because he resents Jack, who writes scripts that keep him from winning the title belt.
The storyline only works if the fight scenes are authentic. That's the job of wrestling coordinator Luke Hawx, who also appears in two episodes as a competitor called The Hole. Hawx began his career in arenas like Duffy's, where wrestlers need second jobs to make ends meet as they follow their passion.
He found his passion early. He attended his first live match at age 10 and about midway through, he recalls, one of his favorites, Terry Funk, "got jumped by a bunch of heels. So I ran back to the dressing room. I busted the doors open and I yelled, 'Help! You gotta help Terry Funk. He's being jumped.'
"Paul Orndorff, [who performed as] Mr. Wonderful, put his arms around me, walked me out of the dressing room and said, 'Terry can handle himself.' I couldn't believe they wouldn't come out and help Terry."
When he came of age, Hawx aspired to the kind of career that legends Funk and Orndorff had. Dubbed "The Southern Stomper," he rose through the ranks (appearing also as Altar Boy Luke), winning titles and, starting in 2007, roles in films such as Logan, The Fate of the Furious and Project Power.
Stunt school led to work in that area. "One gig led to another," he says. "You work with this guy, that guy. You do a good job, and they remember." When Heels stunt coordinator Artie Malesci (Burn Notice) reached out, it wasn't a hard sell. Hawx brought a team from Wildkat Sports, the wrestling school he runs in New Orleans, and they started training the actors, "making them trust they can do what needed to be done."
Most were, if not ring-ready, at least ring-willing. Kelli Berglund (Fosse/Verdon), who plays Crystal, Ace's valet (wrestling-speak for sexy sidekick), "struggled with weights and wasn't very confident working out," Hawx recalls. "But after we spoke to her — told her she could do this and all she needed was confidence in her coaches — this girl went night and day. She came in and started crushing everything. She wasn't afraid to try anything."
Neither was Amell, who suffered a back injury when a coast-to-coast (a move wherein a wrestler climbs a post and jumps across the ring onto an opponent) went awry.
"Steve had practiced it multiple times. Wrestling has a stigma for being fake. It's not fake. It's entertainment," Hawx says. "People get hurt. But the actors didn't want stunt doubles. They said, 'I want to see myself on TV.'"
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2021