Stephen Amell headlines a new wrestling-themed series about drama, both in and out of the ring

HeelsStarzJust as the mafia has omerta—the code of silence—so does the wrestling world have kayfabe.

In the Starz drama Heels, which premieres Sunday, that’s the code by which members of the Duffy Wrestling League in rural Georgia live as they try to keep the secrets of their trade just that, a secret.

Heels, which refers to villain wrestlers, revolves around Jack and Ace Spade (Stephen Amell, Arrow, and Alexander Ludwig, Vikings), members of a family-owned wrestling promotion business who fake-fight opponents in the ring and battle each other for real out of it as they war over the legacy of their late father, the company’s founder.

Of course, that tension filters down to others, including Jack’s wife Staci (Alison Luff, New Amsterdam), who must deal with the demands the business puts on her family; Willie (Mary McCormack, In Plain Sight), Jack’s business partner and logistics person; Crystal (Kelli Berglund, Now Apocalypse), Ace’s valet and girlfriend; and Wild Bill Hancock (Chris Bauer, True Blood), a former wrestler and current wrestling scout.

HeelsStarzWritten and created by Michael Waldron (Loki), who executive produces with showrunner Mike O’Malley (Shameless), the series features plenty of in-ring action that the actors had to replicate as if they were real pro wrestlers. And that left Amell sore and stiff at the end of some shooting days.

“What we really wanted to portray on Heels,” Amell explains, “was the way that wrestlers really communicated in the ring, was the way that they communicate with each other and the way that they communicate with the referee. Because there was a scene in a later episode where I’m slamming my arm against Alexander’s back, except that while I’m doing that, when he’s down on the ground I’m yelling, ‘Get up! Give me your back! You’ve got a forearm coming.’”

“So you’ve got to get rough-and-tumble with this stuff but it’s much safer and much more predictable, because the way that we’re filming it, we’re filming it like a wrestling match, where we’re actually calling out the spots in what we’re doing.”

Of course, the series also portrays the business side of the sport—of trying to keep the company afloat on a shoestring budget, fending off competition from rival organizations and writing scripts for potential storylines.

And then there is kayfabe, a term that turns up early in the series and something Amell learned about firsthand one day while filming outside Atlanta.

“I was talking with my buddy Kenny Omega, one of the greatest professional wrestlers in the world,” the Canadian actor recalls, “and there was a little behind-the-scenes crew filming for that day. And he was talking to me about some things that I could do during my match. And when the camera crew got close, he went, ‘Guys, either turn off the camera or get away.’ And they sort of backed away and I looked at him and he just looked at me and said, ‘Kayfabe, brother.’ So kayfabe is a real thing.”

Heels airs Sundays at 12:35 a.m. on Starz 2