ALEXANDER LUDWIG HAS been a Viking. He’s also been a Hunger Games participant, a Bad Boys friend of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and is about to begin a run as a professional wrestling star in Starz’s new behind-the-curtain dramedy Heels. But, as he tells me over Zoom in June, when the camera stops rolling, he’s just a guy who likes live music, a glass of whiskey, and a hole-in-the-wall dive bar.
“Amazing,” he tells me when describing Teddy’s Juke Joint, a Blues bar in Zachary, Louisiana run by an 80-year-old man out of the back of his house. “It’s the coolest ever. And it’s like, you know, if you’re ordering a drink, you order a whiskey, he’ll just bring it in a styrofoam cup and just a bottle of Crown Royal and you listen to Blues. It’s just… it’s incredible.”
Sounds good to me. Our conversation turned to Teddy’s because before we talked about any of the dramatic stunts and physical fitness work that he had to put in for Heels, I had to ask about his experience filming The Final Girls, a meta-horror-comedy that slipped under the radar in 2015.
You can almost hear the frustration in his voice as he’s discussing the experience after filming the movie (and, yes, after visiting Teddy’s.) With more than half a decade removed from the movie’s experience, he sounds confident that in a different time, The Final Girls could have been a movie that, like Scream or even, more recently, Fear Street, finds the right audience.
“Man, that film, that film got so screwed because I, I love that film too. And I was so proud of it, and I just feel like if it came out now, when you have all these streamers, it would have had a different life,” he says passionately. “But at the time everything was still kind of starting out, and they didn’t really have a place for it, which is too bad.”
The movie, after all, is currently streaming on Hulu. That’s where I watched it. But still, it’s refreshing to hear from a star who really is willing to go to bat for a movie that could have been more.
But that’s enough about a movie that came out 6 years ago. Now, Ludwig is making his return to TV (after 5 seasons and 67 episodes on History’s Vikings) and and hoping that his latest project, Heels—which comes from Loki head writer Michael Waldron—doesn’t slip anyone’s radar. Over the course of our conversation, the Atlanta-based actor talked about all the prep he did for the show, the most rigorous workout regimen he’s ever undergone, and good old fashioned drunk acting.
You have short hair now, but in Heels you’ve got some really long hair. What was the biggest difference there? Was it hard to maintain?
Oh, it’s such a bitch. Oh my God, cause, like, I can only grow my hair to like maybe [GESTURES TO LOWER NECK] here, by the time I had grown it for like eight months, so it had gotten long. But not as long as I wanted it for this character. I really wanted him to be kind of a wild card. So the last little bit of it was extensions, and I am definitely no stranger to extensions. I’ve had them for Vikings before, and they are such a pain.
So, originally they were, like, kind of sewed-in for the first half of the show. And then I said to our incredible hair department, like, guys…this sucks. Like I try to sleep with this; it’s just a nightmare to shower with it. So they came up with the brilliant idea to make it a weave. So every day I would come in and they would weave it into my hair. So that was nice, but I do prefer short hair.
Heels feels like something of a different pace for you. The action feels more grounded in, let’s say, our world, as opposed to the ancient battles of Vikings or the almost Sci-Fi world of The Hunger Games. Did you feel that difference?
Sure. And you know, I would say that Vikings was as real as we could make it to the world that we were in, whereas Hunger Games for sure is its own world. But, for this, the fight sequences and stuff… I’m so used to doing that now. It’s like a dance, you know? I’m used to it, and I like playing around with it. There’s always things that go wrong, like keeping on a heel. I felt so bad like that—in one scene, there was a camera operator that was in a position, and there was a miscommunication where I thought he was going to move out of the way, and he thought he was supposed to stay there. And I ended up basically barreling into him and into the camera.
But in terms of the actual fighting itself, it’s not that much different. Like, it’s actually probably easier the scenes, but Heels was without a doubt, the most strenuous on my body ever, because [costar] Stephen [Amell] and I have an insane amount of respect for the wrestling community and that world. And let me just tell you, as somebody who’s new to this and kind of got thrown into it, there is nothing fake about this, except for the storylines. You know, like when you get in there, like it’s a total stunt performance, but these guys who use and abuse their bodies on a daily basis with no backing, like no medical help, it’s all on them. They try, they’re just traveling carnies, just beating themselves up.
And Stephen and I just felt the same way: we really need to step our game up. I want to be able to do these stunts. I want to be able to know how to do this, because we, when the wrestlers watch the show, they need to see this and go, wow, the actor actually did that. Like, respect, as opposed to… You know, and don’t get me wrong—we have an incredible stunt team, who did falls from 20 feet that no production would ever let me do. But for the most part, when it came to backflipping off the top turnback, or landing on my head, that’s all stuff that I, taught myself to do. Because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. And Ace is supposed to be a rock star in the ring and I needed to do that justice.
What was there ever a day that was particularly hard on you in terms of like doing those stunts and like feeling it really, once the filming was done?
Oh yeah, man. They—we—call it like taking a bump. It really, really shakes you, and it’s not the ones you would expect. Like, we did this thing called “The German” at the end of Episode 1, which is where Stephen grabs me from behind. And lifts me up and throws me on my shoulders. That doesn’t hurt nearly as much as landing flat back. Like, when you land flat back and you take that, it’s kind of a, a medal of honor. The more simple the move, sometimes, is the hardest. Without giving too much away, the finale episode was the most strenuous. And I mean, Stephen and I were almost puking by the end of it.
I just remember telling him, man, this is going to hurt. Like, this is really going to suck. And he was like, yeah, let’s do it. And Stephen had broken his back on our show. But I mean, he was fine and, and I knew he was fine. Like, obviously the studio was worried and stuff, but he and I had talked, so I know he was absolutely fine at this point. And I was just like, we’re going to do this full-on, are you ready? And he was like, 100%. Let’s do it.
And that was one of the most strenuous sequences I’ve ever had in my life. I mean, we were just gassed, and that’s after like five minutes. These guys wrestle for like 45 minutes. Like, it’s insane. I don’t know how they do it.
You have some great scenes playing drunk in the first few episodes of Heels. What was the key?
My experience has been that drugs and alcohol are the enemy of art, you know? So, when it comes to playing a drunk person, it’s not like I’m about to get up and go be in that same state. It’s about remembering those times where I was like that, and really putting myself in there emotionally, physically. There are certain exercises I do to like, not focus my eyes on something specifically. There are other exercises I’ll do before to make my eyes glassy, and really get in that place of just where I was. But when you’re drunk, you’re erratic, right? At least for me, you can be really sad at one point. But you’re really happy at another point.
Did you do anything differently to get in shape for Heels, as opposed to what you would have done for any other project?
This one was the most strenuous workout regimen ever, and added to that was COVID. Basically, they built an incredible gym for us—they spent a fortune on it. [Co-star and former NFL star] James Harrison really helped put together the gym as well. And it was this unbelievable amount of equipment that we would use. But with my crazy filming schedule, it was really hard to film all day, then make it to the gym. So I basically had to build a home gym the best I could. I would use the routines that they would tell me, so part of it was conditioning. Like, I needed to be in great shape to even be able to do these sequences.
But the other thing was building muscle. A lot of wrestlers are big, but they’re not super lean. So, I was trying to find that medium between like… they’re in incredible shape, but they’re still big guys.
I mean, I had to put on at least 30 pounds for the role and my workout regimen shifted in that. I realized that if I kept trying to train everything at once, it was nearly impossible to keep that up. So I’d be focusing on one muscle group and the opposing muscle group a day, max, and then I would have kind of cardio intermittently throughout that.
And that was a different approach than I taken before. And then, of course, there was a conditioning aspect to it, where there’d be days where we’d just be hitting it all on all fronts. Plus ,we’d be going to wrestling training. So it was a lot, but it was also the best shape I’ve ever been in.
Where were you a wrestling fan growing up?
I was, but it wasn’t one of those things where I followed it religiously. I remember as a kid, turning on the TV and watching The Edge or The Rock wrestle, and being fascinated by that whole performance. Ironically, not long after, I’d find myself working with Dwayne [Johnson], and then becoming really close friends with Adam Copeland, who was The Edge. So, it’s so funny how the world works.
You did the movie Race to Witch Mountain with The Rock. What’s your relationship with him like?
He’s been such a champion of mine, and been such a good guy to me over the years. I’ll never forget this: I turned 16 on that shoot, and he gave me his favorite guitar. It’s one that we played together, and he knew I loved guitar. And so he gave me his guitar. I still have it, and it’s stunning.
And, he’s just, he’s never changed. He’s always been an amazing guy. When I booked Bad Boys For Life, I sent him a message, just asking for a workout routine for that. And he wrote me back a massive email.
It’s funny—Dwayne is so amazing, but I haven’t seen him in person for so long. For this, I needed to really lean on somebody for advice that I could really have a real rapport with regularly. And so I reached out to Adam Copeland, who was The Edge. And if there was ever little things like I’d ask him like, Hey man, dude, like, do I have to shave my armpits? Is that something that every wrestler does? Or is that kind of a choice? He’d be like, no, man, that’s a choice. Like you do you. Adam was really somebody I leaned on, and somebody I would love to get into the show.
Awesome. Well, if I’m ever in Louisiana, I’m going to have to find that blues bar.
Call me if you’re in Louisiana, man. I’ll give you the address. You will freaking love it. I’ll come meet you.
This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.
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