Heels Stars James Harrison and Allen Maldonado Talk Athleticism, Characters, and Tease Each Other Mercilously


This Pittsburgh girl was the envy of the family during our second Heels press interview.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker and two-time Superbowl winner James Harrison and the multi-talented Allen Maldonado are part of the Duffy Wrestling League as Apocalypse and Rooster.

The two characters share a unique bond, and they share their thoughts on their roles below.

James, hello from Pittsburgh.

James: Hello, how are you doing?

Good. Can you talk a little bit about your pivot from pro athlete to actor playing a pro athlete on TV?

James: Well, it was a transition that probably started around 2018-19. I was doing Fox, and I was really trying to get into the scripted role by doing unscripted. And through that process of doing that, I realized that I liked it, and it was a challenge.

So it basically came down to being a challenge for me of going from football into acting, which was a challenge for me, which a lot of people don’t know is I have extremely, extremely bad stage fright.

If you followed me back in 2005 [trough] 2008, I rarely did interviews because I was just so nervous and just struggled with having to actually talk in front of people. So going into acting, it’s not something that anybody would have ever said that James Harrison is going to do 10, 15 years ago.

And it gave me an opportunity to open up and dig into my actual feelings, things that I didn’t have to do when I played. I just had to go out there and be a mean SOB, you know what I’m saying? [laughs] And smash somebody in their mouth.

Allen, Rooster is a character who desperately wants to move up in the wrestling league and he’s having some communication issues and some concerns about being a part of a family league.

Can you tell us a little bit about that from your perspective as playing Rooster?

Allen: Yeah. He just wants to see this as one of those opportunities. He has always been the good soldier and is just waiting for his opportunity at the main event. A simple gesture is all that he’s looking for.

So throughout the internal family issues, he’s caught in the middle of that and his opportunity to be in the main event. So you watch and see how it all transpires as far as him dealing with that and him getting that opportunity.

So Rooster is a diligent and passionate wrestler. So he’s willing to do whatever it takes.

Allen, how important is the friendship between Apocalypse and Rooster because of how Apocalypse actually walks him through his challenge reaching Jack?

Allen: It’s important. It’s vital.

It’s, man, he is the calming force to Rooster who’s always ready to jump out and jump on anyone when it comes to his career in particular.

He keeps me level-headed throughout my pursuit of getting answers. So it’s so important to the balance of Rooster.

And James, Apocalypse is the gentle giant of the Duffy Wrestling League. What’s it like being such a calming force to all of the other people, especially now that I know that you were personally, you have stage fright and yet your character is the complete opposite of that?

James: So for me, my character is the opposite of my fear, but my actual personality is, I am a very calm person from what you’ve seen over the years of playing ball.

The demeanor that I come out with is something totally different. But I am a calm, level-headed person. And for the most part, I make decisions of non-emotional decisions.

Occasionally, I have been known to make an emotional decision because I couldn’t cool myself off, so to speak. Level heads didn’t prevail. But for the most part, my actual personality is more along the lines of Apocalypse’s personality.

So it was an easy transition for me to be able to go out there and play that role and be that person, especially playing so long in the league and having guys come in and out and trying to teach them in the ways of being a professional athlete.

And them being intuitive and asking me questions about how do you do this? How do you do that? And being that figure that comes in and lets you know, if you want to be in this business for a while, if you want to succeed, these are the things that you need to do.

And James, can you tell me how different it is playing a professional athlete versus being a professional athlete?

James: Listen, playing a professional athlete is a lot easier than actually being one.

Allen: I agree. [laughs]

James: Yes. Of course, Allen wouldn’t know nothing about it. [laughs]

Allen: I’m a professional athlete. We played football together. Can you stop. Wow. [laughing out loud]

James: So playing one is a lot easier because I’m going on and I may have to learn five, six moves, and I’ll go and I’ll practice those five, six moves, and then, we’ll go on camera, and that’s what we’ll do.

Being a professional athlete, I have to be in tune to any and everything that goes on on that field, and the dynamics of what I have to do on any given play. And this guy is actually trying to make sure I don’t get my job done.

Where in this wrestling, we’re trying to help each other and make it look as real as possible without actually hurting each other. In football, it’s the total opposite.

Allen: It was the total opposite when we played, bro. It’s the total opposite. [laughing]

And Allen, what’s it like having this kind of a physical role for you? Of late, you’ve not had anything that seems that similar.

Allen: Yeah. Again, coming from the NFL and transitioning…[laughing] No, it was, man, this was a unique situation. I came into this, I guess the show, as a marathon runner. So it was the opposite of lifting weights and bulking up and all of those things.

So I got the chance to learn from one of the best though. James is a maniac when it comes to the gym and just his discipline. It was enlightening for me just to be able to work with an elite athlete and see how they approach fitness and they approach their body and the different, the recovery and just the importance of that.

All of that, I learned in the nine months of training with James. Man, I put all of that, I won’t give him too much credit. [laughing] You know what I’m saying?

James: All that I’m going to say is you almost got to 190 and now you’re sitting at about 145!

Allen: No, I am 175 now. I was at 190 when we shot. All muscle, you understand me?

You let all that hard work go already!

Allen: No, the training for this show was one of the highlights of it, to say the least. Just learning and being able to see my whole body transform. It was pretty cool. So it was just as important as the acting for me.

And Allen, if you could be either a face or a heel, which one would you prefer?

Allen: I like to be a bad boy. I want to be a heel, man. Heels have so much fun, man. They get to break stuff. They get to be rebels. They get to go against the call sometimes.

I definitely like what it takes to be a heel and the enjoyment of hearing people booing and root against you. That excites me and gets me going.

Same question for you, James, face or a heel?

James: For me, I’d be a great heel, though. I mean, I’m telling you, I can get into that and make it so believable because I’ve practiced with the look for so long. I think it would be easy. I would definitely, I’ve got to say I would definitely like to try being a heel.

Right now, I think I’m whatever they need at any given point. It could be a face; it could be a heel. It could be whatever it is. Right now, I think it’s more of a face just because of my relationship with Rooster and what it is that he’s going through and how we’re trying to resolve that.

Allen: We both may be crazy.

Don’t forget that Heels premieres on Sunday, August 15 at 9/8c only on Starz!

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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