It’s been quite the decade for Michael Waldron.
Just eight years ago, the man who wrote Loki Season 1 and Marvel's highly-anticipated Doctor Strange sequel was interning for Dan Harmon. The script for Waldron’s new wrestling drama, Heels, was already written when he was "scrubbing toilets at the Rick and Morty office," he explained during his speech to a packed crowd at the Heels premiere party last week in Los Angeles.
The next morning when he meets me over the phone to discuss Heels, his love letter to the professional wrestling world he grew up with, it’s clear Waldron partied maybe a little hard the night before.
“You can understand why I am hungover right now,” Waldron tells Inverse, still recuperating from the previous night’s festivities.
But who can blame him? Thanks in part to his success at Marvel, where he’s quickly become studio president Kevin Feige’s golden child, the wrestling show Waldron originally pitched back in 2013 is finally coming to fruition.
Inverse sat down with Waldron to dig into his impressive career trajectory and find out what sort of challenges he's faced in taking on these epic fandoms. We touch on a lot in our conversation, from his childhood fascination with World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) to the brotherly conflicts pervasive in both Heels and Loki.
And if you're wondering his opinion on whether Doctor Strange 2 (which has been called the scariest movie Marvel has ever made) is indeed a horror movie, he's got an answer to that question as well.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’re involved in a lot of fandoms: Rick and Morty, Marvel, now Star Wars. Is it tough keeping those separate, and are there any tricks you’ve learned along the way?
Dan Harmon’s story circle is the backbone of everything I write. I learned that from Dan, and any bit of writing I'm doing always starts there. Frankly, I wish I could stick to it more. It would have probably saved me from some headaches. It’s nice to have a process that is your creative process, whether you're writing a science fiction show or an animated show, or a drama about pro wrestling.
I'm also a member of all those fandoms. I loved pro wrestling from the time I was a little kid, probably around the same time I fell in love with Star Wars. So, this is all stuff that I care a lot about. All you can really do when you're telling these stories is care, and part of caring is being willing to take chances and be bold in your storytelling. Being bold and being fearless is what created these great things in the first place.
Heels is obviously your love letter to professional wrestling. What was your experience with it that inspired the show’s creation?
When I was growing up in the ‘90s, it was WCW and WWF. And then [Extreme Championship Wrestling]. I would see commercials and be like, “Holy shit, that seems crazy!” Because I bounced back and forth between the two promotions, WCW and WWF, my familiarity with the territories and the smaller promotions initially came from old videotapes you could buy. I had a million old [National Wrestling Alliance] shows — like the territories that kind of grew into the WCW. That's where my knowledge of that started. And then it was just research and realizing that wrestling started as a bunch of smaller promotions that ultimately were united into a couple of very big ones.
Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig embody their characters so beautifully. Were they always your idea for Jack and Ace?
The show's been in development for so long. Back in 2017, when we were first really trying to get it off the ground, I remember Stephen was on our list. This guy has a background in wrestling. He’s literally been in the game with WWE, but he was still doing Arrow and was just unavailable. It came time to revisit the show in 2019, and it was just good fortune that Stephen had wrapped Arrow relatively recently. We went out to him. Thank God he said yes. Alexander was the next domino to fall.
This show, probably more so than many others, is really dependent upon the physicality of that casting. Not only do these guys have to be great actors, which they are, but you've got to believe that they're wrestlers — not just in the ring where they’re doing a lot of their own stunts, but also their mass outside of the ring. You want to see when they're standing opposite their mom that they look like two giant dudes that are imposing professional wrestlers.
CM Punk makes a cameo in a later episode. Will there be more professional wrestlers on the series in the future?
Working with CM Punk is a dream come true. I think he's one of the best wrestlers ever. He's a hell of an actor and a great dude. There’s another cameo later on in the season that's really exciting, as well.
As far as that stuff goes, you always want to ride the line. You don't want it just to be a revolving door of people from something else playing themselves. It would become Entourage. That's not a knock on Entourage; that worked in that show. I don't think it would necessarily work here. We'll have to strike a balance with that. But basically, it'll be: What wrestlers do I really want to meet? And do I want them to show up?
The brotherly conflict between Jack and Ace reminds me of the dynamic between Loki and Thor. Is that something you're drawn to in developing stories?
I guess I have been down that road twice now. I'm very interested in family legacy in the way it shapes us and the inevitability of becoming our parents. To some extent, I think that's a fascinating thing to explore. I've got a little brother, and we have a very close relationship. Maybe this is just me working out my fantasies about wishing that I had some juicy, fraternal conflict in my life.
While we’re discussing Loki, will we see Kang or anyone else from the Sacred Timeline in the new Doctor Strange movie, or will fans have to wait two years for the next Ant-Man for some Loki closure?
You know, I think you’ll just have to show up on March 23 to the Multiverse of Madness for the answer.
Fair enough. It’s been said that Doctor Strange 2 will be the scariest Marvel movie ever made. Can you settle the internet debate once and for all: Is the Multiverse of Madness a horror movie?
Well, it's a Sam Raimi movie, and that's something to get excited about.
Heels releases new episodes Sundays on Starz.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness premieres in theaters on March 23, 2022.