‘Heels’ Star Chris Bauer Reveals Why Wild Bill Is Trying To ‘Atone’ For His Guilt Over His Success

Wild Bill Hancock is truly one of a kind. HL spoke EXCLUSIVELY with 'Heels' star Chris Bauer about Wild Bill's return to Duffy, Jack vs. Ace, and more.

Chris Bauer
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Image Credit: STARZ

Wild Bill Hancock, rocking a one-of-a-kind snakeskin suit, returned to Duffy in the Heels series premiere as a man on a mission. He had his eye on Ace Spade. Wild Bill tried to get Ace to take control in the ring, but Jack shocked everyone when he went off-script. When the crowd turned on Ace and he broke down, Wild Bill walked away disappointed.

HollywoodLife spoke EXCLUSIVELY with Chris Bauer about the complicated layers of Wild Bill underneath that snakeskin suit. He opened up about Wild Bill coming back to Duffy because Bill thinks he “owes that town something.” While he returned to Duffy as a scout, Wild Bill still doesn’t think the spotlight has turned away from him completely just yet. Read our full Q&A with Chris below:

Alexander Ludwig Chris Bauer
Alexander Ludwig and Chris Bauer on ‘Heels.’ (STARZ)

Wild Bill has a very specific style with his long hair, mustache, and snakeskin suit. What has that transformation into Wild Bill been like for you?
Chris Bauer: Oh my god, so fun. I love the character of Wild Bill Hancock. I love the world that it takes place in. I love wrestling. I love anything exaggerated and performative. But I’m the kind of actor where it took me years to really even understand nuance and subtlety at all. And then I played a bunch of roles in a row where the characters were quite understated and reserved. I enjoyed that challenge, I grew, but this guy Wild Bill… this is my wheelhouse. When I played baseball in high school, they only brought me in to hit the ball far. That’s just my natural way. So Wild Bill’s one of the guys where he doesn’t bother opening his mouth unless he’s going to scream or monologue, which can be so annoying, but it’s really fun to play.

How did you feel putting on that snakeskin suit for the first time?
Chris Bauer: I felt like almost a million bucks.

You rocked it.
Chris Bauer: Oh, thank you. I loved all my costumes, and I loved having the hair extensions. STARZ was so supportive in letting me kind of announce the extremity of that character, and they let us take some risks with that, but it’s very true to the world. In fact, if you look at some old “Macho Man” Savage promos or talk show appearances, Wild Bill’s look is actually quite sedated by comparison. He came from the South. He came from that territory, and he came up at a time when there was really no limit to how much of a peacock you could be in the ring, and it works. Some of the thought behind it to me is that having seen several wrestling matches in big venues like Madison Square Garden, you really have to know where to look. If you have the ticket in the top row in the back, you have to know where your eye is supposed to go. Some of these outrageous costumes are not just for the theater of it, it’s also really kind of practical.

Wild Bill does try to go after Ace and get him out of the DWL. Do you think Wild Bill looks at Ace as a younger version of himself?
Chris Bauer: I think he certainly sees some of himself in the obvious way. Ace is a DWL wrestler from a small town, and he’s got a lot of ambition and dreams of succeeding at a much higher level. I think that was just like Wild Bill. But I think in terms of his motivation to go back and give Ace a chance… At this point, there’s a whole country, there’s a whole world full of wrestlers that Bill could scout and promote and put in different hands. But I think it goes back to Duffy and Ace, in particular, because I think he feels like he owes that town something. He avoids introspection at all costs, but I think a part of him is motivated by wanting to atone for some guilt he has over his own success. He left and certainly has the reputation of not really looking out for the people who brought him up and where he came from, so I think he goes back and wants to give Ace a shot because it’s his way of trying to help.

What do you think Wild Bill sees in Ace that maybe he doesn’t see in Jack?
Chris Bauer: What a great question. I mean, just in terms of the narrative of the show, I think he sees so much of Tom Spade, Jack’s dad, in Jack. I think in Ace he sees someone who isn’t so confined by trying to control things. He’s willing to take bigger risks, who has a much lighter way through the work. I think that as a younger wrestler Bill was thwarted and had a lot of issues with Tom Spade. I mean, Tom was his partner in a lot of ways in developing the DWL when they were younger. I think that he found in Tom traits similar to those that he finds in Jack, and Ace is not constrained by the same need to control and be such an authority over everything. Also, Ace is a winner. I think he’s seen it since he was a kid, that he just wants to play and that playfulness and that openness translates to the audience. Bill knows that the audience has to love you even if they hate you. They have to love to hate you if you’re going to succeed at the top. So I think he thinks Ace has a better shot because of that.

Ace is a little bit more reckless, though and a little bit more of a wild card, no pun intended.
Chris Bauer: Well, that could be something that Bill recognizes in himself. I think Bill is definitely a go big or go home type. If you’re going to have an eight-foot ladder, why not have a 12-foot ladder? What’s so great about Alexander [Ludwig] in the part is he does so much of that acrobatic stuff himself. When you’re sitting there watching this Viking climb up to the top of the turnbuckle and do a backflip off of it, it’s really easy to see why Wild Bill would say, “How about this guy?”

The stunts are insane and so intense, both on the show and in real life.
Chris Bauer: I have the exact same reaction. Even as a wrestling fan, I have never been able to transcend the reality of it ironically. The reality is that gravity is real, physics is real. There’s no acrobatics that can defy gravity, so when bodies hit bodies and then bodies hit the ground or bodies hit folding chairs, people get hurt. It leaves a mark. The level of sacrifice as performers is so noble in a way to me because these men and women are just willing to give everything they have to entertain the crowd.

Chris Bauer
Chris Bauer as Wild Bill Hancock and the cast of ‘Heels.’ (STARZ)

Do you think Wild Bill wants to live vicariously through these younger wrestlers, or do you think he’s not ready to hang it up yet? 
Chris Bauer: Honestly, Wild Bill’s the last person you’re going to be able to convince that the glory days are over. He’s still got his own costume from when he wrestled in the WL. I mean, he carries it around with him. He carries his new costume around. He carries all his wrestling gear everywhere. He is so at home in the ring, but he turned the whole world into a ring. So now he’s at home anywhere, and he is just a force of nature on that level. To him, I think he can still do it. He can still do it as good as anybody, and if you’ve got him in skill and physicality, he’ll get you in promo and ring savvy. He’s got an incredible business sense. He’s a hustler. He’s a carny barker. He just has that charisma of confidence where he’s convinced he can still do it. I think he thinks he’s got a good long run ahead of him still.

He’s going to die in the ring if he’s not careful.
Yeah, and I think he’d be perfectly okay with that.

Do you think at the end of the day Wild Bill ultimately has good intentions?
Chris Bauer: I do, but I think that he appreciates the theater of chaos. He’s a shifter, and he knows how to make drama. He’s a world-class heel, so he can get a reaction out of somebody that he met five seconds ago. He knows where all the buttons are installed. I certainly think he thinks he has good intentions, but I also think that he has quite a sophisticated, philosophical view of life and people beneath everything. I think his upbringing was really hard. I think he transcended, a lot of violence, a lot of neglect. I think that now that he’s found himself in a position of opportunity and some authority that he can’t help but create problems for other people because I think he thinks that’s a part of the way you grow.

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