Kelli Berglund, the star of Starz’s new show Heels, became a gymnast and dancer at the age of three — and those skills are coming in handy in her new show, where she plays Crystal, the lone female wrestler in a boys’ club. If you like to see women win, then Heels is the perfect dose of wrestling and feminism. Berglund’s Crystal is underestimated from the start, and Berglund, whose television career started at age 15, when she starred in the Disney XD series Lab Rats, has also faced this same challenge. Having been in a lot of male-dominated spaces and sets, she admits people have sometimes treated her differently. “I’ve had to try harder to be credible or for it to seem like I know what I’m talking about,” she says.
SheKnows sat down with Berglund to discuss wrestling, Disney, Miley Cyrus, people-pleasing, how Michelle Williams changed her outlook of herself, body-slamming men, and what she wants people to stop saying to young girls and start saying to boys.
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Learning how to wrestle
While Berglund’s Crystal is a blonde girl in a man’s world, she’s also the heart of the show. Berglund admits she knew nothing about wrestling, but from the moment she booked the role, she was set up with a trainer and went to wrestling training for three hours a night. Luckily, her dance and gymnastics background helped with learning stunts and general agility. When her trainer asked her what kind of workout routine she had, Berglund admitted, “I go to SoulCycle and that’s about it!” So Berglund quickly transformed from SoulCycler to wrestler through months of training. (It hurts just to think about it).
What women want…
When asked if being the only woman in so many male-dominated spaces has ever put her in a position where she’s had to fight for herself, Berglund says she’s realized that in her earlier career, she was “being treated a little differently than everyone else.”
Although she was in good environments with brother figures and father figures, she says there’s bound to be a disconnect when you’re one of the few women. Without going into too much detail, Berglund says she learned there were things going on behind the scenes contractually and financially that were “problematic.” But when she first noticed this, “I was 15, 16 years old and this wasn’t really a conversation that was being had. I didn’t really talk about it…. (I thought) I can’t say anything or do anything.”
With age and experience, Berglund has become more outspoken. “I was a people pleaser, I just wanted to make sure I’m making everyone else happy, and not causing a scene, and just doing my job and staying quiet,” she admits. But now she says, “I have learned so much to break out of that and take my past experiences where I’ve realized I’ve been treated unfairly and all I can do is apply this to my future, so now when I go into jobs, I have certain standards that need to be met.”
And who inspired this moment of change? Actress Michelle Williams, whose speech at an awards ceremony, in which she reminded women to ask for what they need, made Berglund realize she has value and should be treated equally. Berglund played a younger Michelle in Fosse/Verdon, and although they had no scenes together, she did meet her, and ever since that speech, she has looked up to the Oscar nominee. (Note: Williams actually gave two speeches for Fosse/Verdon — one at the Emmys and one at the Golden Globes — and both are worth checking out). Other women in the industry who she looks up to include I May Destroy You’s Michaela Coel and Fleabag‘s Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Like all of us, she wants more Fleabag.) Her dream co-star: Margot Robbie. (Hmmm… Robbie as Crystal’s older sister who also wrestles? Maybe in Heels season 2!)
Wrestling Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez
Since Berglund is part of the Disney fam forever, we asked her who would win if her character on Heels had to wrestle Disney alums Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez? Berglund didn’t hesitate. Miley would win it all — but Crystal would take down Demi and Selena. And if she didn’t have to fight them, who would she like as a life coach from that group? Berglund admires all of them, but again, would choose Miley.
In fact, Berglund revealed that as a Disney kid, she was actually criticized for having a “Miley Cyrus” moment. “Being on (the) Disney channel and the pressure that comes with it, and wanting to be that people pleaser at a young age… young kids look up to you,” she says. But her previous show on Starz, Now Apocalypse, was the opposite of her Disney show in that it involved a lot of “sex and relationships, and drugs,” Berglund says. “And what did people say when I did that show? This is her Miley Cyrus moment.”
Clearly, disappointed and hurt by that sentiment, Berglund says, “No one else understands it except us Disney kids.” It’s one reason Berglund admires Cyrus; it’s not just that she’s a great artist, but Berglund feels for her. “People are very quick to judge,” she says, adding that she wishes she could chat with Cyrus about how she handled all of this.
Love & wrestling
As for Crystal, when we asked Berglund who she’d tell her character to choose in the love triangle she finds herself in, Ace or Bobby, she says simply, “I would tell her to choose Crystal.”
Body-slamming the patriarchy
We had Kelli also play a round of “Screw, marry, and body slam,” where she had to choose (as herself, not her character) between Jack (Stephen Amell), Ace (Alexander Ludwig), and Bobby (Trey Tucker). She didn’t hesitate: “Marry Bobby, screw Ace, and body slam Jack because… chef’s kiss.” Because Jack represents the patriarchy in the show, so she just body-slammed the patriarchy. You’re welcome.
Speaking of the patriarchy, Berglund says the one thing she wishes people would stop saying to young girls is, “That boys will be boys. And that there’s an excuse to why girls should be treated poorly or unfairly or meanly from a very young and that’s something they have to deal with and grow up with. That’s something that should be taught to little boys too. That boys shouldn’t just be boys, that we are all held accountable for our actions, that there are consequences…. To put it simply, I’d start there.”
Perhaps the Miley Cyrus moment should be re-branded to mean evolution and growth, instead of weaponized against and critical of young women who are simply changing and growing. If you check out Heels, you’ll see that Berglund is indeed having a Miley Cyrus moment — she’s a wrecking ball, in the best way possible.
Heels airs on Starz Sundays at 9 pm EST.
Before you go, check out the all-time best ‘Outlander’ episodes you need to watch.