On the new USA Network drama “Necessary Roughness,” Marc Blucas costars as Matthew Donnally, a former college basketball player working as the athletic trainer for a fictional professional football team.
The role is tailor-made for the 39-year-old actor, who was a standout college guard for four years at Wake Forest, playing 89 games and throwing passes to future NBA Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.
But while the strong ratings for “Necessary Roughness” -- in which Blucas romances “Rescue Me” star Callie Thorne's Dani, a newly divorced sports psychotherapist -- suggest that the series may become Blucas’ calling card, he knows that, to a certain demographic, he'll always be Riley Finn, Buffy’s peppy paramour during the fourth and fifth seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Blucas called us from his home in the Pennsylvania countryside to discuss the two wildly different roles.
Strangely, I have been re-watching “Buffy” and had just gotten into season four when “Necessary Roughness” began. Perfect timing, huh?
I’m surprised you still want to talk to me. Back then, I was so green. I was a business major in college and had no concept of what I was doing. Today, I can’t watch “Buffy” because I just cringe. I suck so bad in it. I got really lucky to have the opportunity, but I genuinely had no clue what I was doing.
Playing Buffy’s first post-Angel boyfriend probably didn’t help. Did you get a lot of hate mail?
I have more people hating me from “Buffy” than I do liking me. That’s the truth. But that’s fan-based, due to the story line. It’s just like, you have two people that are tortured lovers and who are supposed to be together forever. And then Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky comes in and is like, “I’m her new boyfriend!” There’s no amount of positioning Joss [Whedon] could have done. It could have been Brad Pitt in that role and I don’t think he would have been universally liked. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just me they hated.
Well, Team Riley sprung up when you punched that douche-y Parker square in the face for bragging about his conquest of Buffy.
They did everything they could to set it up in a way that I could potentially be likable. And that was one of the moments. Ah! And when things are bad, Riley can fly in and deck ’em!
It’s all good now, though, right?
Now that it’s been ten years, the fans have obviously lightened up. But early on, man … I was even warned. Joss and everybody said, “Don’t go online -- they're going to hate you.” I was like, “Okay.” So of course I got online after my first episode and I’m like, “Oh my god, they hate me.” And they’re like, “Yeah, we told you they’re going to hate you.”
How did you handle the negativity?
This is a prime example that ignorance is bliss. I had just got done playing pro basketball [overseas] and I didn’t know which way was up. I was Heather Graham from “Bowfinger.” And I happened to get cast on a huge cult TV show that I knew nothing about until I got the job. So when they hated me, it was almost like, “Big deal.” In college, I had 20,000 people at Duke and North Carolina chanting at me about how much they hated me, too. It didn’t really affect me that much.
Do you hope the pro-Riley subset of “Buffy” fans follows you to “Necessary Roughness”?
Sure, but the sci-fi fanbase is a different audience. Like, do “Buffy” fans watch Alyson Hannigan on “How I Met Your Mother”? I have no clue -- but the shows couldn’t be more different. Same with “Necessary Roughness.” Do we have a dream sequence here or there? Yes. Do we have ogres and zombies and vampires in every episode? No.
Hilarious. Either way, “Necessary Roughness” seems to be more your speed -- agree?
You know, most actors are going to sit there and tell you that we respond to things that are so opposite to who we are, because it’s fun to create a character that is nothing like you. For someone like me, it would be fun to play the tattooed ex-con or serial killer with a shaved head. But in this particular case, I read the script and said, “Oh, gosh, the apple’s not falling far from the tree. It is exactly like me.” So that was attractive. But like any project, you’re always going to respond to the writing first.
Have you given them any pointers about sports?
Let me tell you a good story. So, I go into my audition like I’m Billy Bad-Ass -- like, “I know sports better than you do.” I’m thinking, “Oh my God, these guys are such … writers. They’ve never heard of ‘SportsCenter.’ They don’t know what they’re talking about.” And at the time, it didn’t even cross my mind that they wouldn't be able to use real names. So, I said, “You know, not to give you notes when I don’t even have the job yet, but you know that it’s either the New York Knicks or the Atlanta Hawks, not the New York Hawks, right?” They said, “Yeah, yeah -- but we don’t have the licensing rights to name this after a true professional sports franchise.” I’m shrinking in my chair at this point of the meeting and just about said, “Well, good luck with the show! I’m not gonna waste your time auditioning because I just put my foot in my mouth!” So they got a taste for what they would be in for right out of the gate.
Can you think of another actor who could take you in a game of one-on-one?
Look, as I’ve always said -- and please quote me on this, because any other version of this quote is going to make me sound like an arrogant bastard -- in the world of professional athletes I am a slug, but in the world of actors I am a phenomenal fucking athlete. That’s my direct quote! [Laughs] The reality is, this is two-sided. When it comes to acting, a lot of guys my age that are out there had a huge jump on me. On the other side of that, if someone wants to play me for their per diem, I’m happy to suit up.
Can you still dunk?
Can I still? I’m glad you’re assuming that I ever could. I appreciate that. No, I could. And at 38, I got one. Now I’m 39 and I haven’t tried, and I don’t know if I will. Maybe I’ll train for a month or two, and then when I hit 40 I’ll see if I can. But it’ll have to be when we’re not filming because I don’t want to show up with a pulled hammy.
I’d imagine that a former teammate of Tim Duncan might get razzed about that.
Yeah, I’d have to make something up, like “I was training for a triathlon.” Because I couldn’t say, “I was dunking because I turned 40.” I wouldn’t live it down.
About ten years ago, you told an interviewer that you’d never had anything to drink. Does that still hold up?
Yeah, I’m pretty square. I haven’t become a trapezoid or a hexagon. Most people ask me if I have an alcoholic parent or if I’m a Mormon. But for me, it started as an athlete thing. If it didn’t help make me a better basketball player, I really didn’t do it -- and that included Coke and cake and the drugs and alcohol thing. If it was something I wanted to explore, I would do so responsibly. But like, I don’t know, needlepoint, it’s just something I’m not interested in.
You recently got married. What do you do in lieu of a champagne toast?
We had water. Or maybe at that point in the day I was drinking Diet Coke. Who knows, I may have even been really hitting it hard and downing the Coke Zero.
"Necessary Roughness" airs Wednesdays on USA Network at 10 p.m. ET.