Ultimate TV: Who's Hot?
UltimateTV, March 20, 2000
Talk about tough acts to follow. Marc Blucas as Riley Finn on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" not only has to battle evil bloodsuckers; he also has to ward off inevitable comparisons to Angel.
The tall, dark vampire (played by David Boreanaz) was so appealing as Buffy's previous boyfriend that "Angel" got his own series. "I've been very lucky in that Sarah (Michelle Gellar, who plays Buffy) and all the writers have been great about making me feel welcome," says Blucas, speaking from his car phone while trying to find a parking spot near Buffy's Santa Monica soundstages.
The fans were another matter. One vocal faction took to the Internet to register their disapproval of the new man in Buffy's life. "The first time I went online, I was totally unprepared," Blucas says ruefully.
"I just wanted to see what people were saying about me, and it turned out to be things like 'Riley's an ape! If Buffy can't be with Angel, she shouldn't be with anyone!'"
"I was taken aback," he laughs. "I mean, I won't deny the primate comparison, but come on, give me a chance!" Luckily, according to Blucas, fans have begun to warm to Riley and his Clark Kent-like persona (wholesome college boy by day, hunter of the undead for a mysterious, quasi-military brigade by night.) "They've gotten a lot nicer recently," says Blucas. "And I even got a chance to meet some of them at a party they threw for the posting board regulars." (The official posting board can be found at www.buffy.com).
But Blucas may be returning to loser land in the near future: According to sources inside the show, Angel will be returning to Sunnydale where he'll battle Riley in hand-to-hand combat.
"I've been dreading this fight ever since I first heard about it," says Blucas, confirming the story. "Come on--Angel's a vampire and he's got his own show. It's not like they're gonna let me win. Now I know why Faith got out of her coma a few weeks back," he adds. "They were clearing the hospital bed for me!"
At least Blucas will be well prepared for whatever physical punishment Angel metes out. An avid athlete all his life, Blucas went to college in North Carolina and briefly played basketball professionally in Europe. "My upbringing was basically the movie 'Hoosiers,'" says the native of Girard, Pennsylvania. "I was the tallest guy on my small town's basketball team, and had the typical career of a white college athlete playing sports while getting a business degree and preparing for law school."
Blucas dabbled in acting while attending college, but it wasn't until he ended his dreams of a basketball career that he began to look at showbiz as a serious career option. "I reached the point when I realized I wasn't good enough to be the next Michael Jordan, so my dream changed," he explains.
A quick trip to New York landed Blucas a manager and several auditions. "A casting director who saw me said the nicest thing," recalls Blucas. "'I knew you had the looks, but not the chops or the brains to go with them.'"
Encouraged, Blucas moved to Los Angeles. "They wanted me to go the big agency route and start sending me out on auditions immediately, but that same work ethic from basketball kicked in," he says. "I wanted to study and train first, which I started to do. My first big break was a small part in 'Pleasantville,' which was a wonderful experience for me. That's when acting changed from being a want to being a need."
FROM PLEASANTVILLE TO SUNNYDALE
Then came an audition for "Buffy" to play Iowa farmboy-turned-earnest grad student Riley Finn. Did Blucas' small town upbringing help him land the part? "Absolutely," he replies. "I think Joss (Whedon, Buffy's creator and executive producer) sensed it on some level while I was reading for the part and selected me for that reason. Because there is a lot of me in Riley."
Well, at least the small town part. Since his introduction, Riley's proved to be a lot more than meets the eye. "They told me nothing about the character at first," says Blucas. "When I played my scenes, the only instructions were to 'just be wallpaper.'"
Blucas had no idea that nice, friendly Riley was actually a chemically augmented vampire hunter. "I was as surprised as the audience by all of Riley's secrets," says Blucas. "It was news to me each time I got the script. They reveal plot points on a need to know basis, and they don't think I need to know."
That uncertainty extends to whether Riley will survive the season.
Sure, Blucas has been added to the main credits, but when you live over a Hellmouth, no one is safe. "You do look over your shoulder on this show, but what can you do?" shrugs Blucas, who will keep busy at least over the summer filming "Summer Catch," a baseball movie starring Freddie Prinze Jr. "So I'm just gonna hope that they like me enough to keep me around, do my job and have fun. My gut feeling changes every day, so why worry about it? I'm just so lucky to be here."