On the USA Network drama Necessary Roughness, actor Marc Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) plays Matthew Donnally, a former college basketball player turned trainer for the New York Hawks. Devoted to his football team and protective of his players, he also can’t deny his attraction to Dr. Dani Santino (Callie Thorne). After a one-night stand and morning-after therapy session with Dr. Dani, Matt is so impressed that she gets him to quit smoking that he persuades the Hawks’ head coach to bring her in to work with the players, sending their relationship into professional co-worker territory, thereby putting a halt on exploring their feelings for each other.
During this exclusive interview with Marc Blucas, he talked about the appeal of combining his love for sports with his passion for acting, how his real-life sports background helped in developing his character, how much fun he has working with the sports coordinators to film the big game scenes with real players, and how immediate and easy the chemistry was between the cast. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
MARC BLUCAS: I’m a workaholic, so I read everything that’s out there. Most of the time, actors respond to the thing that’s so far from who they are. We all want to play the serial killer and the ex-con. But, in this particular case, I read it and it was really close to home. I spent the first 20 years of my life around sports and that was my first passion, so I thought I could bring something different to the role, but also offer a different perspective to the show because I could be a sounding board since I’ve been in this world, in real life. I was really compelled by that.
It was nice to read a script and read a character that I responded to, and knowing that USA was behind it. They have a pretty good batting average. That’s a good place to be. The next step for me is always to sit down with the creators. TV is a six-year decision. It’s not four or five weeks. If a filmmaker and I don’t get along, it’s four weeks of your life, so whatever. With TV, it’s six years. And, they were the nicest people. I could tell, right out of the gate, that it was going to be a collaboration. It was not a dictatorship. At that point, it was something I really wanted to have happen.
Having an understanding of this world, were there things that you specifically wanted to explore with this character?
BLUCAS: So, I signed up for the show and we got to the pilot and we had a week of rehearsals. On the first day, (show creator) Liz [Kruger] sat me down and said to me, “Matthew is the worst written character in the pilot. We have all the right beats in place, but we don’t feel like he has the personality. I want to sit here with you and bring this guy to life. Tell me what you would like to see happen.” That was about a story and a character that she conceived and wrote, and that cemented that I was in good hands. It was such a creative, freeing, liberating, collaborative session.
In the pilot, we learned about Dani (Callie Thorne) and TK (Mehcad Brooks). We knew about their lives, we saw what their issues are and what their dreams are, and we saw what they do. That wasn’t Matthew’s story. So, we got to craft out where we could see him going. It’s the blessing and curse of TV. With a movie, you have a beginning, middle and end. You see your character’s arc. With TV, you don’t know, but you can build it as you go and bring some things to life. It’s malleable, changeable and flexible. It was just fun to sit there that day and say, “I want to give him a dream and an ambition.” It’s always interesting to see shifts of power. If we’re so lucky that the show gets a second and a third season, what if there’s a shift in power? What if Matt gets into the front office and suddenly the people he answered to have to answer to him? I always think it’s interesting to see characters and relationships have that shift. I think it’s real. We see it in life. What if he can cut a player now? They’re going to treat him a little differently. Those moments can be a really interesting thing.
The only other thing that I said, that I really wanted to be the case, was that I didn’t want to say that he blew out his knee and didn’t make it to the NFL. I wanted it to be that he wasn’t good enough. That, to me, is what real life is. His health was fine. He just wasn’t good enough. That is more interesting because that’s life. Every kid in America dreams of playing in the big leagues and they don’t, just because. It’s not because they blew out their knee. It’s just because they didn’t make it. That’s an interesting place for him to be. He didn’t achieve his first life dream, and that makes people hungry to achieve the next.
BLUCAS: It was. The tough thing is that you get blindsided by a few things. You read a script and you’re like, “Oh, had I have known that, I would have done this two episodes ago to start layering it a little bit.” But, at the same time, what has been the saving grace to all of that is that they are knocking it out of the park with our guest stars, like Andrea Anders, Jason Gedrick and Orlando Jones. We have a group of actors that they’re hiring to come in. Andrea came in to play a former flame that Matthew reignited with, and she’s a cool person and a really good actor, so that made it easy. We could accelerate it and get to that place. You get blindsided by things, so you immediately go to work and figure out, “How do we make this different?” For Andrea, I was like, “This is Matthew’s relationship with Dani, so this is how I would like to see us to differentiate it.” She plays Kelly Preston lite from Jerry Maguire, as that PR killer, so it’s nice to see Matthew on that level. You can see why it worked, and why it didn’t work. We tried to explore that to create a separation between those two relationships.
BLUCAS: Definitely! It was different enough. I didn’t look at it as a chance to expand the Marc Blucas audience. That doesn’t matter to me. But, it’s a different world, it’s different storytelling and it’s adult. It’s the natural progression, but it’s also not the classic doctors, cops and lawyers. We’re not stuck in a courtroom or a trauma room, or some of these places where I feel like we see a lot of television. We have a show where our audience gets to go on a journey with the central character and be a fish out of water in a million different worlds, be it NASCAR, poker, politics or journalism. We get to go out and do different things, and that’s a compelling part of the show that interests me. It’s not just, “Okay, here’s the case-of-the-week. This is what we’ve got to solve. Here we are in our precinct. Here we are on the beat. Here we are in our cop car. The crime is solved.” This is a little more interesting. It is serialized enough. What makes the show well written is that whatever phobia, fear or issues that the guest star is having, all of our lead people are experiencing that, in some way. That makes a multi-layered show. It’s not a one-session fix here. It’s going to take more than one. That’s what makes a TK character, and the relationship with he and Dani, work over time. It’s a constant struggle to implement change.
What’s coming up for your character, in the rest of this season?
BLUCAS: I’m really looking forward to our finale ‘cause we’re back in the Georgia Dome. We shot big, huge football sequences, and it was nice to have that feeling of complete trust and faith with the writers. I think they’ve done an amazing job with all of these characters, especially Nico. I think he’s just so brilliantly conceived by the writers and executed by Scott Cohen. It’s just so well done that I’m interested to see where it goes. And, it’s going to be interesting to see how they wrap up the relationship with Dani and Matthew, at the end of the season, and where he’s at professionally. We have hinted at him wanting to move somewhere else, in this organization hopefully, but not necessarily. There are a couple things in the balance that make it interesting.
BLUCAS: It’s pretty great. Our sports coordinators are the best in the business. They did We Are Marshall and Any Given Sunday, and I’ve worked with them three times now. They’re just so good at what they do. You can’t put a boy in a gym with a bunch of basketballs around and not expect that they’re going to pick them up and start shooting them around. It’s so fun on those days ‘cause we’re all throwing the football and having a good time. We’re obviously trying to get the work done because there’s a long list of things that need to be done, but it is a nice blend of the two worlds that I know. The guys that they bring in to shoot the sports are real athletes. They hit each other and they go for it. That’s why our football stuff looks so good. These are real players. They really go for it. It’s fun to get lost in that. It’s not just about a camera angle. Those days are the best, for me.
In the pilot, I just had scenes with Dani, and that was great. Callie [Thorne] is a phenomenal actress. She’s a true talent. I love working with her. But then, it’s such a nice juxtaposition to work with Scott [Cohen] and Mehcad [Brooks], who are both my size. It’s rare to have three men on a show that are all over six feet tall, these days. That’s usually not the actor height chart. It’s fun to see Matthew’s intensity with the guys, and not just trying to be the charming fixer and doer. I enjoy getting to be with the girl and getting to be with the guys.
BLUCAS: I don’t get to work with Dani’s kids at all. They’re so nice and they’re so good on the show. Eventually, I think our paths are going to cross. That’s a whole different set, with Dani’s house and her couch for her sessions. Some episodes, I don’t even meet the guest star because it’s all about how she is with them. Otherwise, Mehcad, Scott, Callie and I are all there and all of our scenes are interwoven.
Was the chemistry between the cast very immediate?
BLUCAS: Yeah, it was. I’ve always equated chemistry with friendship. If you watch our show, you can tell that we all get along and we’re all having fun doing this. We all genuinely like each other and respect each other’s talent. It was just cast right. It all just fits together well, and that’s just luck. Between action and cut, we’re pros. Outside of that, we’re having the time of our lives. They have to tell us to shut up, stop laughing and get to work because we’re having fun. We like each other.
BLUCAS: Yeah. Because it’s always changing, I have been able to stay that passionate about it. You can’t control what you love. If there was a switch, it would be really easy. There have been days where I wish I didn’t love it. When you go through those stretches where you’re not working, and you’re not getting the jobs you want or the calls you want, it’s challenging. The transition from sports into acting was something I got blindsided by. I had a full scholarship to law school. I had a different life planned. I started a business, and I was all ready to go. I suddenly got in a local movie, just to say to my kids one day, “Yeah, your old man was in a movie,” and I caught the bug.
The cliche happened. I immediately started studying and immersing myself in it, just like I did with basketball and with sports. That’s when you know. If your heart, head and gut are telling you the same thing, then you owe it to yourself to chase it. When I started out, I sucked. I liked that feeling of being a rookie and needing to work at it to be good at it. It mirrored sports, in a lot of ways. I committed myself to it and have been fortunate to have worked with a ton of filmmakers and learned so much over the years, and I’ve been able to keep working. It makes it a lot easier when you like what you do. It’s easy when you’re working and making money doing it. It’s hard when you’re not. That’s when that gets challenged.