DL:RP Series: Marc Blucas

The DL:RP Series continues with another inspiring alumni account, written by WFU Magazine’s Carol L. Hanner.

Marc Blucas (WFU ‘94) came to WFU on a baskteball scholarship, earned a business degree, then banked left for Hollywood. Slam dunk.

Image source: Buffy Angel Show Online

Image source: Buffy Angel Show Online

‘I have to know if I can make it’ - Marc Blucas ('94) took the long shot from sports to Hollywood, and he nailed it

by Carol L. Hanner, posted 3/19/19

On paper, Marc Blucas says, he never should have made it to where he is now.

Blucas (’94) was a small-town boy from Butler, Pennsylvania, who played basketball on scholarship for Wake Forest, graduated with a business degree and played abroad, but he soon set his course toward law school. He also had a partnership with NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Sr. to start a company advising professional athletes on contracts, endorsements and financial planning, with the help of Bern Beatty (P ’88), now a professor emeritus of business.

Then Blucas got a phone call from John Justus, who was the University’s sports information director. A filmmaker needed a basketball player for “Eddie,” a 1996 movie that was shooting in Charlotte with Whoopie Goldberg (and a cameo by a guy named Donald Trump). “I went down and auditioned for this movie, and I got it. And then the cliché happened. I caught the bug.”

Image from WFU Magazine original post

Image from WFU Magazine original post

Blucas gave up law school, even though he had never acted. He gave up flying to races in Earnhardt’s private jet to work with him on the business plan. He gave up the world of sports that had been his passion since childhood. “On paper, I’m the dumbest person on the planet,” Blucas says, laughing. “I had everything you could want at that time coming out of college teed up for me, and I chose something where I had no experience, no relationships, where I knew no one.”

But it worked. He has a successful acting career. He plays the romantic interest of star Robin Tunney in a TV legal drama called “The Fix,” which premieres tonight on ABC. When we talked, he was in Connecticut, working until 4 a.m. every night in the bitter February cold for a Christmas special for Hallmark Movies, where he has had multiple starring roles. He has acted in numerous movies alongside such stars as Mel Gibson and Katie Holmes and in many TV shows, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” where he played Riley Finn.

Marc Blucas with Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"  - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Marc Blucas with Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Blucas lived for about 14 years in Los Angeles but moved seven years ago to a 15-acre farm in rural Pennsylvania, where he lives with his wife, Ryan Haddon Blucas. She is a former producer who recently turned years of volunteer counseling into a practice as a hypnotherapist and life coach. They live with their two daughters, 4 and 7, and Ryan’s two teens from an earlier marriage. Blucas gets his workouts through chores and renovating their 300-year-old farmhouse, which he much prefers to slaving in the gym in L.A.

He says he loved Los Angeles after the first difficult year. “From 25 to 35, it was a great place to be. I was single. It’s the heartbeat of the industry I was in, and I needed to learn it and make the relationships.”

But after five years, an exit strategy already was bubbling in the back of his mind. “It’s Groundhog Day in L.A. … It’s 70 and perfect all the time. But you can’t really mark time. There’s no cycle of life and death. The leaves don’t fall off the trees. After a while, you blink, and five years go by, and you don’t even know it because the trees don’t grow.”

Tax credits and technology dramatically changed the industry, he says. “It used to be just Harrison Ford could leave town and live somewhere else.” But Blucas says in his last six years in Los Angeles, he filmed there only one day because his locations were spread out across the globe, from Atlanta to Capetown, South Africa.

He met Ryan in L.A., and she, too, was ready to move to the East Coast to be near family. Today, they have a rule — no more than two weeks apart, even if it means Blucas flies home for just a day. “My family’s always going to be more important to me than my career, and right now my kids are at an age where they want to be around me.” He even negotiated to appear in fewer episodes of “The Fix” to ensure that he had time off to go home.

Blucas knows his pursuit of acting seemed crazy when he started. He had tried for small theater roles at Wake Forest, but the sports arena always trumped the stage. “We’re playing Duke, and I’m ‘Hey, (theater) guys, I can’t make it. I got to go get my (butt) kicked by Grant Hill tonight.’”

Acting psyched him up in the same way basketball did. “It’s just an energy and the excitement of having the pressure to perform certain things,” he says. Live sports events change spectators’ emotions, and so does storytelling. “You want to enter a theater and leave it changed, somehow.”

Both were big challenges. Acting is “one of the hardest businesses in the world to break into,” Blucas says. “It was almost the same decision that I had coming to college. … I wasn’t the Rodney Rogers (’94) and Randolph Childress (’95, P ’20) where you know you’re going to be a star. My choice to come to Wake Forest was, ‘Look, I know I’m going there to be a role player at best, but I have to know if I can make it.’”

Marc Blucas with Katie Holmes in "First Daughter," a 2004 movie.  - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Marc Blucas with Katie Holmes in "First Daughter," a 2004 movie. - Source, WFU Magazine original post

He pushed through the steep learning curve in acting. “I went from being sports and math and science to suddenly literature and stories and characters, and I wanted to succeed.” He treated his acting coaches like his basketball coaches, urging them to tell him if he didn’t have “the quality, whatever IT is.”

He got a call from a casting director who flew him from his hometown to Los Angeles for his first big audition, for “Jerry Maguire,” the 1996 film starring Tom Cruise. Blucas didn’t get that part, but he got enough encouragement to keep his focus, dedication and work ethic revved up.

If acting ever becomes tiresome, he’ll stop. He approaches it just as he did basketball workouts. “If I didn’t like getting up at 5 in the morning for two-a-days and going through all that stuff for practice, I would have quit it. It still has to be fun.”

He has other skills he can employ. He says Wake Forest prepared him through its commitment to a liberal arts education, exposure to diversity and a concern for “turning out good human beings.”

“I always felt that sense of community at Wake. I had a very specific platform for that on the basketball side, and I had another one in the fraternity world (Sigma Phi Epsilon) because I wanted to make sure I had a ‘normal’ college experience other than just locker room friends.”

He loved the small classes and professors who were never condescending to him. He learned “the best way to solve a problem or to have success is through communication and surrounding yourself with the right people, and all those things I feel like were so cemented at Wake for me.”

He hopes his kids will find the same inspiration. “Wake athletics does a really cute thing, and when a former player has a kid … you get a national letter of intent,” Blucas says. “They think it’s a joke, but I’m holding them to it.”

Spotlight Interview: Matt James

Matt James: Founder, ABC Food Tours

New York City

WFU Class of 2015

Major: Economics

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ABC Food Tours founder Matt James recaps his journey from Winston-Salem to NYC, including major lessons about networking, giving back, and hitting your stride after graduation.

DeacLink: Walk us through your path since graduation day, up to the founding and fruition of ABC Food Tours.

Matt James: Man, where to start! I didn’t think I was going to make a career out of football, but I thought my stint in the NFL would be longer than a few months. Fortunately, I had a support system back home in Raleigh (Mom) who allowed me to stay at her house and train while I figured out my next steps. By the end of that first season in 2016 I had moved on from football and off to Pittsburgh for a Corporate & Institutional Banking role in Pittsburgh with PNC. After a 1 ½ years in Pittsburgh, which I loved and still cherish, I spread my wings a flew up to NYC where I felt like I was missing out on life. My first six months were spent couch surfing, navigating the new NYC landscape and deciding if this new role in advertising as a media planner was for me. Ultimately, I left that job (just in time as the company went belly up 12 months later) and took a position as a research analyst at a commercial real estate company called CBRE.

Four months into my CBRE role, I began to realize how much I loved food. I was eating out virtually every meal! I also really missed interacting with kids, since at Wake I was very involved with programs like Eat with the Deacs and Project Pumpkin through SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee). I met a group of “kids” who were students from a local neighborhood elementary school P.S. 188- where 50% of the students are homeless- hanging outside my favorite restaurant in the Alphabet City…. way later than they should have been out. We joked on each other for a few minutes then parted ways; they didn’t realize that wouldn’t be the last they saw of me. I reached out to their principal the following morning to set up a time where I could take their students to my favorite restaurant called Bob White’s. Although it was located right in their back yard, the kids had never been inside! This occasion marked the first food tour… the rest is history!

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: You were an athlete at Wake (on the football team). What impact did this have upon your undergrad experience, and did it influence the moves you made upon graduating?

MJ: Being an athlete, I grew to appreciate everything that had been granted to me closer to the end of my time at Wake. Some random person decided it would be a good idea to give Wake over a quarter million dollars to support someone like myself going to college! I’m close to the benefactor, Dr. Stan Rogers, to this day. He changed my life!

Going to Wake also cultured me. I know that sounds crazy as most students would say that a majority of the kids a Wake are pretty similar. It was a chance for me to see peers from across the country all aspiring to be different things; see how being brought up in different areas of the country had quite an influence on the type person you became. It inspired me to want the best for myself and question why I would allow anything less than the very best for myself, why couldn’t I be just like these kids at Wake?

DL: Away from athletics, how much did your studies and general classroom experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

MJ: Looking back, my favorite teachers were professors I had before I even knew I wanted to major in Economics. I have always been business minded, so Econ made the most sense (since I would NOT be taking accounting and making a run at the business school). I would say students, parents, and my interactions with individuals associated with Wake, validated that you didn’t need to be an athlete to be successful. An important mentor for me in this case was Mr. Leak, who was a wealth manager at Morgan Stanley and invited me to intern with him my senior year.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various jobs you’ve held since graduating? Do you have any tips or suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

MJ: The best networking I’ve done was during undergrad at Wake! That being said, it’s never too late. Wake Forest is a family, and alumni are more than willing to help introduce you to the right people and steer you in the right direction. My first job was through a connection I made with a baseball player at Wake (who is one of my boys to this day!). His father put me in contact with someone who linked me to another person, who eventually offered me a job in Pittsburgh! That opportunity came from my willingness to be flexible through the process… like, I would have taken a job in Montana. Nothing is permanent, living experience is invaluable.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

MJ: From a student-athlete perspective, I didn’t realize that although being eligible to play GPA-wise was great, that GPA isn’t close to high enough to be competitive in a job market. Good grades matter initially- they can get you seen in a competitive pool. I would also encourage undergrads to connect with as many students as possible. Figure out what their parents do and ask lots of questions because you may be in class with someone whose parents do something super interesting! I’ve found that parents are more than willing to talk to a current college student as opposed to a college grad who is “desperate” for a job.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in NYC? What is the most interesting thing going on in the food scene, in your opinion?

MJ: I love lots of things about living in NYC! Top things being:

Diversity – you have no choice but to be inclusive. The thing about NYC, regardless of your culture, religion, gender, etc. if you’re competent and work hard then you will succeed! You aren’t discriminated against (like some parts of the country) as NYC is a melting pot like no other city.

Opportunity – You are uniquely positioned in a city where there is every industry and influential people all around you. If you’re a mover and shaker, the world is your oyster. The resources are here for anyone to be successful if they choose to apply themselves.

DL: What is your favorite part about running ABC Food Tours? What are your hopes for the future of the program?

MJ: My favorite part of running ABC is working with kids! They’re at an age where they’re super impressionable. No one is born racist or rude; these are all traits that are acquired through influence and experience. If you can positively influence these students at this age, you can potentially change the course of their lives. Also, I love seeing our students try new foods! We went to Blue Ribbon Sushi recently and it was so rewarding watching these 3rd and 4th graders try sushi for the first time. We encourage them to try everything. The kids don’t’ have to like it but they’re able to speak as to why they do or don’t by the end of a tour.

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: How can Wake Forest alumni or current students support ABC?

MJ: The biggest way they can support is by joining us for a tour! We strive to surround our students with individuals who are nothing like them (typically upper middle class, white male/female). This allows them to see for themselves who these people are and not be influenced by their parents and the media on what certain demographics represent. You can also go online and sponsor a tour on our website allowing a student or entire classroom the opportunity to experience these restaurants (and fitness classes now!).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: What and where is next for you?

MJ: I’m headed into brokerage (with CBRE) in a few months so I’m stoked about that! We’ve also launched ABC Fitness which takes students on fitness tours of local gyms in NYC focusing on health and wellness in 2019. We also recently hosted our first international tour in Brixton, London!

DL: That’s fantastic- long may this expansive effort continue! What piece of advice would you like to leave with the readers?

MJ: Be a good person. A smile can go a very long way.


Support ABC Food Tours by visiting their website here.

Follow ABC on IG to keep updated on the latest food and fitness tour activity (Matt’s IG is pretty great too).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com