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: Maggie Niehaus

Maggie Niehaus: MBA Candidate, Emory University

Atlanta

WFU Class of 2012

Major: English

Minor: Journalism

Maggie Niehaus left Wake Forest in 2012 and began a career with PR giant Edelman in her native city of Atlanta. Taking advantage of the onset of media’s digital era, Niehaus became a key player in the movement for the Atlanta practice. Currently pursuing an MBA from Emory University, Maggie caught us up on everything since graduation.

Maggie Niehaus left Wake Forest in 2012 and began a career with PR giant Edelman in her native city of Atlanta. Taking advantage of the onset of media’s digital era, Niehaus became a key player in the movement for the Atlanta practice. Currently pursuing an MBA from Emory University, Maggie caught us up on everything since graduation.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Maggie Niehaus: I was an English major and a Journalism minor. After I decided to be an English major, my Dad, who’s an investment banker and very logical, said “that’s a subject, but that’s not a job.” So Journalism was the job-version of my English major. As an English major, I knew I’d be well-read, but unless you want to be an academic or go into creative writing, that isn’t a job. I was taking literature courses and things that were a little bit fluffy, and it was very hard to translate that to a career, and that’s where Journalism came in. It was taking what I was reading and how I was learning to write, and turning them into practice skills. My original post-grad game plan was to work at a magazine. I wanted to do something with my degree, but more on the editorial side rather than something like investigative or hard journalism.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your most recent job?

MN: Magazines, as great as they are and as good for the soul as they are, are not necessarily the industry that you want to be in right now. Print isn’t what it used to be. Quite frankly they weren’t hiring when I graduated, and not interested in making their staffs bigger. Instead, magazines were looking for content from freelance writers, and without a lot of people on the payroll. I also didn't really want to live in New York, which was limiting. That kind of got me into the PR world.

I remember sitting in a journalism class, and the professor was joking that PR was the field for journalists that don't want to do journalism. To real, hard-core journalists, PR has a negative connotation. That’s not the case for me, because I never tried it as a real journalist, and the skills really do translate.


After graduation, I ended up at Edelman. I had a PR internship in consumer branding, where I was pitching media and writing press releases. From there my career went rogue. I really built my career at Edelman by following the firm’s growth and seeing where the company was going. I saw the company was moving in a more digitally-focused direction, so I began to make my pivot. While Edelman is a PR company through and through, I wanted to be one of the first people to get their foot in the door into the newly-emerging digital practice. I thought that this could potentially help me accelerate my career, and that is exactly what happened.

I went from interning on the PR side to working full time in the digital practice. It wasn’t a direct translation of my skills, but my career was very much more about the people I knew and getting people in my corner. I was doing good work, whatever that may have been, so when I went up for jobs on other teams, those people could vouch for me. That’s how I built my career at Edelman. A big part of it was getting in earlier in the digital practice, which then evolved into me building out a paid media team in the Atlanta office. When I joined, a lot of what I was doing was digital advertising, which was globally run, and wasn’t specific to an office. We were a pod of resources any global office could use. That led to me having great experience off the bat working with our office in the Middle East and Europe, which I would have never worked with otherwise. However, later they decided to build out a media team in each of their offices, and because I was located in Atlanta, I helped to start that team here. I was that team’s first hire in Atlanta, and I was just a year into my job. I took it and ran with it. In early days of media team in Atlanta, there were 3-4 of us, and this past May when I left, there were 12-14 members. Our unit quadrupled because the company saw value in bringing digital into everything they did. This allowed us to scale the team to the size of the clients we had.

My first clients were so small you never heard of them, but by the time I left, it was companies like Olive Garden and SeaWorld. My path was less about any formal training, and consisted of me identifying opportunities and knowing that I can learn quickly.  My theory was that I could figure it out last time, so I could figure it out this time, too.

DL: What led you to pursue an MBA? And how did you pick Emory?

MN: What prompted the search is that I had worked at the agency for five years. I was in this place where I was on track to be a lifer at Edelman, which is fine, but if I was going to leave and go client-side, it should be now. I had lots of friends go get their MBAs, and I never thought it was for me until I was thinking about what kind of jobs I would want if I were to leave Edelman and go client-side. Getting an MBA started to make sense. I was thinking about pivoting from the skills I had in terms of PR, communications, advertising, and analytics. I have done bits and pieces here and there, but if I wanted to do real big brand marketing, it required me to get an MBA. Also, part of that was I had never taken a business class. I did English and Journalism, which are great, but I couldn't go run someone’s P&L statement without being taught how to. You can get your MBA at any time, but it can be a seamless way to jumpstart a career pivot. My MBA is a way for me to explore other options that I don't know existed, but also to build my playbook of things I can bring to the table. In terms of picking Emory... I started by taking the GMAT.  I wanted to see if I could even do this. Before I started looking at schools and doing applications, I wanted to get a sense of what schools were feasible. And then, I knew I wanted to be in a city. I didn’t want to go to a business school in a college town, because I am from Atlanta and have spent my adult life here, and I wasn’t looking to suddenly be back in a college town. I also wanted to be somewhere business school is only one aspect of my life. I wanted to be able to have stuff outside of school. So with that in mind, I only looked at business schools that I could get into in major cities. Truthfully there weren’t a ton which fit for me. A lot of schools in my range were in places I didn’t want to live, so I applied to NYU and Emory, and got into both. I was thinking about finances and the kind of places I would want to live post-MBA and places I would live during school, and from there I picked Emory.

DL: PR is such an interesting career path. What advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the industry?

MN: Read the news. That sounds silly, but learn about the stuff that people are interested in reading and thus writing about. That will help you tailor your communication skills. To translate the soft skills I learned at Wake, reading the newspaper is the endgame for PR. What kinds of stories are companies and brands telling, and how are they telling them? Also follow companies on Instagram and see who’s doing something interesting. I listen to trade advertising podcasts, like Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad by AdWeek, which dissects the most interesting commercials. In the end, it is about the stories brands tell. I think an English major translates well to PR because it's about reading, writing and telling stories, just different kinds of stories.

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

MN: I think Wake could just help students realize that there are more careers out there than they seem to indicate. Business school is the same way. They talk about consulting and finance, but it doesn’t have to just be those two. At a place like Wake, lots of smart people go into consulting, finance, law, or medicine, but those are the paths the school talks about the most. There isn’t as much of a focus on the other things you could do. So maybe it’s finding people who have interesting stories and paths, and having those people share them. It’s making sure there is a broader representation of companies that come to school or panelists that speak on campus. I think it's a bit of vicious cycle; I didn’t engage closely with career services while at Wake which was on me… but there’s also no dedicated program keeping up with us after graduation so the connection can be hard to make after the fact.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in Atlanta?

MN: I think what I like the most is that Atlanta has the third-most Fortune 1000 companies in the country. It is a major hub and economic target, but you don't have to have the big city chaos that is New York. It is the best of both worlds. You can have big city feel or go to a suburb. I am from here, so I am really biased. I am a city person, and even Winston-Salem was too small for me… but if I am going to live in a big city, why not live in the big city I already am from? I felt like Atlanta has everything any other city could offer me, plus the bonus of being home. And the cost of living also really helps!

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?


MN: Think outside the box. There are a lot of jobs that exist that you don't know about. Don't just follow your friends or family. Think about all of the possibilities out there, because something will be a perfect fit, so just be creative in your search process.