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Marc BlucasMarc Blucas - On leaving Buffy - Backstage.com Interview
By Sarah Kuhn
Saturday 17 September 2005, by Webmaster
You’ve done great work on your series. Why would they say goodbye?
As he was preparing to shoot a new episode of The Practice, Jason Kravits got a phone call. Series creator David E. Kelley was on the other end of the line with bad news. "[He] said, ’I’m sorry, your character is going to die next week,’" remembers Kravits, who played assistant district attorney Richard Bay on the show. "Then he said, ’It’s not your work,’ which of course made me think, ’It’s gotta be my work.’ He said, ’I just didn’t know what to do with the character.’ I thought to myself, ’Well, I’ve got a few ideas.’ And I started saying [that], but it came out more, like, ’Yeah, well, hey....’ That was my big rejoinder."
Kravits chuckles as he recalls the experience, but he wasn’t feeling so hot at the time. "I have to say, it was very surprising," he says. "I was pretty shocked that it happened, because, as opposed to a show like Oz or The Sopranos or Lost, this is a show about the legal system in a state that doesn’t even have the death penalty."
Kravits’ story reflects one of the hard truths of working in series television: Even when you’ve landed a gig, nothing is guaranteed. "Finding the cast for a network show is a tricky job," says Tony Martinez, an agent with the GVA Talent Agency. "You can hire five very talented actors, but when you put them together, they don’t always create the right ensemble."
When this happens, characters—and the actors who play them—may get the boot. The idea of axing regular characters seems to be increasingly prevalent with the current trend toward high-stakes, risk-taking television. Two of the most popular, buzz-generating new series last year were ABC’s genre-bending Lost and Desperate Housewives; before the season was up, each had offed a regular character. "Nowadays with television and the nature of shows, just because you’re on a show, [it] doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be on the show for the entire run," says Alfred Gough, co-creator and executive producer of the WB’s Smallville. "One thing you need to do to keep a series fresh is be able to introduce new characters and lose old ones, so audiences stay intrigued in the show. You look at ER: There’s not one actor on that show that was there at the beginning. Quite frankly that gives writers a lot of flexibility to flesh out a series and take things in different directions, because you’re not so committed to one actor in particular. And then you’re on a show where certain actors pop, and you can write story lines to those characters. You just have to know—and I give writers the same advice, too—you’re never safe. You always have to be prepared for the fact that your character might be written off or killed off, and it’s [about] how you take the momentum you got from that show and use it to get your next job."
As most actors can attest, there will be a next job. Being written off of a series can be a blow, but it’s not the end of the world—and it may only be the beginning of your career.
Arcs and Exits
First of all, actors need to keep in mind that the reasons for characters being axed from shows vary, but usually have nothing to do with the actor’s performance. "Nine out of 10 times, when an actor’s written out, it’s not based on talent," says Martinez. "It’s really rare somebody gets written off because they stink: They wouldn’t have gotten the show in the first place. Once the pilot’s picked up, that’s the opportunity for the network to say, ’We’ll fire him, and we’ll have somebody else come in who’s better.’ If you make it to the point where your series is shooting and you’re part of it, it can’t be based on talent. It’ll be something more arbitrary."
These reasons often have to do with story lines, character arcs, and making the series believable. "Our general philosophy is, the ability to kill off or have a major character leave at any point in the series, quite frankly, keeps the series interesting for audiences," says Gough. "It sort of lends a credibility to a series to be able to do that. We’re in Season Five now, [and] some characters, their character arcs don’t warrant that much screen time. Or the characters [were] brought in, they served a certain function in the series, and now, ’Okay, we’re done with that character.’"
Take the case of Sam Jones III, who played Clark Kent’s best friend, Pete Ross, on the first three seasons of Smallville. Gough explains that in Season Two the character didn’t seem to have a function on the series, so the writers added a plot twist and had him learn about Clark’s secret superpowers. "That served us for, I think, a season," he says. "When we got into Season Three, we just found that as we started to break stories, we’d sit in the writers room and go, ’Okay, where’s Pete?’ Clearly it was a character who we couldn’t service on the page. So what he ultimately became was a cautionary tale for Clark, which is, if you tell somebody your secret and you give them that responsibility and they can’t handle it, you’re going to lose that friend, in a way. So we had Pete move away."
Cast chemistry also played a role. "You look at the chemistry of the cast, [and Pete] was never somebody we could use in a love triangle, either," says Gough. "That was just sort of the nature of the actor we cast and the chemistry between the actors. It was hard to get him into any sort of romantic story, and then, after a while, we didn’t have the plot elements to service him, either."
In some cases it may have always been the plan to limit the amount of time a character spends on a series: The actor may even be ready to move on. Marc Blucas was brought on to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Season Four as Riley Finn, a new love interest for the title character; Buffy’s previous boyfriend, Angel (David Boreanaz), had exited the show for his own spinoff. Blucas departed the series in the middle of Season Five and believes that being part of the show for a limited time was always part of the master plan for the character. "That’s kind of what I wanted out of the show, to be on it for a year or so," he says. "I did a year and a half, and I think that’s what they wanted me for. On a show like Buffy, when it has such a huge, die-hard loyal fanbase, to walk into that and be a new regular who is going to be forced as the new romantic lead when all the fans want is what they’ve grown to love over the first few years—it’s a tall order. I think everybody’s intent was, ’Let’s bring in someone new for a couple of years and wash the old guy out of the system—or at least attempt to.’"
And while the actor loved his time on the show, he was ready to move on and work on other projects. He even approached Buffy creator Joss Whedon about Riley’s status on the series. "I think I had signed on for four [years], but after the first season, Joss and I had a conversation about that, and I was just, like, ’Hey, I’d really love to just do another season or another half a season,’" Blucas remembers. "I [also] told him, ’I’ll come back for as many episodes as you would want me to.’ He was great with it."
On Smallville, there have been a couple of regulars whom producers envisioned as part of the series for just a season or two. One of those actors, Jensen Ackles, played mysterious Jason Teague last season. "When we first sat down with Jensen, he said, ’Gosh, I don’t know if I want to go on a series and be committed for however [many] years you’re going to be on the air,’" remembers Gough. "We said, ’Jensen, to be perfectly honest, this is probably a one-season arc, maybe two. I’d like to leave it open-ended. We see this season, but I don’t quite see where you [fit in beyond that].’ But we never know. You start breaking the story, and the character pops, and you find things to do. It ultimately ended up being a one-season arc because he played into the over-reaching plot of the season. By the end of the season, [the arc] had played out, so he got hit by a meteorite."
How To Deal
If you get written off a show, it’s important to handle the situation in a way that will further your career rather than end it. First of all, be mindful of your behavior while employed on the show. "I’d encourage actors [to] make sure [they’re] out there doing publicity, because it not only helps your series, it also helps your own career," says Gough. "You’re out there, and you’re in front of the decision makers, whether they be networks or studios, who are going to give you your next job. And part of it is, they see you’re not only a good actor but you also get out there and you’re willing to promote the show or movie that you’re in."
You shouldn’t stop honing your craft or working on other projects, either. "A lot of times you see people who get on the show, and they’re not interested in being actors; they’re interested in being stars," says Gough. "Writers are the same way. We always tell our staff, ’You should keep working on your own projects outside of the show, because you don’t want [writing this show to be] the only thing you can do.’ With actors, you don’t want the only thing you can play to be that one role, and you haven’t expanded your craft. John Glover [who plays Lionel Luthor on Smallville] is a Tony Award-winning actor. [He] still takes acting classes. He’s always working, and when he’s not on the show, he’ll do a Broadway play. It’s about keeping the momentum and never getting complacent."
If you find your character on the cutting room floor, you’ve got to be as good a sport as possible. "I think, if I had one piece of advice, it’s the same advice I would give to an agent who gets fired from an agency: It all comes down to how you handle it," says Martinez. "If you start getting upset and [saying], ’Oh, my God, how dare you fire me?’ and you start talking around town and saying crap, you create a lot of negativity around your name. You’ve got to talk to everybody and [say], ’I understand; let’s work together in the future.’ You’ve got to stay positive and not burn any bridges you may want to cross down the road."
It boils down to not taking the producers’ decision as a personal affront. "It’s easy to forget that you’re playing a character and somebody else is writing that character, and, let’s face it, even if it was personal, it’s not worth taking it too personally," says Kravits. "With Los Angeles, you can’t take anything too seriously. If you get caught up in taking it seriously, you are going to be a victim [of] it, because everybody is. Sometimes just getting out of L.A. will help you deal with it. You’re not there, you’re not as affected. Go away for a month. Just get out of L.A. and get some perspective. You were on a show, that’s more than a lot of people can say."
As Blucas points out, every experience is an education. "If you can grow as an actor and grow as a person during each project, then you’re getting the most out of it you can," he says. "I’m still in touch with five crew members from Buffy. I made a lot of great friends, and I know that I grew an awful lot as an actor and a person."
That brings up another key point: You now have a series regular credit. That’s going to make you more attractive to studios and networks. Kravits says it certainly boosted his recognizability with casting directors. "When it comes to talent, networks and studios are very competitive," says Martinez. "Networks and studios, once they have someone on their list, it’s almost like you’re on a preapproved list, because you’ve tested and done a series with that studio and network. They will keep you in mind. I’ve seen instances where somebody gets fired off a show, and within two months they get added to the cast of another show on the same network. It’s in [the network’s] best interest to keep talent there."
As many real-life examples prove, actors can successfully move on from this kind of situation. Ian Somerhalder, whose character was killed off on Lost last season, has the film project Pulse in the works and has also signed a talent holding deal with ABC and Touchstone Television. Likewise, Steven Culp, who exited Desperate Housewives in the season finale, will be seen in the upcoming film The Sisters.
Blucas, meanwhile, has a flourishing movie career with parts in such films as First Daughter, Mel Gibson’s We Were Soldiers, and the upcoming After Sex. He also returned to Buffy for a guest appearance and says he would work with Whedon again in a heartbeat. "At the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself," he says. "You have to put stock in [the idea that], ’You know what? I’m going to keep doing what I’m supposed to do, and the next right thing will come.’"
Ackles later landed a leading series regular role on the WB’s new show Supernatural. "I think it worked out for everybody," says Gough. "We got a terrific actor for a season on our show who did a great job, and then out of that he was able to become a series lead. It’s great to see somebody [who’s] been working as a professional actor finally get that break."
Kravits has also been busy, working on such films as The Stepford Wives, TV series such as Wanda at Large, and theatrical productions, including the musical The Drowsy Chaperone, which comes to L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre this fall. He also channeled his experience on The Practice into a monologue for Fired!, actor/writer Annabelle Gurwitch’s stage production that collects various autobiographical stories of jobs gone bad. "It was kind of the culmination of dealing with it," he says. "I went through my ego [being] bruised and my covering for that and saying, ’Everything’s gonna be fine,’ and trying too hard to keep in touch. It was like an old girlfriend: I would find myself stopping by the set just to say, ’Hey, how everybody’s doing? Hey, this looks like a good scene.’ I let it go, and when I was finally writing about it, it became clear that not only was it a funny experience to be killed off a show but it reminded me what a great experience it was and how lucky I was to have it at all." Kravits remains very grateful for his time on The Practice and says the rest of the cast was "really sweet" when he was killed off.
Moving forward, Kravits has a good sense of humor about being let go from the show. But he wouldn’t mind being known for other things at this stage in his career. "I love giving this interview to you, but part of me is, like, ’I don’t want to be known as the guy who got killed anymore; I want to be that guy on that show you see or that other thing,’" he says, laughing. "I’m busy doing other things now, a lot of theatrical things and writing. But then again, if I live the rest of my life as ’that guy who was killed off The Practice?’ Could be worse." BSW
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