Marc Blucas was bummed. As he finished his audition last year for the role of Riley, Buffy's new love interest on The WB's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he was sure he had bombed. Suffering from muscle spasms in his back, he had been forced to stand propped against a bookcase. "I hobbled out and said, 'Sorry for wasting everyone's time,' " he recalls. "I was horrible."

But earnest—just the trait Buffy creator Joss Whedon was seeking in Buffy's new beau. "He has that 'Aw shucks' thing, with a slyness behind it," says Whedon, who gave Blucas another shot two weeks later, then hired him.

It's no act. "I've never had a drop of alcohol," says Blucas, one of two children of a school superintendent and an education administrator, now divorced, from Girard, Pa. "And I'm close to my parents. I think I sat in my mom's lap till I was 17!"

By then the 6'2" Blucas was already a star center on his high school basketball team. That led to a scholarship to Wake Forest University, where he played in four NCAA tournaments. When the NBA didn't come calling, he joined the Manchester (England) Giants for a year. But after landing a bit part as a hoopster in the 1996 film Eddie, he says, 'I caught the bug." Now living in L.A., the 28-year-old bachelor likes his new assignment, especially the physical work, which often entails taking on five vampires at a time—sorta like basketball, about which Blucas has no regrets. "I believe things happen for a reason," he says. "I thought acting would be a hobby. I never thought I would make it a career."