Scoot McNairy is putting in the work

by David C. Huff Jr.

The Argo and Killing Them Softly actor opens up about finally hitting his stride
At 37, the easygoing Scoot McNairy has hit his stride as an actor. Born and raised in Texas, McNairy has been performing professionally since 2001. His career spans everything from commercials (over 200) to numerous television series and sitcom appearances including an eclectic array of indie films. In 2011, the actor finally got his break on the big screen when director Andrew Dominick took a chance on the unknown McNairy and cast him opposite Brad Pitt in the theatrical production, Killing Them Softly.

“I was cast off an audition tape for that movie,” he says matter-of-factly. “I didn’t think there was a chance in hell I’d ever get the job, especially since I used this ludicrous accent on the tape because I was sick with the flu at the time I did the audition and Andrew just kind of fell in love with what I had done. He called and told me, ‘I want exactly whatever you’re doing right now for that character. I don’t want you to polish or clean it up.’ Brad (Pitt) then signed off on me and so did Harvey [Weinstein], and that was it. I had the job.”

The door swung open on McNairy’s career. Dominick had been so impressed with the Texan’s work he called his friend, Ben Affleck, and suggested him for a new project he was producing called Argo (2012). From there, McNairy found himself securing roles in the picture Twelve Years a Slave (2013) with Michael Fassbender and Non Stop (2014) starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore before teaming up again with Affleck for the film Gone Girl (2014). In three remarkable years, Scoot McNairy co-starred in two movies that won Oscars for Best Picture and two other films that, together, grossed over half-a-billion dollars at the box office worldwide.

McNairy is currently starring in the scripted narrative, Halt and Catch Fire, on the AMC cable network that recently wrapped up its second season. The show features the actor as a brilliant, but unhappy computer programmer named Gordon Clark who teams up with a smooth-talking salesman to build a new computer during the heady days of the computer revolution of the early 1980s. The series has been renewed for a third season.

“The most difficult part of doing a television show like Halt and Catch Fire,” admits the actor, “was trying to understand how to arc my character, Gordon Clark, for the entire season. When you have no idea where you’re going to go when you start out, or when Gordon is going to be at his lowest or his highest point, it makes it difficult to carve out a believable performance. But all in all, I love what they have done with my character in the series so far.”

McNairy’s sojourn into acting reads like a movie itself. After high school he moved to Southern California from Texas not in search of bright lights and fame, but to work behind the scenes as a camera operator. He attended the Art Institute of Los Angeles to study wildlife cinematography before dropping out after a year. After taking a job bartending a Christmas party for the owner of a boutique agency that sends actors to audition for commercials. He took a liking to McNairy during the course of their conversations through the evening and finally asked the McNairy if he’d be interested in going out on casting calls for commercials, McNairy bit; the following year he landed 15 national spots.

“To book commercials,” he explains, “your first goal is to get a callback. Once you get that, you have got just three minutes to convince the casting agents they want to hang out with you for a day. That’s it, period. My thing going in for callbacks was to change the script, add some stuff, make up some lines and do whatever I had to do to get these people to like me.

The decade leading up to Killing Them Softly wasn’t all commercials, however, McNairy appeared as a guest on several different network and cable programs with the occasional starring role in an indie film. He also started his own production company.

“Even though I went to acting school and really hit it hard,” declared McNairy, “I was still struggling to get the roles I wanted. So, I opened a production company to make films I wouldn’t normally get cast in that I wanted to be a part of. Producing was just my extension of my love for storytelling.”

When the floodgates on McNairy’s film career opened up with his casting in the Andrew Dominick film, his production company took a backseat to acting endeavors. Only recently has he begun looking at scripts and other projects to jumpstart his other passion: directing. “There will always be indie films being made, period,” says McNairy. “Technology has made it possible for anyone to grab a camera and go out and make a movie more so now than ever before. An aspiring director doesn’t need anyone’s support or approval. The only limitations they have are the amount of funds they want to put into their project.” He continues, “The whole reason the independent film works when it does is because a studio doesn’t have their hands all over it. I think for the major studios, it’s better for them to purchase buzzworthy indie movies than to go out and make them on their own. The arrangement makes sense to the indie filmmaker because once the rights to their project have been purchased—the buyer, in most cases a major motion picture studio, can put all of their marketing expertise and other resources into promoting the picture. It’s a winning formula for both parties involved.”

The lure of the work is what still pushes McNairy’s focus and drive; he has his sights set, “I can’t tell you how lucky I have been to have worked with the people I have been cast with the last five years—from the actors to the writers and directors to all the different crew people. Playing supporting roles has given me the itch again to play leading man roles but it has also taught me to be patient and to focus on the work and not the end result.” With his production company and acting career in full swing, the adventure-of-it-all is almost hard for McNairy to grasp. “I feel like I live in a constant state of warped reality,” says McNairy, “First off, I feel so blessed and lucky to be where I’m at in my life right now. I do have to pinch myself in the morning to believe it’s true.”

Photographer: Dani Brubaker for LGA Management.

Stylist: Leah Adicoff & Karolyn Pho.

Casting by Barbara Bersell.