BEHIND THE SCENES WITH ACTOR SCOOT MCNAIRY – THE CINEMA ISSUE 5
“My pops called me that when I was a kid,” says Scoot McNairy of his onomatopoeic nickname. ”It’s a nickname that stuck.” The nickname perhaps most aptly describes the way the 32-year-old Texan– his Christian name is John – traversed from cameraman to carpenter to actor in an Oscar-winning film. He scooted– and fast.
McNairy’s big break first came in 2011, when he read for director Andrew Dominick for the lead role in 2012’s Killing Them Softly opposite Brad Pitt, receiving the role which led to a successive landslide of high-profile films, most notably Argo, which won the 2013 Oscar for Best Picture.
In Argo, the story of a group of six American diplomats held hostage in 1979 Iran, McNairy plays the real life character of hostage Joe Strafford, in a mustachioed, bespectacled, almost unrecognizable– and totally memorable – role. Perhaps he was able to so fully embody the character because director Ben Affleck had the actors actually live in 1979. McNairy and his fellow actors camped out together for a week in an L.A. house filled with era-appropriate magazines, books, and fashion. ”It was like a 1979 time warp,” McNairy says. ”They took our phones, our computers, and we had no air-conditioning.” This method-acting worked. McNairy, and his excellent fellow cast of hostages Clea Duvall, Rory Cochrane, Kerry Bishé and Christopher Denham, all come across in the film as the authentic, real people they are portraying—and the tension in their charged scenes together is palpable.
Next for McNairy is indie director Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely, out this month, playing opposite Ellen Page and Rosemarie DeWit. Touchy Feely, from the director of Humpday, tells the story of a massage therapist (DeWit) who develops a strong aversion to touch, including that of her boyfriend, played by McNairy. Although this might sound like the setup for a comedy, the film takes its subject’s distress seriously, treating it as a metaphor for fear of commitment.
And don’t worry, McNairy isn’t done acting opposite Brad Pitt. He just wrapped up filming Steve McQueen’s historical drama Twelve Years A Slave alongside Pitt and Michael Fassbender, set for a June 2013 release. He’s also currently shooting Non-Stop opposite Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore.
The Untitled Magazine sat down with the Argo star to discuss his sudden ricochet into the spotlight
The Untitled Magazine: Where do you live?
Off a dirt road in the Texas countryside.
How did you initially get into acting?
I spent some of my early childhood doing plays at a children’s theater, but when I got to my teenage years I didn’t have much of an attraction to acting. It was not until I moved to Austin, Texas when I was 18 that I began to dabble with it again. I spent some time at the Zackery Scott Theatre in Austin mostly to fill my weekends. Even then, I was not fully committed to the idea of acting as a career. I was cast in a low budget indie film and spent a lot of the time on set getting to know the cinematographer. By the time I had finished the film I decided that I wanted to be a cameraman and that is what sparked my move to LA to go to film school. After dropping out of film school and becoming a carpenter building sets, it was then that a commercial agent asked to send me out on castings. After doing a number of commercials I began studying acting again in LA and decided that I was going to make a commitment to this industry.
How long have you been working in the industry?
Can you pinpoint one “breakthrough moment” in your career?
It’s really hard to say, there wasn’t one moment that I felt I had broken out. The moment was more of a long slow drawn out moment over the last 10 years of beating the pavement and persistence.
What is your favourite movie?
Come on, how can I answer that? There are so many that I like and all for different reasons. Off the top of my head, I would say Michael Mann’s Heat.
What about a favourite actor or actress?
Gary Oldman has always been an actor who interests me.
Who do you consider the most inspirational person in film?
Touching the Void, which is a true story of a man who was left on a mountain after an unfortunate event. The man pushed his way down the mountain with a severely broken leg, over glaciers and crevasses over the course of three days losing a third of his body weight. It showed me that giving up is not an option, and that the mind will give up before the body.
Do you have a mentor?
If you hadn’t have gone into acting, what do you think you would have done?
I would be a carpenter or a wildlife photographer, something that I do a lot now regardless of acting endeavours.
What was the most difficult scene in your career and how did you handle it?
A scene at the bar in Killing them Softly.
Did you ever fall in love on set?
Yes, and I married her.
Who is your favorite designer?
Can you name a favorite artist?
Do you have a motto or words of wisdom you live by?
“The little shit doesn’t matter.”
Can you describe what it is about cinema as a form that you love?
I love that it’s stories in a visual format. To be taken to a different place. [I love] to know what it was like to be in someone else shoes. To see others’ perspectives. To be informed. To get away from the everyday things that are not that important.
I enjoy dissecting human behaviour. People fascinate me, their actions, their reasons behind what they deem as right.
Can you tell us a little about what you’re currently working on?
I have just wrapped a film called 12 Years a Slave directed by Steve McQueen. There is also Killing Them Softly with Brad Pitt, Promised Land directed by Gus Van Sant, a film called Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck and a film called Touchy Feely directed by Lynn Shelton.
-Erika Broad for The Untitled Magazine