Talent Discovery

Scoot McNairy

Mr. Right Now

Interview by James Patrick Herman

Photographs by Jeff Vespa

Everything is bigger in Texas — except for this breakout star’s ego. When he’s not busy acting opposite Ben Affleck in Argo or playing Regina Spektor’s love interest in a hit YouTube video, Dallas native SCOOT McNAIRY would rather have a chainsaw than a script in his capable hands. He also knows a thing or two about auto mechanics and landscaping. And yes, the art of creating unforgettable characters onscreen. Just ask Brad Pitt!

“Tell me about the inspiration for your Verge video.”

“The inspiration for the shoot came from [Verge’s Creative Director] Jeff Vespa. I just came off a film with Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly. And Brad is always eating in so many of his movies. We wanted to do something [about the idea of] indulging with food in a humorous way as well as about the methodical preparation of the meal. So focusing on that [concept] but turning it on its head as well. I play a very precise character — but when it comes to the food, all that meticulous planning goes out the door. And he’s just indulging in this gigantic American meal. It’s a bit funny.”

“You were born John McNairy. How did you get the nickname Scoot?”

“My pops called me that when I was a young kid. But it wasn’t until I had to go to a different school when I was about 12 years old, and I didn’t know anyone–literally no one. The teacher went around the room [taking roll call]. I was the class clown, so I said: ‘I don’t go by John. I go by Scooter.’ I knew the other kids would laugh, but I kept a very straight, serious face. So over the course of the next year, they didn’t know me by anything else. They all called me that. It’s a nickname that just stuck around. Then I moved out here [to L..A.] and I was going by my first name, John. But my manager was like: ‘Who’s John? I thought your name was Scoot?’ And I was like: ‘Call me John. Call me Scoot. Call me whatever you want. Just send me out [on auditions]!”

“Music fans will no doubt recognize you from Regina Spektor’s video for her hit song, ‘Fidelity.’ “

“Marc Webb [The Amazing Spider-Man], the filmmaker and music video director, is a good friend of mine. He called me randomly on a Saturday and said: ‘What are you doing right now? Can you do me a huge favor and drive out to Sun Valley to do a video?’ I didn’t know who it was or anything about it. But I said: ‘Absolutely, Marc! I’m hopping in my car right now.’ I was blown away when I first heard Regina’s voice — she was singing on the set over the playback. Marc is incredibly creative, so whatever he is up to is cool and special.”

Scoot McNairy

Verge Short

A Light Repast

“2012 has been such a huge year for you between Argo and Killing Them Softly. Tell me about it.”

“I guess I’ve been at this industry as a professional career for about 11 years now. Doing commercials and independent films, you’re constantly pining for these bigger jobs. But they felt so far out of my reach. At the beginning of 2011, I read for Andrew Dominik and got the part in Killing Them Softly. Even at that point, I was like: The studio will never let this pass. This is way too big of a job for me. Andrew said, ‘Well, the only person who has to give approval is Brad Pitt.’ I was like, Talk to him first before you offer the part to me–because I’ve been in this situation before. And he approved me. I was over the moon to have an opportunity to work with these people. I mean, Andrew Dominik! The Assassination of Jesse James [by the Coward Robert Ford] is one of my top five favorite films. After 10 years, I was so ready for this [opportunity] that it didn’t seem like, Oh, wow. It was just like: OK, you’ve got a big part in a big job coming up here. Stay focused–and get right into the work. So it’s been great. And Argo followed up with that film. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to be a part of these projects, but I was so concerned with the preparation that once the films were finished, it was like, OK, what’s next? I’m never going to work again. Most actors feel [that way]. It’s been almost a year and a half and I still haven’t really sat down and celebrated. That is the celebration for me: Getting in there and doing the work. Preparation is what I love the most. Rehearsals and getting underneath a character and trying to figure out what his quirks are, what bothers him, what makes him happy. Does he even get happy? All these little things. That’s the most fun part of the job for me: Dissecting human behavior. Absolutely.”

“What would be your dream role?”

“I can’t say. I’m such a whore for storytelling and stories that I don’t really look at [scripts] as: ‘the role.’ I look at them more as: ‘the story.’ I think, I want to be a part of that story. The second thing I think is: Who would I want to be in that story? Oddly enough, I have a fascination with the outdoors and wilderness. And Ted Kaczynski. I’m very fascinated to dive into what was going through his head all those years he spent isolated in a cabin in Montana. But it’s not necessarily what character do I want to play but what story do I want to be a part of–and within that story, who would I want to play? A JFK story came to me and they had me reading as this doctor. And my first thought was: If I’m going to be a part of a JFK story, I want to play Oswald! What was going through his mind? What he was dealing with fascinates me so much more than what this doctor was going through.”

“What actors inspire you?”

“I always keep going back to Gary Oldman because his characters are so rich. And so different. He has a chameleon sensibility about himself that is inspiring to me because it’s total transformation.”

“As a child, what films influenced you?”

“As a kid growing up–we had a farm up in Paris, Texas, and we spent a lot of time up there. My dad and older brother loved watching westerns. There was this one film called Silverado that Kevin Costner was in. I don’t know what it was about Kevin Costner’s character–he was a wild, loose canon–and it made the filmmaking and the acting aspect of it fun to me. I am highly dyslexic. I had to go to dyslexia school for four years. And in school, they taught me: You either learn with your ears, you learn with your hands or you learn with your eyes. We’re going to figure out what it is that you learn with, and we’re going to focus on that. What I learned at a very young age–12 years old–is that I learn everything by watching, through my eyes, visually. So watching films was educational because it was mindless learning. I could take in so much just by watching. You couldn’t show me a book on how to take apart an engine. Just give me an engine and a screwdriver and a wrench — and let me take it apart to see exactly how it works. I never had an interest in knowing what was done. I only had an interest in how it was done, the actual mechanics of it. I was never as interested in the final product of, say, an automobile. But I wanted to know: How is that car running? How was it built? Why does it work? And I don’t need you to tell me; I want to see the mechanics. I’ve never owned a television in my life — just watched films. And I feel like that’s [the foundation for] so much of what I’ve learned. Probably the [words] that come out of my mouth are things that I’ve picked up in films.”

Scoot McNairy

I need to enjoy what I’m doing and not worry about the money. Because the money may never come.

“Thanks for sharing your inspiring triumph over a learning disability. That’s also brilliant metaphor for how you get inside a character’s mind! What was your first major break?”

“How I broke into Hollywood and how I got my first break are two completely different things. I moved here to be a cinematographer. I always had a fascination with photography and cameramen–framing, composition, lighting, all of that was really fascinating to me. But my ‘breakout’ … was such a slow breakout! I did an independent film that got a little attention called In Search of a Midnight Kiss. We probably shot that back in 2006. And it wasn’t until two and a half years later that I did another independent film called Monsters. That got a bit of attention, too. Then it wasn’t for another two and a half years later that I got the job in Killing Them Softly. It’s been almost two years since then — and that [movie] hasn’t even come out [yet]. So I feel like ‘the break’ has really been a slow break over the course of six years. But I never really thought about that. I was always like, I need to enjoy what I’m doing and not worry about the money. Because the money may never come. Or the job that I want may never come. You’ve got to find happiness in what you’re doing now. And I found that through theater and acting classes or just having conversations with filmmakers about ideas. It’s a creative yearning that was slowly being fulfilled through the day to day activity of talking about movies, you know? Movies are so inspirational. They can change your emotions and your thoughts and your views and your ideas and your beliefs. It’s such a powerful medium.”

“Long before your big, slow break in Hollywood, what was your first job?”

“My dad let me start mowing the yard when I was about 10 years old. He was worried that I’d cut my toes off, but I was adamant about mowing the lawn! So by the time that I was 12, I had about seven yards in the neighborhood that I’d push my mower around [and follow up] with a weed-eater. By the time I was 14, I got into landscaping: I had about 30 yards and I was doing flowerbeds and planting shrubs and even designing people’s front yards. When I turned 16 and got my [driver’s] license, I had a full-on landscaping company with a buddy of mine. We used to cut school on Fridays to work. I love it, man. It’s like creating art outside in the wilderness. You’re sort of sculpting something that is already natural. I still love it. I have a place in Texas–and the whole reason I chose to get acreage down there is because I want to turn it into one big landscaping Wonderland.”

“Why do you choose to live outside–far outside–of Los Angeles?”

“I never planned on staying in L.A. I look at it as my stomping grounds to come–and eventually–to leave. It’s not like I chose Texas; I just chose the country. You could put me anywhere in America as long as I can live a couple miles away from my closest neighbor. I can be as loud as I want: I can fire up a chainsaw or shoot a gun in the middle of the night. I wanted my own area, my headspace. This is my land where I can do whatever I want. Because there’s nothing more frustrating than someone telling me what to do.”

“What’s the most Texas thing about you?”

“I love the wide open spaces and the countryside. You have no perception of how far [away] something is, so it makes me feel very, very small.”


Scoot McNairy
Scoot McNairy
Scoot McNairy
Scoot McNairy
Scoot McNairy
Scoot McNairy
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