Through the 2010s, Scoot McNairy has been one of the most well-regarded and oft-seen “that guy” actors in major Hollywood productions. Following his breakout role as a cynical news photographer in Gareth Edwards’s Monsters (2010), McNairy has had important supporting roles in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly (2012), Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo (2012), David Michod’s The Rover (2014) and David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014).
McNairy will be seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, which reaches Indian shores on August 15. Featuring an ensemble cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, the film follows the life and times of people employed in Hollywood and living in Los Angeles in 1969.
McNairy is yet to see the film, in which he plays the colourfully named Business Bob Gilbert. “He is a character in a television show in which Leonardo DiCaprio is starring,” McNairy told Scroll.in over a phone call from Los Angeles. “Working with Quentin Tarantino was the greatest experience of my career. Just watching him be on set, and hearing him talk films, where he knows the most obscure things about the most obscure movies, is just awe-inspiring.”
Born John Marcus McNairy, the 41-year-old Texan was nicknamed Scoot by his parents. “I used to move around a lot as a kid on a scooter, so my parents called me Scooter, and later, around 13, my friends shortened it to Scoot, and that continued to be my name in the movies as well,” McNairy explained.
True to his name, McNairy scoots from the sets of one major film to another, working with A-list filmmakers and consistently, appearing in memorable roles. “I am very fortunate and grateful to have worked with filmmakers I have always admired,” he said. “I am just lucky have a job as an actor, and just as in any industry, you want to work with the best of the best. But above all, filmmaking is such a cutthroat business that anyone working should be lucky to have a job.”
McNairy can be seen on Indian television in the the third season of HBO’s hit anthology crime series True Detective, which being aired on Star World and Hotstar. Having earned a nomination in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie category at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, and eight nods in technical categories, the series will later be part of Star World’s Emmy’s Special Programming in September.
The third season follows two police detectives in the American state of Arkansas who are investigating the disappearance of two children in 1980. McNairy plays Tom Purcell, father of the children, who is a broken man hiding private demons behind public grieving.
“Tom was a pretty loaded character, and you discover a whole lot of sides to him later,” McNairy said. “Growing up in Texas, I related to the simple people living in the country. Tom, along with the rest of the characters, are so well-written and have so much depth, that all credit goes to Nic Pizzolatto.” Pizzolatto, the creator and writer of True Detective, also directed two episodes.
How difficult was it to play an emotionally volatile character who is never off the edge for over 500 minutes of television?
“The challenge is to keep it real,” McNairy explained. “Once you figure out what is working for you to get the character, you just focus on it. In this case, with Nic’s beautiful dialogue, half the work was already done on the page. And Nic was always there on set, available to be questioned by his actors. He knew his characters better than anyone, and that was a big help.”
To be a part of major Hollywood productions in this decade, McNairy had to work his way up through acting in commercials, short films, and cult productions such as Terry Zwigoff’s Art School Confidential (2006).
In Monsters, McNairy co-starred alongside his wife, Whitney Able. Monsters was a low-budget film, exploring the conquest of Mexico by aliens. McNairy and Able’s characters have to escape the country to reach the United States unharmed.
“The film was shot all over Mexico and it was just one amazing vacation,” McNairy recalled. “The film was mostly improvised and a lot of the story came out of collaboration during shooting. How we invented the narrative forward as we kept shooting makes it one of the most fun experiences ever.”
McNairy is no stranger to the comic book audience as well. In Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), he played Wallace Keefe, the disgruntled employee of Wayne Enterprises who is manipulated by the villain Lex Luthor to create a showdown between the two DC Comics heroes. There is speculation online that McNairy will appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe soon.
The actor appeared in All Hail The King (2014), a short film backed by Marvel, where he played a terrorist belonging to the Marvel villain Mandarin’s organisation The Ten Rings. His character Jackson Norriss confronts the fake Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), introduced in Iron Man 3. Will McNairy reprise his role in Marvel Studios’s recently announced Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, which will introduce the real Mandarin (Tony Leung)?
“Not that I know of, but, that could just change,” was his reply.
Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this story said Scoot McNairy starred in a television show in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood called Bounty Law, when, in fact, he stars in another show.