Scoot McNairy is an actor and producer. His movies include Killing Them Softly, 12 Years A Slave, Gone Girl, Argo and Black Sea. In 2016 he will star in the much-anticipated Batman v Superman. You can also see him in AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire when it returns for a second season later this year. He is from and lives in Texas.

The name Scoot McNairy may not ring any bells, despite the fact that the Texan actor has starred in two Oscar-winning movies of recent years (12 Years A Slave and Argo), which is, actually, just the way he likes it. But with roles in the much-anticipated Batman v Superman and David Gordon Green’s Our Brand Is Crisis things might not stay that way for much longer.

We caught up with Scoot on a break in his busy schedule to talk about mixing film with television, ambitions to direct, and having lunch with Gary Oldman.

Holly Grigg-Spall: You seem to have so much going on right now, how do you go about choosing your next project?

Scoot McNairy: After I’m done with one project, I go right back to the drawing board and start reading scripts. I have a list of filmmakers I want to work with and I track them to see what they’re doing next. Sometimes I just call a director I like and tell them I’m a big fan and want to work with them on whatever they’ve got going. Eight times out of ten they want to work with me, too. With reading scripts, it’s whatever strikes me or appeals to me. I’ll be thinking – here’s a character I haven’t done yet. You take so much time on these characters you have to choose ones you love.

Based on the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, the 2012 movie Killing Them Softly stars Brad Pitt and is directed by Andrew Dominik. The film was nominated for a Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Ben Mendelsohn is an Australian actor from Melbourne. He has starred in Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises, Killing Them Softly and the TV series Girls.

HGS: Of all of the characters you’ve played so far, which really stands out as a favorite?

SM: I really liked playing Frankie in Killing Them Softly. He was a fun character, kinda cartoony really. So that was a lot of fun. I loved working with Ben Mendelsohn in that role too. That guy is one of the most entertaining people I’ve ever been around. I had so much fun working with him. We had such fun on that movie. It was such a pleasurable film to work on.

Paul Greengrass is a British director. He has directed United 93, Captain Philips, Green Zone and two of the Bourne movies.

Paul Thomas Anderson is the writer-director of Punch Drunk Love, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and The Master. He has been nominated for an Academy Award five times.

HGS: What filmmakers are on your list?

SM: I’d like to work with Paul Greengrass and Paul Thomas Anderson, but the list just goes on and on. I think I’ve set my sights on Paul Thomas Anderson, though.

HGS: You’ve worked with a lot of big stars and well-known directors – have any of them passed on advice about how to build a career in the business?

SM: I don’t think I’d classify it as advice. If anything they’ve passed along a lot of knowledge. When I’m on set I’m always watching and learning. I’ll listen to what a director will say to the DP or camera operator about setting up a shot. That’s the best education you can get. Especially as I want to direct movies too. So I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten advice, but I have eavesdropped in on everything that directors are doing and paid attention on set.

“If you work your ass off for ten years you can star in a movie with Brad Pitt
or have anything you want.
Bust your ass at anything that you do in life.”
— Scoot McNairy

HGS: Do you have plans to direct soon?

SM: I’m in the process of working on that right now. We’re going back and forth on a script with the writer.

Once I started producing movies, I realized I didn’t feel creatively fulfilled as a producer. The creativity in movie making comes from being a director. I was drawn to it for that reason. I want to have my vision up on that screen.

HGS: Would you ever want to act in a movie and direct simultaneously?

SM: The idea for me would be just to focus on directing and playing with the actors. If the role is right though and I can’t find someone to fill that role, then sure I would step in.

I mostly started producing because no one would give me a job. I’m trying to carve my career out the way I want it to be. You do your best to make it what you want. With the films I produced I wasn’t all that happy with what I saw on screen. You need to direct the film. I may not be great at directing, but I will have a stab at it.

Halt and Catch Fire airs on AMC. The show is set in the Silicon Prairie of Texas during the personal computer revolution. The pilot was screened at the South by Southwest film festival in March 2014. It is the first ever show to premiere on Tumblr.

HGS: You are currently working in both television and film – at the moment AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire – what are the differences between the two genres and what do you like about television? It’s kind of unusual to be doing such big movies and television too.

SM: The only difference for me is the pacing. With movies, it moves so fast that you have little time to think. You know the beginning, the middle and the end before you start work. With TV you don’t know what will happen to the character along the way and you have to hang on to what you do know in the moment. You will likely have to adjust to something you didn’t originally think your character would do. Working on a movie you have a lot more time to work out these things about a character beforehand.

I really wanted to work for AMC, because I have so much faith in those guys. The development of my character has been a little bit collaborative. We have long conversations about what he’s doing and why he’s doing this and where it’s going. You have to have a conversation with the person who is writing for the character. There are details I have to know. The specificity is really important to me while I’m working. I like to know every little detail about the character.

Working on this TV show though, it can also feel just like working on a movie – except it’s a 500 page movie instead of a 100 page movie.