The G&G Interview: Scoot McNairy

His Hollywood profile may be on the rise, but Scoot McNairy can’t escape the pull of his native Texas

Photo: Fredrik Brodén

McNairy, photographed on July 23, 2014, near his home in Brenham, Texas.

With highly praised performances in Argo and 12 Years a Slave, a coveted role in this fall’s film adaptation of the best-selling thriller Gone Girl, and more than a decade of solid character-driven parts in indie productions, Scoot McNairy is on the verge of becoming a full-blown movie star. For the moment, however, the only stars he’s concerned with are the ones dotting the night sky above his Brenham, Texas, homestead. “The California stars are nice,” McNairy says of his decision to trade his Los Angeles pad for a plot of ranch land about a hundred miles east of Austin, “but nothing beats a good view of the Texas stars.”

The Dallas native is returning to his roots professionally, too. He recently starred in the first season of AMC’s series Halt and Catch Fire, which chronicles the early PC industry of 1980s Texas. It’s an ambitious period drama, offering a sleek view—big hair and clunky keyboards notwithstanding—of the South’s “Silicon Prairie,” all too often forgotten in the shadow of the Bay Area and Seattle. But there won’t likely be much downtime on the farm in McNairy’s immediate future: Warner Bros. recently announced his casting in the forthcoming blockbuster Batman v. Superman, which, like McNairy, is all but guaranteed to succeed.

What made you leave California and move back to Texas?
I was looking to move out to the country to get a bit of wide-open space, a place to clear my head, so my wife and I decided to get a little farm-slash-ranch. We’ve got Black Angus cows, chicken coops, some goats. It’s not quite a full working farm yet, but it should be in a year or two. Having a farm is constant work, and the house is a fixer-upper. I work on it in between jobs—I go somewhere for a couple of months, come back for a month, head out somewhere else. It keeps me busy. I’m one of those people who can’t sit down. I don’t like idle time.

Are you worried that your celebrity might affect your small-town life?
No, not really. I don’t think anybody here really cares too much about that stuff.

On Halt and Catch Fire, you play Gordon Clark, an early PC pioneer. In reality, you’re living this low-tech life out in the country. Do you think your character would know his way around a tractor?
I don’t know if Gordon has ever even seen a tractor, and he doesn’t know how to take apart a diesel engine. I think he could probably build the schematics and the electronics around it, but no, I don’t think Gordon Clark knows his way around a tractor.

Do you think being from Texas helps you do a show that’s set there?
Absolutely. It’s interesting, [my co-star] Lee Pace and I are both from Texas. Having the advantage of growing up in Texas, and being in Texas in the 1980s—that was a big help and also an attraction to the role and to the project.

Do you see any parallels between the early days of computing in Texas and the burgeoning tech scene in Austin?
I would say so. I first came to South by Southwest in the late 1990s, early 2000s, and didn’t make it back until 2010 or 2011. There were so many tech companies there that they kind of overshadowed the film and music sides of the festival. I was surprised. But, then, I’m so far outside of the tech industry, very much a hands-on, manual type of person. I mean, I just got a computer about five or six years ago.

Speaking of South by Southwest, is it nice to be closer to the music scene in Austin?
For sure. I didn’t realize how great it was until I actually got back here. I grew up with country music and good live music—bands and shows in small venues like the Continental Club. I saw Vallejo—an Austin band that’s been kicking around for more than fifteen years—back in 1997, and I’m still impressed when I hear them on the radio. I also like going out to Luckenbach, listening to old Waylon Jennings, old Hank Williams, Jr., Steve Earle. I play Copperhead Road all the time. That being said, I love a little Radiohead mixed in with my Johnny Cash every once in a while, too. And I’ve been a Wilco fan for years. My musical taste is kind of all over the place. It just depends on where I am in the world.

What’s your go-to local barbecue spot?
Nathan’s Barbecue on the corner of Highway 290 and Highway 36 is the best barbecue I’ve eaten in Texas in a long time. And City Meat Market in Giddings, right off Main Street in the town square—man, they put the smoker inside the place, and when you order, they just lift it up, slap some barbecue on a piece of paper, and give it to you. You’re like, “I want a barbecue sandwich,” and they’re like, “Well, there’s bread over there.” They don’t even put it on there for you. Also, I do quite a bit of meat smoking at my place. I can cook a mean pork butt.

Sounds like you’ve got a pretty good thing going.
Right now, I’m cruising. I’m so excited and blessed, and I’m just trying to hold onto it.