'Killing Them Softly' Scene Stealer Scoot McNairy Discusses Acting With Brad Pitt & Playing Rob Pattinson's Brother

Scoot McNairy Interview Killing Them Softly

If you'd like one good reason to see Killing Them Softly in spite of its "F" Cinemascore and anemic opening box-office numbers, I'll give you a great one:  Scoot McNairy's portrayal of the tragi-comic hood Frankie in Andrew Dominik's contemporary film noir is the kind of breakthrough performance that will stick with you long after the financials are forgotten.

Killing Them Softly is studded with top-notch acting — Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins also put in memorable turns — but McNairy's emotionally dexterous performance as the in-over-his-head Frankie is something to behold, particularly in the tense bar scene where he first encounters Brad Pitt's mob enforcer character Jackie Cogan.

McNairy talked to Movieline about shooting those pivotal moments with Pitt, his admiration for Dominik (Cinemascore be damned), and his busy work slate. The Texas native can currently be seen in the Ben Affleck-directed Argo, a job that, he says got with the help of Dominik, and also has a few scenes in the Gus Van Sant-directed  Promised Land, which opens Dec. 28. Next up, are two films with Michael Fassbender, a trip to Australia to appear in Animal Kingdom director David Michod's The Rover with Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson.

Scoot McNairy Interview Killing Them Softly

Movieline: Looking through your credits, I noticed that you’ve done quite a bit of producing as well as acting.

 Scoot McNairy:  Yeah, it’s funny. I got into producing from having done commercials for so long. I was financially stable at the time, and I had so much time on my hands that I just got bored and said I can't be sitting around.  I figured that I could at least be putting together projects or looking for material for me to do. I felt like I should just be generating my own work.

Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and how’d you get into acting?

I was born and raised outside of Dallas.  I did some theater when I was a kid.  I've always loved movies.  I've always been passionate about them.  And it wasn't until I was 18 that I moved down to Austin, Texas and, just for a hobby, started to take these classes at the Dougherty Art Center.  One day, the director Alex Holdridge came in to one of the classes and said he was casting the lead of his first film, Wrong Numbers. I stuck around after class and read for it.  He called me two weeks later and gave me the part.

Nice.

I mean, talk about a shoestring budget. We probably made that movie for $2,000, but it got some attention. The film went to the Austin Film Festival and in 2001 won the Grand Jury prize and the Audience award.  Through the process of shooting that movie, I fell in love with cinematography.  I really thought that I wanted to be a cameraman. And that's what brought me out to California. I went to film school to be a cinematographer.

Where did you go?

I went to the Art Institute of Los Angeles, but I only did a year of that. Then, for about nine months to a year in L.A., I worked building sets. When I was younger, my trade was carpentry, and I knew a lot about construction.  The guy in the warehouse next to where I worked, Jesus Pedroza, was running a floral business.  He and I always hung out on our smoke breaks, and one day, he asked me to bartend at his friend John Pierce’s agency Christmas party.  It was a really small boutique agency for commercials.  It was $100 or $200 for the night. I needed cash. I took the job.

That’s where I met John, who is now my producing partner, my theatrical manager and my personal agent.  He said, "Can I send you out?"  And I said, "Yeah, sure."  He turned to his friend and said, "This kid will never work, but I like him and I'll take him on."  I ended up doing about 15 national spots that first year. (Check out McNairy's first commercial, directed by Mike Mills for Levi's.)

Wow.

And that's when he was like, "You should be doing TV and movies." So I got into an acting class and really started to hit it hard.  I got back into theater and started doing plays in L.A.  Still, it was another four years of just doing commercials, and that’s when I had so much time on my hands that I got into producing. Down the line, that led to In Search of a Midnight Kiss.  I’d done a second movie in Austin with Alex, Sexless, in 2003 and then he moved to California and we did Midnight Kiss. I was a producer on that and in 2009 we won the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award.

I think that gave me a little bit of credibility as far as an actor. And then I went on to do Monsters, which gave me a little bit more credibility. And then Andrew cast me in Killing Them Softly.  He told me, "I'd never seen you, never heard of you.” He cast me from my audition tape.

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