Actor Scoot McNairy isn't letting his deluge of roles in the year's most prestigious films get to his head. The actor is aware that he's now regularly working with some of the best directors in the business, but he's not allowing himself to make a misstep. "You try and pick jobs you're right for," McNairy tells Hollywood.com. "Some actors make that mistake. I'm sure I'll make the same mistake as well. But you take things you can tackle. Always be pushing yourself, challenging yourself, but don't choose something that's beyond you."
After a decade of featured roles in both TV and movies, McNairy is hitting a stride, and rightfully so. He's a chameleon, capable of fitting into any ensemble, owning the spotlight but never stealing it. In 2012, the character actor appeared in an eclectic trio of films: as Joe Stafford, a member of the Iranian embassy who questions CIA agent Tony Mendez's (Ben Affleck) plan of escape in Argo; as Frankie, a burnt out petty thief who takes on the mob to disastrous consequences in Killing Them Softly; and Jeff Dennon, a local farmer contending with Matt Damon's pro-frakking salesman in Promised Land. The throughline between all three is McNairy's unexpected, ferocious commitment to disappearing into the roles. Regardless of the size, the actor approaches them each with the same integrity.
"I look at a leading role the same way as supporting roles," McNairy says. "You read the script and see that it's a great story. So then you ask, 'Who do I want to be in that story?'"
McNairy began his acting career a decade ago, after leaving his home in Paris, Texas, to pursue a career in cinematography. "I wanted to be a cameraman. I had done a few independent films in Austin, but I realized I wanted to shoot. I thought it was something I could really excel in." Acting diverted McNairy's attention, which led him to commercial roles and big screen comedies, like D.E.B.S., Sleepover, and Art School Confidential. McNairy recalls feeling a need to challenge himself beyond comedy, which came easy to him. He set off hunting for meaty drama and found it in Gareth Edwards' 2010 indie sci-fi Monsters. "Monsters was something that elevated me, opened some people's eyes."
A common misconception about Hollywood: Monsters may have introduced the world to McNairy's dramatic side, but it didn't hand him job after job on a silver platter. The actor admits it's still a process of rigorous auditioning and directors gambling on him. He wasn't always confident. McNairy "never thought there would be a chance in hell" that he would land the lead in Killing Them Softly. "I know that [director] Andrew Dominick took a huge risk putting me in Killing Me Softly. He had never seen Monsters, he'd never seen anything."
What sold Dominick was McNairy's unidentifiable accent for Frankie, which he suggests was "based on environments in the script: cold, grey, dark." Worried that the slightly goofy style may not click with Dominick in the audition, McNairy was convinced by his wife to go with his gut. Invaluable advice. "It wasn't hard to find the voice, but it was hard to authenticate." When Dominick finally recruited McNairy, the demand was stronger than anything he'd ever done. "[Andrew] was really, really keen on performances," McNairy says. "There wasn't a minute on set in that movie where they weren't rolling camera. He just puts a 1000-foot mags [of film] in the camera and we keep rolling. He really hounded me on performance. One day we did 40 takes on just a quick shot. He just wanted to get it right."
One of McNairy's biggest scenes in the film is opposite star Brad Pitt. McNairy had obvious nerves about meeting the movie star, but he used that to his advantage. "My relationship with him came from me wanting to meet him, putting that energy and putting it into the scene," McNairy says. "At the beginning of the shoot, we didn't speak at all. I never met him until the third day of shooting. The bar scene, that whole scene was the first scene we shot together and we never spoke throughout the entire process of that shoot. I think that's what I wanted to put into it. I wanted to be super f**king intimidated by him. Not try to have to act, but feel it." In the end, Pitt turned out to be the perfect sparring partner. "Brad is an incredibly generous actor. He accommodates the other person as well as works with them. He'll mold to the person around him. Not many actors are like that."
If Killing Them Softly was about McNairy embracing his natural instincts, Argo was about stripping them away. McNairy says Affleck had the large ensemble — portraying eight U.S. diplomats trapped in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis — live together for five days before shooting. Or as McNairy calls it "Get-your-egos-out-of-the-way camp." McNairy sites the experience as essential to the process. "I think you have to be aware of [ego]. I'd love to say I don't have an ego, but everyone has it. I try and keep myself out of what's being said and talked about. Focus on the work, focus on the work, focus on the work."
For Argo, McNairy sported a haircut straight from the '70s and a mustache to boot. He was happy to disappear, saying that he loves costumes and rarely wants to work in an environment that feels normal. "I don't even like rehearsing at my house. Even for auditions, I try and put on some kind of outfit. It's that transformation. Trying to step into something else." McNairy cites Fight Club, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Machinist, and this year's Rust and Bone among his favorite films — no surprise, considering the gargantuan change the actors involved went to bring the films to life. "You want to step away from yourself. I'm attracted to people who can do so little and say so much. "
McNairy continues to prioritize roles that speak to him over any calculated career moves, an example of this being his smaller part in Damon and John Krasinki's Promised Land. He goes after movies that he would want to watch, talent he would want to work with. The actor recalls watching Steve McQueen's Hunger and being blown away by Michael Fassbender's performance. He insisted to his reps that he had to be involved in the director's next project. While timing didn't work out for the award-winning Shame, he managed to land himself a role in the director and actor's next collaboration, Twelve Years a Slave. "I play a circus con man," McNairy says, excitement in his voice. "The one who convinces Chiwetel [Ejiofor], who is playing a slave, to come and run with us. Inevitably, we sell him to slavery. Sometime in the first 15 to 20 minutes of the film."
McNairy is currently filming Non-Stop in New York City, an action thriller set almost entirely on a plane from Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) that puts him alongside Liam Neeson. It's a welcome change of pace for the actor. "[It's] something I haven't played and puts me in a different light," McNairy says. "Someone with military training. I also wanted to work with Liam Neeson. Schindler's List — I watched that movie all the time."
The sudden upsurge in big screen face time has left McNairy relatively unfazed. That's a good thing, as the actor sounds ready to jump at any juicy, potentially risky part that crosses his path. "It is a business and there's a bunch of bulls**t involved in it, but you gotta keep the fun. Let why it was fun 10 years ago remind you why it's enjoyable."
[Photo Credit: Focus Features; The Weinstein Company; Warner Bros. Pictures]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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With each outing in his evolving filmmaking career actor-turned-director Ben Affleck has amped up the scope. Gone Baby Gone was a character drama woven into a hard-boiled mystery. The Town saw Affleck dabble in action pulling off bank heists many compared to the expertise of Heat. In Argo the director pulls off his most daring effort melding one part caper comedy and two parts edge-of-your-seat political thriller into an exhilarating theatrical experience.
At the height of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 anti-Shah militants stormed the U.S. embassy and captured 52 American hostages. Six managed to escape the raid finding refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home. Within hours the militants began a search for the missing Americans sifting through shredded paperwork for even the smallest bit of evidence. Under pressure by the ticking clock the CIA worked quickly to formulate a plan to covertly rescue the six embassy workers. Despite a lengthy list of possibilities only Tony Mendez (Affleck) had a plan just enticing enough to unsuspecting Iranian officials to work: the CIA would fake a Hollywood movie shoot.
There's nothing in Argo or Affleck's portrayal of Mendez that would tell you the technical operations officer has the imagination to conjure his master plan — Affleck perhaps to differentiate himself from the past plays his character with so much restraint he looks dead in the eyes — but when the Hollywood hijinks swing into full motion so does Argo. Mendez hooks up with Planet of the Apes makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to convince all of Hollywood that their sci-fi blockbuster "Argo " is readying for production. With enough promotional material concept art and press coverage Mendez and his team can convince the Iranian government they're a legit operation. A location scout in Tehran will be their method of extracting the bunkered down escapees.
Without an interesting lead to draw us in Affleck lets his eclectic ensemble do the heavy lifting. For the most part it works. Argo is basically two movies — Goodman and Arkin lead the Ocean's 11-esque half and Affleck takes the reigns when its time to get the six — another who's who of character actors including Tate Donovan Clea Duvall Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane — through the terrifying security of the Iranian airport. Arkin steals the show as a fast talking Hollywood type complete with year-winning catchphrase ("ArGo f**k yourself!) while McNairy adds a little more humanity to the spy mission when his character butts heads with Mendez. The split lessens the impact of each section but the tension in the escape is so high so taut that there's never a moment to check out.
Reality is on Affleck's side his camera floating through crowds of protestors and the streets of Tehran — a warscape where anything can happen. Each angle he chooses heightens the terror which starts to close in on the covert escape as they drift further and further from their homebase. Argo is a complete package with the '70s production design knowing when to play goofy (the fake movie's wild sci-fi designs) and when to remind us that problems took eight more steps to fix then they do today. Alexandre Desplat's score finds balance in haunting melodies and energetic pulses.
Part of Argo's charm is just how unreal the entire operation really was. To see the men and women involved go through with a plan they know could result in death. It's a suspenseful adventure and while there's not much in the way of character to cling to the visceral experience tends to be enough.
There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
It’s not often that an entry in this column carries a caveat. The very purpose of these articles is to shed light on the unsung and the obscure in such a way as to cast a wide net for a larger audience. It is therefore counterproductive to thin the herd by warning off certain people. But if you are not a fan of classic, gory, splatter or slasher films from the '80s, I am not going to be able to convince you to seek out this week’s subject. It may behoove you to stop reading now, but thanks for stopping by. Well, now that those folks have left the room, have I got a disgustingly awesome treat for the rest of you!
In 2007, a film was released that paid the ultimate homage to the horror films on which so many of us grew up and for which we harbor massive affection. The film was Hatchet and, along with taking horror back to some of its goriest roots, it introduced the world to two new boogeymen: serial killer Victor Crowley and director Adam Green. The film got a limited theatrical release, but it was enough to develop a near cult following and cultivate a demand for a sequel.
Last year, Adam Green unleashed Hatchet 2 on film-fest audiences and managed to outdo himself on nearly every conceivable level. In the horror universe, there are a few requisite upgrades fans expect. If you’ve ever seen Scream 2, you’re aware of these conventions. Green hurdles the first expectation by upping the mayhem and bloodletting to astronomical proportions. The carnage in Hatchet 2 is, by all rights, inhuman, but for fans of the genre, it is like being visited by an old friend…who then kills you with a chainsaw. If you’ve seen the first Hatchet, many of the familiar brutalities are revisited and new ones are introduced that will elicit as many cheers as they do groans. The fact that a staggering majority of these kills is achieved with practical effects is a true testament to the legitimate artistry of special effects and how the all-too-frequent replacement of these effects with CG is shameful.
Another criterion of the horror sequel is that it should enhance the concept of the original film and, especially with slasher films, further the legend of its monster. Hatchet 2 gives us an interesting backstory for Victor Crowley and ties formerly ancillary characters in as conspirators in Crowley’s origins. But more than that, Green actually weaves his earlier works into this film to lend credence to the idea that they all exist within the same universe (a la Tarantino). There are ads in shops for the “Slap Chop” from his fantastic Halloween-themed short film as well as ubiquitous television sets featuring press conferences detailing the aftermath of the events of Frozen.
But what I really love about Hatchet 2 is its reverent celebration of the horror genre as a community. As with the original, the film stars two major titans of horror: Tony Todd (Candyman) and Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th VII-X). But Hatchet 2 also offers cameos from horror filmmakers both classic and fledgling: Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2), Lloyd Kaufman (guru of Troma Films), Marcus Dunstan (The Collector), Mike Mendez (The Gravedancers) and Dave Parker (The Hills Run Red). It also stars Danielle Harris (the child star of Halloween 4 & 5) and Tom Holland (director of Child’s Play and Fright Night). The inclusion of all these horror personalities echoes Green’s commitment to the genre and his singular desire to make films for avid fans like us.
On top of all of this, Hatchet 2 is tighter, smarter and more elegantly shot than its predecessor. It also features better overall performances, especially those of Kane Hodder and Hatchet franchise newcomer A.J. Bowen. The spirit of the original film is alive and well but nicely augmented in perfect sequel fashion. The ending of the film is spectacular and, again, feels like a love letter to fans of great slasher films.
Being that the MPAA more or less stole away any opportunity you may have had to see this film in theaters -- do not get me started -- it isn't a mystery as to why you may not yet have seen Hatchet 2. But this injustice will be rectified next Tuesday, when the film is released on DVD and Blu-ray. I highly suggest picking up a copy, gathering your most hardcore horror-geek buddies, and enjoying a night of blood, boobs and dark comedy as only our beloved genre can deliver.