If you’re watching the current season of “True Detective” it’s nearly impossible not to get swallowed whole by the torment of Tom Purcell. Purcell plays the grieving father who loses both his children in the mystery that provides the backdrop for season three of the HBO hit.
Portrayed by Scoot McNairy, the veteran actor has become a recognizable face in high profile projects ranging from the Ben Affleck Oscar winner “Argo,” to a starring role in the AMC series “Halt and Catch Fire.” Fans of the film “Superman Vs. Batman (Yes, there are some of you are out there) may recognize McNairy as the wheelchair-bound guy who tried to blow up the Capitol because he had a beef with Superman. And, once “True Detective” wraps up you’ll find McNairy acting opposite the likes of heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino and Margo Robbie in the upcoming Quentin Tarantino flick “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
McNairy spoke with NBC Digital about his experience working on season three of “True Detective.”
What attracted you to “True Detective?”
I heard really great things about (series creator) Nic (Pizzolatto). I was a really big fan of his writing. And I was a big fan of Mahershala (Ali). I heard nothing but amazing things about him and was really chomping at the bit to work with him. Also, the chance to work with HBO… they have such quality material. The culmination of all those things… it was really a no-brainer.
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There was some critical and fan backlash following season two of the series. Did that give you any reservations about signing on?
To be honest, I really don’t read the critics. Everything for me is on a personal level. I do a project because there’s something that really draws me to it. It could be the script or the director or the other cast involved. I heard the second season got some backlash, but this season was completely different… with a new cast. That didn’t cross my mind.
You’re playing a father who loses his children to unspeakable violence. As an actor how do you tap into what’s required to play that role?
It’s one of the hardest roles I’ve played. But as far as tapping into the role, it was one of the easiest roles for me to tap into. I have kids. Anyone who has kids… it isn’t difficult to tap into those thoughts of how you would do anything for them and how you’d react if anything ever happened. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to recover. It was a tough role to fit in for five month. I mean I had a great time working on it… but I was very, very excited for it to be over and get out of that thought process and head space.
What is it like working opposite Mahershala, who’s now up for his second Oscar in three years?
He’s an incredible, fascinating actor. But behind the actor is an incredible, fascinating human being. And that’s projected through his work. He’s one of the greatest people I’ve met in the industry. His compassion… his dedication towards others. If he has something nice to say or a thought that he has… he doesn’t keep it to himself. He just goes to the person and tells them. He’s really one of the greatest people I’ve met not just in the entertainment industry but in my life.
Looking at your work in projects like “Argo,” “Halt and Catch Fire,” and “12 Years a Slave,” are you attracted to working in period pieces?
It sort of dawned on me about two years ago. I mean, I hate cell phones and computers. I don’t now if it’s the idea that those things aren’t involved. I’m definitely now aware of it. That being said, I’m just sort of attracted to great scripts and stories and characters that aren’t just face value… you have to get underneath them a little bit. I do feel like I have some sort of expertise now with all things 80’s… with the pop culture and the politics of the time after constantly researching that time period. I probably couldn’t tell you much about the 90’s. But of the 80’s I’m pretty well-knowledged.
You suffer from Dyslexia. How has your impacted your career?
Growing up I attended the Shelton School in Dallas, one of the most prestigious Dyslexia schools in the country. And going through it at the time I thought this is a waste of time. Having grown older, I realize how much that school taught me how to deal with my Dyslexia… which I view now as a virtue versus a disability.
Really? How so?
The idea that Dyslexia…that you spell your words backwards and all that stuff…. yes that’s one form. But Dyslexia is people who think in different ways and think out of the box naturally. How to utilize thinking out of the box is not something most people who deal with learning differences get to understand. The school taught you how to take the strengths that you have and use them. My being visual… I learn everything with my eyes. I don’t learn anything with my ears or my hands. One example, I could drive one place, one time and I’ll never need a map to get there again. If you gave me a book on how to take apart a car engine I could never take apart a car engine. But, if I watched someone do it I could put it right back together. That school taught me how to learn with my eyes. And for me as an actor everything comes from a visual standpoint.
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Of your upcoming projects you have a role in Quentin Tarantino new film “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.” What’s it like being directed by Tarantino?
Oh my God. I mean, he is the show. I will say you’re not really getting a part in his movie, you’re getting a ticket to the Quentin show. And having the experience to be able to go and watch him quote movies and see the actual cinephile encyclopedia at work. What comes out of his mouth and the knowledge and the names of like somebody who had a guest star role in something with two lines back in 1962. He knows the lines. He knows the guy’s name. It’s incredible. So having a chance to be on set with him. That’s the show.
What’s the back story with your name Scoot?
I probably grew up with three other kids named Scooter. It’s a relatively common nickname in Texas or Alabama. I was ‘Scooter’ for years and by the time I got to high school people just started calling me ‘Scoot.’ And when I moved to California…my birth name is John… and then my manager said ‘Who’s John?’ I said ‘That’s me. That’s my name.’ He says ‘Then who’s Scoot?’ I said that’s my nickname. He said well we’re sending you out under Scoot. I said you can send me out under Peter, John or Bartholomew… just send me out.
Most important question… How does season three of “True Detective” end? Who done it?
I’ll be very honest. I opted out of reading the last episode. As for me and the character and playing this line of did he do it did he not do it. Up to the point my work was finished, I said I don’t want to read the end of the episode and I don’t want to know. And I held to that. So you’ll be experiencing the end at the same time that I am.
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“True Detective” airs on HBO Sunday’s at 9PM EST.