Ahead of the premiere of ‘Narcos: Mexico’ Season 2, BroBible got the opportunity to speak with Scoot McNairy — who is set to enter the series the same way an All-Star would a new team at the trade deadline — about his role as DEA Walt Breslin, his unbelievable success in recent years, and being paid an otherworldly complement by Quentin Tarantino.
McNairy, 42, is one of the highest quality actors working today, as his recent credits include Argo, 12 Years A Slave, Gone Girl, Halt and Catch Fire, True Detective, Fargo, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, and now, Narcos: Mexico.
(Editor’s Note: *light spoilers* for season two of Narcos: Mexico will follow. This interview has been edited and condensed for time.)
On being dropped into the middle of a show like the midseason acquisition of an All-Star.
Eric Italiano: Hey Scoot, what’s goin’ on, man, how are you?
Scoot McNairy: I’m doing great man, how are you?
EI: Great, it’s awesome to talk to you, I’m a huge fan of your work.
SM: Oh cheers man thank you so much.
EI: So, first, Scoot, I just want to say congrats on a fantastic season of TV. I really thought this was the series’ best — just 110mph from beginning to end. The whole season is really infused with the ticking time bomb aspect. And I thought that began with your reveal at the end of last season, which is what I thought was one of the best cliffhanging mic-drops in recent years. What’s it like being brought into a show as a midseason All-Star into a story that’s in the midst of its arc and how did that inform your performance?
SM: “Well, two things. First off, thank you. Second off, I was lucky on this one for specifically one reason and that is that I got cast in this show when they were still shooting the first season of ‘Narcos: Mexico’. That means that I got to spend two weeks in the recording studio to lay down the voiceover and in doing that I personally made some discoveries on the character, as far as finding his cadence, his tone, his sarcasm, his opinions towards things. You know, working with Eric Newman, Carlo Bernard, Jose Padilha, and all the producers, it felt like a really intense rehearsal or trying to get underneath the surface of this character. So there was a familiarity that I had with this character. Obviously, there were discoveries made throughout the shooting of it but it definitely felt like jumping onto a show that’s in full swing, but it didn’t feel like I was just jumping in there because I had that time in that first season with the voiceover.
And I was the fan of the show, so I understood what the show was about and where it was coming from, cause I was obviously allowed to see the season before I did voiceover work.
How his cliffhanger introduction into the show informed his performance.
EI: To your point involving the first season, did you go into it thinking that people would know it’s your voice that was narrating? Or did you try and play it as if it was going to be the surprise that I personally found it to be. I’m a big movie fan, but it never occurred to me that it was you, so when you popped up in that final season one scene, I was like “holy shit, it’s been Scoot McNairy this whole time”, so I was just wondering if you went into it knowing that you’re being a bomb dropped into the show.
SM: Definitely. I think that having me in the last scene of last season was a bonus. I was shooting ‘True Detective’ at the time and the look of Walt between the two seasons is a little different. I was working on this other show, so it was just a bonus — “Hey, you think you could get him off for two weeks to come down here and shoot this little piece to introduce the character for the following season.” Obviously, the producers and everybody involved with True Detective were very helpful in orchestrating that I was able to do it.
But yeah, Eric [Newman] was very specific to tell me exactly everything about the character — what was happening, what the story was going to be the following season, all of those things were relayed to me even before the voiceover.
EI: Right, cause I thought that when it comes to mic-drops, they could not work and seem cheesy or they can really hit home and your cliffhanger at the end of season one really built up a hype towards this season that I felt you nailed.
How his Texas roots and personal experiences with the War on Drugs helped shape his performance.
EI: Just to stay on Walt, you’re from Texas, so I was just curious if you had any personal experiences from the War on Drugs during that time period that you drew from to play this role?
SM: I actually — by the way, great question — my experience with it was actually about a decade ago, I went down there to Mexico to shoot a movie called ‘Monsters’ that I did with Gareth Edwards (director of ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Rogue One’). That movie has nothing to do with drug-trafficking, Mexico is just a geographical location, however, in the shooting of that, yes, I found some things became very personal to me ten years ago that resurfaced when I got this job and went down to Mexico again — you see all of the tragedy in one person trying to buy a bag of cocaine at a club. You know, these privileged people that are simply partying with this drug and you see children that were murdered, families that were murdered, cities and small towns alike destroyed, and it definitely gave me that sense of, “Man, for these people to have one good night, all these people have to die — it was just insanity to me, and that is definitely something that coming into this show that I personally injected into the character of Walt.
Embracing darkness as a means to fight darkness.
EI: Speaking of Walt, what I enjoy about you is your innate ability to play a normal guy with an extraordinary goal and not come off as a zealot. But with that said, Walt has to make some bold choices — some good, some bad — what are your thoughts on embracing darkness as a means to fight darkness? Is it means to an end or is the price too high for a guy like Walt?
SM: “As me playing the character, I can’t make judgments towards him. I really just have to get underneath why he made those decisions. And I don’t think that Walt — I think that it gets dark and goes dark — but I don’t think Walt is driving it to a dark place. I think the more he gets down there and the more he gets down the funnel, it gets darker and I think he’s unaware of the darkness that’s surrounding him and how bad that it’s gotten. So, Walt makes these decisions because he thinks they’re right, I don’t think that he thinks he’s doing something bad, he thinks he’s helping — he’s getting revenge for the death of Kiki Camerena (Michael Pena, Season 1), he’s getting revenge for the death of his brother. These people should pay. So, as far as the darkness goes, I think Walt finds himself realizing that he’s damaged and he’s not doing anything about it.
Which of Walt’s motivating factors he tapped into most.
EI: You lead me to my next point about Walt — one of the things that I found great about the character is that I truly believed his motives. I truly believed he wanted to avenge his brother and Kiki, and wanted the best for the people of the region. Which of those guiding lights do you think drove him most and which did you tap into most?
SM: “Great question — it’s different for each scene. The scene on the rooftop, there’s a lot of personal stuff for Walt and a lot of personal stuff for Scoot there. Then, there were other times where it was more of Walt’s point-of-view and not my opinion. So, each scene, you try not to flood it with too many choices. It’s a great question, but it altered — there wasn’t a throughline, it would change based on script, story, day of shooting, what have you.
The main theme of the season: leverage.
EI: Well that lends itself to what I think the main theme of the season was: leverage.
SM: Yes, well said. Well said.
EI: And I find that both Walt and Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna) are two sides of the same coin in the sense of A) they’re constantly jockeying for leverage and B) their hubris undermined their goals. Do you see any other similarities between the two characters and do you believe they are just two sides of the same coin?
SM: Yes, that’s a very — you’re spot on, man. Both these guys are going after what they’re going after with their reasons and their political motives, but at the end of the day, both of these guys are victims to the greater organization, the greater powers that be — the politicians or the divide in the two different countries. They both lose, which I loved. They both tried to accomplish a goal and all these people were killed and there’s so much tragedy, and at the end of the day, both of them did not get what they wanted — they both lost. So, I think if there’s any sort of parallels with the characters, it’s where those characters end up.
EI: Which is why I thought that the final scene worked so well. You’re waiting for it the whole season — you know, I try to go into shows with as little knowledge as possible, I don’t look up the facts of what actually happened, I want to be surprised — and the whole time, I thought you were going to win. That scene just brings home your point.
His incredible recent television career.
EI: Now, onto your career as a whole, you’re on an all-time TV run right now as far as I’m concerned — Halt and Catch Fire, Fargo, Godless, True Detective, and now Narcos — how do you explain such a great run? Are you aware of how high your batting average is and what do you mainly rely on when choosing these roles?
SM: “At the end of the day, let’s just call it luck.”
EI: “You and me both, man.”
SM: “I’m incredibly grateful for work, period. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities that are getting put in front of me. I love all of those shows that you just named and like every actor, you go after good material and good directors. You know, I fought hard for ‘True Detective’, that’s not something that was given to me. I fought really hard for that project. And then some of the other ones, they’re fighting hard to get me. So, to be in this position, I just feel incredibly blessed, incredibly lucky, not only to be working, but at the end of the day, man, stuff that I want to be working on. And that’s not always the case as an actor — I still love to go to work every day and that’s mostly because I love the material that I’m going to work on.
EI: We’re on the same page. I have a saying that my goal in life is to just not wake up bummed out, so, I’m glad to hear a similar mindset is working for you.
The time Quentin Tarantino said he was the first person he’d ever cast without meeting first.
EI: You once told a great story about how you got your role in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and you said that you filmed yourself reading lines on your phone. Then, on the back of that — and I was astounded by this — you said that Quentin Tarantino said you were the first person he’s ever cast without meeting first. When a legend like him pays you that sort of compliment, what does that do for your confidence as an actor and does it help raise your game to another level?
SM: I don’t even know if that’s true, that’s what he said to me, I don’t know if he was serious when he said that. That being said, my confidence goes out the door every day. You have a good day of work and tomorrow it can go completely the opposite way. So, confidence is never something I’m ever going to rely on. But it was the first thing he said when I shook his hand.
The Snyder Cut of Justice League
EI: That’s awesome, man. Before I let you go, I’m a huge comic book movie guy, you starred in Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman. I would be doing my community a disservice if I didn’t ask you about the Snyder Cut of Justice League and what your thoughts are?
SM: The what cut?
EI: The Snyder Cut. Snyder’s own version of the film prior to being taken over by Joss Whedon.
SM: To be honest, I didn’t know there was another cut out there.
EI: Oh, wow, that’s a new answer.
SM: But now that I know, I’m gonna go see if I can find it
EI: Scoot, man, this is has been awesome, so thank you so much for your time.
SM: Absolutely, man. Thank you again, and great questions, I really appreciated it, and I look forward to hopefully getting to do it again with you again some other time.
Eric is a New York City-based writer who still isn’t quite sure how he’s allowed to have this much fun for a living and will tell anyone who listens that Gotham City is canonically in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter @eric_ital for movie and soccer takes or contact him firstname.lastname@example.org