Scoot McNairy first came to the attention of most cinephiles with his turn in Monsters. The film, directed by Gareth Edwards, also saw McNairy star alongside his wife, the equally talented Whitney Able. Now he stars this week’s new cinema release, Aftermath.
The film is inspired by a real life plane crash that occurred over Überlingen as a result of a mid-air collision. In Aftermath, Scoot plays Jake, an air traffic controller who finds himself scapegoated for the accident. It’s an incredibly powerful film which also features Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maggie Grace, Kevin Zegers and Glenn Morshower. We caught up with Scoot ahead of the release to find out how he approached the project, where we will see him next, and what it’s like working with an icon like Arnie.
The first film I remember seeing you in was Monsters, which is fantastic. You’ve all come a long way since then, I mean Gareth is directing Star Wars now…
When I first met Gareth he was such a huge Star Wars fan, so when I found out that he had gotten the job to direct it I just knew how incredibly excited and over the moon, and just exhilarated, he was to get that job because he’s been following it his whole life. I was really, really happy for him.
Did you not phone him up and ask for a part in it?
(Laughs) No, no, no, no. I look forwards to working with Gareth again, but you know, obviously when the project is right, when we both think it’s good. I did phone him up just to tell him congratulations and I was really, really happy for him, and if there was anything he ever needed from me, I’d be happy to help.
How familiar were you with the real life incident before you joined the project?
I mean, before I read about the story I read the script and then I found out that there was a real story about it. We talked a little bit about it with the filmmaker. We were definitely trying to make a movie with the basis and the root of the actual tragedy that had happened. I did look into Peter a little bit. There wasn’t too much on him to find; there was a lot on the court case, but the one thing I did latch on from Peter that was the root of the character was, when he was going through the court cases and the trials, he had said the more and more he went down that path, the more childlike he became. I found that fascinating. That was something that I took that I wanted to portray in the film, as well as this incredible amount of shame and guilt. I did a lot of reading of Brené Brown‘s who wrote a book, she’s on Ted Talks and whatnot, she wrote a book on vulnerability, mostly for CEO companies. There was a while where she speaks about shame and guilt. I found myself in researching this character, that’s where I kept finding myself leaning towards – what shame is and what that does to your body, where it comes from. That was probably the root of what I had taken from Peter in his testimony and started to build upon that. But in no way were we trying to do a portrayal of Peter.
Is there more pressure playing a real person?
Yeah there is. Absolutely. Always. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re playing a person who did exist. However, in this particular project I felt like… you know Peter’s testimony gave me a launching off point, a jumping off point to start to build the character, but once it had launched off the fact that I was not playing Peter, it gave me a sense of freedom with the creativity of the character which was something that was very important and intriguing to me.
You’re character is an air traffic controller, did you do much research into this field?
Oh yeah I did a lot of research into air traffic controllers. I spoke to quite a few and the thing that kept coming up was how stressful a job it is. It’s just stress, stress, stress all the time. You know none of them fly? I was talking to them about it, and again they’d be too stressed. As air traffic controllers they know how many planes are in the air and they know how many near-misses there are. Everyday there’s at least one near collision. The job is so high pressure with all the stress that most don’t last in the job longer than ten years.
That scene in the tower is awful to watch, it’s so tense and realistic.
I rewrote a lot of that scene, to get the wording as accurate as possible. I wanted to sound and speak how a real controller does. So I spent a lot of time listening to air traffic controllers – there are stations where you can listen to your local control towers. I’d spend my evenings just listening to them for hours to get the terminology right. To talk how they talk.
You and Maggie come across really well as a believable couple in Aftermath, how much time did you have together prior to shooting?
We didn’t have really any time, I don’t know maybe a week or two. But she’s a brilliant actor and she’s a genius in what she does. The beauty of working with somebody like that is that she can just so quickly pick up a relationship. We knew each other through a group of friends indirectly, but as far as building that chemistry and relationship between the two of them that’s a huge compliment for Maggie and my hat tips to her that she did do an incredible job with this little time that she had. But she was wonderful to work with and an incredibly present actor. If I come across good in this project so much of that has to do with the fact that I’m working across from such great actors.
She usually ends up playing the daughter or the damsel in distress, but in Aftermath she’s a wife and mother and a strong one at that. As the family unit crumbles she is the one that starts to make all of the tough decisions.
Yeah, and she did an incredibly brilliant job at it. I think that for Maggie she has played those roles, but I also feel that she’s been aspiring to challenge herself and reach out. I know that she fought really hard for this part. Maggie is fighting to continue to challenge herself as a woman and also as a leading woman. Again my hat goes off to her for that. She did an incredible, brilliant job on the project.
Jake goes through quite a lot during the film and there are some really tough emotionally heavy scenes, what do you do to get into that mind-set, and once you’ve finished for the day how do you shake it off?
I kept reading Brené Brown. I sort of read pieces of her book and watched her seminars each night. It just kept me in that place of shame and guilt and vulnerability you see in the film. As far as shaking it off at the end of the night, that’s just something you learn. I did for a while live and breathe a character twenty-four hours a day and slowly, through twenty years of doing this, you allow yourself to hang it up at the end of the day and then put it on in the morning. It was incredibly exhausting to sort of live and breathe a character for twenty-four hours a day if I didn’t have to.
Yeah, and also once you’ve done so much of the character research and breakdown and whatnot, it sort of comes naturally to you every day when you’re working on the project. You’re kind of in this state of mind the entire shoot. It’s not until the shoot is over that you actually really release and drop the character. I find myself always either getting a haircut, or shaving off my face, or buying some new clothes (laughs) every time I get done with a job just so that I can detach myself from the character.
You share the screen with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a massive icon of film, what was that experience like, did you get star struck at all?
No, I did not get starstruck (chuckles). Yeah I’m always excited to work with an icon because you see so much of them and it’s usually always such a great experience when you do get to work with them. Meeting Arnold was awesome. He’s incredibly charismatic. He’s a guy that’s larger than life, always in a wonderful mood, and on top of that, he’s just a total pro when it comes down to the work. It was a wonderful experience to be able to meet him and work with him. I look forwards to hopefully working with him again.
It’s a big departure for him, it’s not the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie fans are used to.
I think that that’s great that he, even now so long in his career, is trying new things. He’s made a few films in recent years that, like this one, are much more focused on the drama and the character. It’s so wonderful that he’s still up for a challenge and I think he did some amazing work in this movie.
You originally started out in the industry training in cinematography, what inspired the switch to acting?
No one was hiring me as a cinematographer. Basically it was that simple. I was getting more work as an actor. They say the industry chooses you, not the other way around. There are no end of people working in wardrobe, as grips, that originally wanted to act. I’ve always loved cinematography and photography, but I was getting more gigs acting and so I stuck with that.
In the past you have described yourself as being ‘very dyslexic,’ does this mean that you have a different process when it comes to learning lines?
Oh I definitely have a different process, but then I think that everyone does. We all have different ways of working. I wouldn’t say that having dyslexia hinders me, I just learn in a different way. Dyslexia isn’t just about reading, it affects a lot of things. I don’t see it as a learning disadvantage, it’s just a different process. In terms of scripts and reading I read a little slower than others. Someone else might take an hour to read a script, I take 3 – 4.
You seem to effortlessly switch between indie films, awards drama, blockbusters and television, is it important to you that you keep thing varied?
It’s not intentional. I don’t purposely pick things because I think they’re going to be a certain way. No one can know if something’s going to win a load of awards. I’m just drawn to interesting stories and challenging characters. It doesn’t matter in what format that is, if it’s a character that I can really work with and get into the head of, then I’m there. It could be film, television, anything. Television has come a long way and is doing really great things at the moment. A lot of what’s coming out is just like ten hour films. It’s like all those filmmakers that have 250 page scripts finally have a chance. They would have taken them to studios and been told no for years, but now there is the opportunity for them to turn those 250 page scripts, not into a film, but a 4-6 part miniseries. There’s some really impressive stuff. The cinematography is really good, there’s some really interesting styles, and the stories are just so compelling.
Monsters seems like it would be perfect for Netflix, continuing on the world of the film.
Now there’s a pitch. I’ll have to get on the phone to Netflix.
Is there anything that you can share about your forthcoming projects, War Machine & The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter?
Well I’m working on a new television miniseries for Netflix, I’m not sure when it comes out, later in the year I think. War Machine is a story based on Michael Hasting‘s book The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan. I play a Rolling Stone journalist sent on the road with them to cover it. I don’t really want to say more than that as I don’t want to do a disservice to David Michôd. Then, The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter has Josh Brolin in, and is more of a comedy. We know that Josh Brolin can do comedy and it’s also got Danny McBride in who can definitely do comedy. It’s a little more lighthearted and a lot of fun.
And then there’ll be the Monsters TV series…
Yeah I’ll get on that today.
Don’t forget our credit in the special thanks…
We’ll get you in the film!
Aftermath is released in UK cinemas on Friday 7th April. Read our review now.