Scoot McNairy stars in this week’s Our Brand is Crisis, a true political dramedy from director David Gordon Green
Opening in theaters today is Warner Bros. Pictures’ Our Brand is Crisis, a political dramedy from director David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche, Joe). Loosely based on the 2005 documentary of the same name, Our Brand is Crisis offers a fictionalized take on the 2002 Bolivian Presidential election with a cast that includes Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock alongside Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie and Scoot McNairy.
Bullock headlines Our Brand is Crisis as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a political consultant whose team heads to Bolivia with one edict: boost their candidates’ failing political campaign and win the election at any cost. Exactly what that cost ends up becoming, however, is very much the focus of the narrative.
ComingSoon.net sat down with leading man Scoot McNairy, who plays Buckley, part of Jane’s team of spin doctors. Scoot McNairy, who also stars on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, is no stranger to the big screen either, having starred in films like Argo, Monsters and 12 Years a Slave. Next year, he’s heading to the DC Cinematic Universe, set to play a mystery role in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Read on for Scoot McNairy’s thoughts on his craft as an actor and his viewpoint on the changing face of both television and cinema.
CS: When did “Our Brand is Crisis” begin for you? Had you seen the documentary before the project came your way?
Scoot McNairy: I had seen the documentary. I had reached out to David [Gordon Green] a few years before, just saying I wanted to work for him. I had been a huge fan of his work. This thing came around and he sent me the doc. I thought it was a really fascinating concept and idea and something that hadn’t been done before. I had just come off of Frank, which Peter Straughan had written as well. I think he’s a fantastic writer. The whole thing was just a no-brainer for me.
CS: There’s a real team aspect to the characters in this. I’m curious to know what sort of prep work is involved, especially without someone like Anthony Mackie since your characters are so closely connected.
Scoot McNairy: My character works in advertising and it’s his first time doing a political campaign. I think he thinks he know exactly what to expect. He gets down there and he is a fish out of water. The faster it all unravels, the faster Jane, Sandra Bullock’s character, picks up the pace to actually get involved in the campaign. As far as the correlation between Anthony’s character and my character, I feel like they work really well together. A political guy and an ad guy. I think that Anthony’s character has a little more experience in the political world and my guy doesn’t. As far as their viewpoints, though, they’re just there to win. That’s in.
CS: How much did the real people influence your performance?
Scoot McNairy: I’ve done a lot of commercials. I’ve worked a lot — not directly, but indirectly — with ad agencies. I kind of got to see them and how they interact. This is more of a heightened comedic version of those people, but gave me a lot of heightened confidence to go there and play these people based on that. I kind of knew that world. I knew those people a little bit. He’s kind of a caricature of that.
CS: A huge part of this movie is the tone it strikes between drama and comedy, despite it being a true story. Can you tell me a little about what the conversations are like with David Gordon Green as far as achieving that tone?
Scoot McNairy: David can take things so comedic and so over the top, but he can also take things that are dark and sad and real. The beauty of playing with David is that you’re actually playing as an actor. It’s what you used to do in theater rehearsals, but you’re doing it on camera. I think he really just likes to explore scenes and see where they go. You learn so much about the scene and the characters and the story by doing it with those exercises. They’re not even exercises, though. They’re takes. You learn so much about yourself as an actor. Through that process, he carved out a lot of the knowledge that we gained about the film we were making. At the same time, David was all about, “Look, let’s have fun.” That’s his M.O.
CS: Would takes differ when it comes to tone? Are there more comedic versions of certain scenes?
Scoot McNairy: Not necessarily. If anything, there were some scenes that were cut out. Maybe they just didn’t find their place in the story or maybe they were cut out. Maybe we didn’t want to be over the top. Editing is an artistry in and of itself. The film is awesome. It’s great. Whoever cut down and went through those things did a fantastic job.
CS: You also have scenes with a llama in this.
Scoot McNairy: I did! That was great. I love animals. We had quite a few llamas there. Obviously, those were trained. I kept asking, “Is it okay to hit the llama?” I mean, it was just a piece of paper, but they said, “Oh, yeah. That’s fine.” Me and the llamas worked great together.
CS: You’ve have a number of roles in very different time periods. Is there anything you do when you’re stepping into a role to help you immerse yourself in that era?
Scoot McNairy: Man, my preparation changes on every job I do. Every character I do. You don’t know where to start so you just kind of start somewhere. Sometimes it’s the internet. Sometimes it’s staring at a wall. Sometimes it’s going to talk to somebody. You don’t know. You just start somewhere and things will evolve from that. I think that so much about acting is about changing and evolving for the situation that you’re in. Everybody’s different. Everybody works a different way. You sort of just adapt to that way. If that’s your process, that’s not necessarily how it’s going to evolve on every different job. Adapting is really the most important part of it.
CS: There’s a central idea in “Our Brand is Crisis” about crafting the narrative which is, on one level, exactly what you’re doing as an actor. Do you see ties to what Buckley does?
Scoot McNairy: No, because I don’t think of acting as “sell, sell sell!” I look at movies as things that can inspire and change people. That can make them see the world differently. When I was a kid — this is going to sound ridiculous — I watched “Rocky 2” and I left the theater and went home and boxed. The effect that that had on me wanting to go home and become a boxer was incredible. Of course, two weeks later, I was on to something else. The effect that that had on me was incredible and I didn’t even fully realize it until I was looking back on it. Films really do effect people and they really do say something. My job, though, is just to connect with the character and make sure that the director and editor are the storytellers. Actors are the storytellers within the story, but they tell the overall story.
CS: When you’re acting in a film based on a true story, how do you draw the line between the character and the real person?
Scoot McNairy: In this particular film, this is loosely, loosely based on the whole story. This could take place in Bolivia or it could take place at Google. The environment is just the backdrop. You look at the root of this film and it’s really about someone who will do whatever it takes to win. They’ve sort of lost the overall greater good. That is an environment that we live in. Sandra’s character actually realizes that. It’s about winning, winning, winning and not what’s best for the world or best for these people. We see that every day. Someone trying to get a little bit of an edge. To get on top and stuff. You kind of lose sight of the reason you got involved in it. I think that some people get into politics because they truly want to change the world. It changes, though, and it usually becomes just about winning.
CS: You’ve also had a really interesting balance of film and television and are very much at the forefront of a changing medium on the latter. Do you see the television landscape changing from your perspective?
Scoot McNairy: It is! There used to be this argument of directors turning in a three and half hour cut and the studio going. “We can’t release this. We need a two hour movie.” This allows some of those filmmakers to go and tell the ten hour story they want to tell. It’s amazing. “True Detective” really cracked that mold, having the same director and same writer. I think it’s great. TV has gotten to be the same as film in that there’s still a beginning, middle and end. I love the miniseries. It’s the ten hour movie.
CS: Is there the same thing happening on the other side? You’re in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” for example, and it seems like on the big screen we’re getting releases that, sort of like television episodes, are part of bigger stories.
Scoot McNairy: No, I look at a character with him starting somewhere, him going on a journey and him being changed by that journey. That fundamental part of building a character never changes. TV can be difficult sometimes because they won’t tell you what episode ten is. For that season, it’s really difficult to arc that. Like I said, it’s all about adapting to the different environments that you have to work in. Sometimes they don’t give you the whole script. They just give you the first 80 pages and you can’t say, “I can’t work like that.” Everybody else is working like that. You have to adapt.
CS: Is there any level of fun in that, though, where you yourself are getting surprised?
Scoot McNairy: No. Because I’m completely neurotic about it. I like to know the whole story. As an artist, you get to be creative and can focus on little things like foreshadowing. If your character has a heart attack on page 80, maybe rubbing your chest. There are fun little nooks and crannies about building a character. When you don’t know that, you tend to feel surprised and think, “I could have played this other scene differently if I had known that.” In that regard, it’s different, but you adapt. That’s the way it’s working and that’s the way you’ve got to work.
CS: At this point in your career, what’s a dream project for you?
Scoot McNairy: The next one! I mean, I’d be interested to hear an actor answer that question. You don’t really dream up the role. You read the role and then dream of playing it. I can’t say, “I really want to play a junkie,” but, if I read a great story about a junkie, I want to play a junkie because of the story. There are so many more dynamics and facets to that.
Scott McNairy joins Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie and more for Our Brand is Crisis, in theaters now.
Scoot McNairy on the Political Dramedy Our Brand is Crisis