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Scoot McNairy Catches Fire

Scoot McNairy, lavender farmer.

By June 2014Comments

Photograph by Matthew Mahon

Technically speaking, Scoot McNairy does not live in the middle of nowhere: fifteen minutes down the road, you’ll find a grocery store, a post office, even an Italian restaurant; keep driving a hundred miles or so west, and eventually you’ll wend your way to Austin. 

But this 25-acre ranch—complete with mini-tractor, custom-built smokehouse, and a family of deer that turns up at sundown each evening (only to be chased away by McNairy’s dogs)—isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find a newly minted, 36-year-old movie star who, in the past two years alone, has acted in films like Killing Them Softly, Argo, and Non-Stop. 

“I tell the people in town I’m a lavender farmer when they ask,” says the Dallas-born McNairy, who relocated here from Los Angeles with his Houston-born wife, the actress Whitney Able, in 2010 (McNairy requested that we not identify their precise location). “I like that I don’t have to talk to them about movies—I can just talk to them about the weather.”

Alas, that anonymity may be difficult for McNairy to preserve for much longer. He’s got four more films coming out this year (including The Rover, the much-anticipated new thriller from Animal Kingdom director David Michôd, due out later this month), and on June 1, he appears in his first starring role, in the AMC drama series Halt and Catch Fire. Set in Dallas in the early eighties—around the same time McNairy was growing up there—the show follows an anxious computer engineer (McNairy) and a slick sales executive (Houston-reared Lee Pace) who seek to reverse-engineer an IBM personal computer and turn the then-burgeoning PC industry on its ear. “We wanted someone who could be a nebbish, with his shoulders shrunken in, but then also reveal himself unexpectedly to be a budding alpha male,” says Chris Cantwell, the show’s Plano-raised co-creator. “And he connected on a personal level to the setting, in a way that really enriched his performance.” 

Still, why would McNairy choose to settle here, in the not-quite-middle-of-nowhere? There were plenty of reasons, but at bottom, Hollywood wasn’t where he wanted to start a family. “I don’t know how to raise a kid in L.A.,” he says. “I know how to raise a kid in the country.” And he figures that though he’s living out in the sticks, his career won’t really suffer; with a few days’ notice he can always hop on a plane to show up for an audition or lunch with a director. And if he’s wrong about that, he’ll live. “If the phone rings, the phone rings. If it don’t ring, I’ll do something else.”

Indeed, in his black jeans and paint-spattered trucker hat, chewing tobacco and sipping a Miller Lite early in the afternoon, McNairy projects the same Southern comfort as such Hollywood exiles as Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson—guys who have managed to succeed by doing things everyone told them wouldn’t work out.

Does McNairy have any concerns, then, that if Halt and Catch Fire proves a breakout hit, his cover as a lavender farmer will be blown? 

“That’s not going to happen,” he says. “I like being just below that top level of stardom, where you get to do the work but people don’t recognize you. The last thing I want is to go into town to get an oil change, and they’ll be like, ‘Don’t worry, it’s on us.’ F— that, I’m going to pay for my oil change.”

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