Scoot McNairy on ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ Season 4 and Ending on Their Terms
One of my favorite shows on any channel is AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire. Over the course of its first three seasons, the fictional drama has followed a dynamic group of characters as they navigate the rise of the personal computer in the 1980s. Now about to enter its fourth and final season, the show has entered the 90s and with it the birth of the World Wide Web.
While the ratings on Halt and Catch Fire have never been what it deserved, that hasn’t stopped creators and showrunners Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers from producing a fantastic world with rich characters. Each year the show has consistently engaging storylines that center on both men and women and what it was like to live in that era. Alongside the great writing, the show has always had fantastic production design and direction. It’s one of those special shows that will only grow in stature over the course of time. I’m incredibly grateful AMC allowed this special series to run for four years and end on its own terms.
With the final season starting to air this Saturday night on AMC, I recently landed an exclusive interview with Scoot McNairy. He talked about being able to end on their terms, if he thought they’d get a 4th season at the end of season three, how much he tries to learn about the arc of the season, the amazing way they show the passage of time in the first episode of season four, and a lot more. In addition, McNairy also talked about making Jody Hill’s The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter alongside Danny McBride, Scott Frank’s western Godless (which airs next year on Netflix) and what he’d like to do next. Check out what he had to say below.
Over the past few years you’ve landed some high profile projects, do you now feel like you’ve sort of made it as an actor in Hollywood? Or do you still feel like you’re teetering where it could like still be taken away?
SCOOT McNAIRY: No. I really don’t follow myself, I don’t really follow the sort of accolades or the profession of this business. I really just sort of work, and worked on some really great projects and I would say more so, I’ve been really blessed with the projects that I’ve had the opportunity to work on. And I just try not to look backwards and I just try and look forwards. So, you know, I’ve had a really lucky career thus far. It took me a long time to get there. I’ve been doing this since I was 21. Almost 18 years. So as far as sticking around and continuing … I mean who knows. If it crashes and I don’t get work, then I’d be fine. I’m going to do something else. I’ve been a carpenter for a really long time, and I really enjoy that just as much as I enjoy what I do now.
When you were make Halt season three, did you feel like this was it or that you guys had a chance for a fourth season?
McNAIRY: We shot like this was it every season. We just never knew what our sort of numbers were for the network to pick us back up. Those numbers were always never really high numbers, so it was always a thought in the back of my head that this would be the last season. I think the creators can say the same thing, we were equally surprised each time that we were renewed, but incredibly grateful to the network for giving us more opportunities. And especially most grateful the fourth season, because it was our fourth and final, so that we could give closure to the characters and to the story.
I am a huge fan of the show. I was so over the moon when they announced the fourth season. I think I speak for all fans when I was shocked and super happy.
McNAIRY: I think the creators and the cast felt the exact same way. Every season they sort of left it up in the air and hanging. We just didn’t want to end on that note. And so, I’m thinking that they told us, “We’re going to give you one more season and this is going to be the last season.” The writers did an incredible job wrapping this story up with these characters.
When did you first hear that you guys would get to do a fourth season and not only that, that you’d get to make ten episodes. Because AMC could have easily said, “Hey, we’re going to give you a fourth season, but you got to wrap it up in five.”
McNAIRY: In regards to how that works, it’s more a network thing and a programming thing. I can’t recall the day. But I mean, it was enough time, about four or five months before we started back. So we got the word, and I don’t know how we could have wrapped it up in five episodes. But, they gave us the ten. And we took it and ran with it.
When the seasons began, did the Christophers’ like pull you aside and give you like an idea of where it’s all going? Or do you prefer reading it script by script?
McNAIRY: Around the end of Season 2, and all through Season 3, all the way through Season 4, they were incredibly transparent; they fed information to us that became in concrete. Not scripts, more so ideas of where they’re heading. A lot of shows, from what I hear, don’t do that. And so that was a huge benefit to the actors, to sort of have an idea of where the characters were headed. They could sort of get in the head space with that.I think when we started the show, they told us what was going to happen from episode one to six. And then right around episode four or five, they sort of start feeding you three episodes ahead. And eight or nine are going to do this, and you know, this was a huge benefit to know where you were going. I prefer to work that way over just getting the scripts and trying to figure it out day by day. It creates the certain sense of I don’t have time to prepare or do my best work. But unfortunately, those are sort of the circumstances of television.
I think one of my favorite bits of film making on the entire show is in the beginning of episode one of season four, where you guys show the passage of time. The way you film it is fantastic. What was your take when you got the script and what was it like to film that sequence?
McNAIRY: You know, the creators and the writers, I tip my hat off to the producers, as well as the filmmakers, and the directors that come on. They’ve done an incredible job at passing time and jumping through time and making it sort of seem seamless from before the episode and from episode to episode. That’s always been a thing that I’ve really been surprised by, how long they filmed that and how well they kind of architecture-d these scripts, and just making it seamless.
One of the things that I think is great, is that in the first three episodes, we see a different side of Gordon. He’s the one that’s running the business, he’s taking care of the kids. He’s also kind of babysitting Joe as he struggles with his own demons. Can you sort of talk about where Gordon is at in the beginning of season four and what you enjoyed about the writing?
McNAIRY: I think in a way, the sort of dynamics of the characters during the course of the decade… I wouldn’t say reversed, but sort of taking different positions. Glen’s sort of struggled from the beginning to find his way and find his face in the industry and in the world. And I think from Season 4, the beginning, when you pick up with him, you really find him in one of the last places that we’ve seen him throughout the run of the show. He’s running a company, all of his dreams have come true. The only thing that we’ve sort of lost or are searching for is what to do next. And you find him in a place, and he’s really happy where he is in his life. I think it’s similar to saying, when you finally get everything, you know, can you sit there and just be happy with what you wanted, or will you always be searching for more?
I think the idea of this season is a sense of search. You know, with the metaphor of the search engine, of people who can not stop searching regardless of them getting all of their dreams and their goals and accomplishing them, they continue to search for more and want more, which is the dynamic of humanity. It rings true over and over and over again.
Switching gears a little bit, I could not be more excited to see Jody Hill’s next movie, which you’re a part of. Can you sort of talk about meeting with Jody and what was it about the project that appealed to you?
McNAIRY: Sure, Jody Hill and Danny McBride and David Gordon Green are a incredibly talented group of guys that are constantly, you know, workhorses and popping out material. And it’s interesting, unique, and different than what a lot of people are doing. So, I had worked with, and am friends with David Gordon Green. Everybody that that guy works with is just great people. When I got a call from Jody to be a part of this film, and I had been wanting to work with Danny McBride, it was a smaller part. But I really wanted to hop on board because I really love being around these guys and working with these guys, just their method of working and how free it is. And I’m not sure when the film comes out, but, you know, I was really looking to sort of do something that was funny, just be a part of a comedic project.
Everything they do makes me laugh so hard. Is this another one of those projects where I’m going to be, you know, tears are going to be coming out of my eyes as I watch, or is it a little bit more serious?
McNAIRY: Everything they do has a sense of seriousness to it. But I think comedy is nothing but serious. Which makes it so funny, and I think these guys got a real handle on that and understand that really well. And anything Danny McBride is in, you know what I mean, he’s sort of unwatchable. You know it’s incredible how he can just make any words coming out of his mouth funny. And I think that’s a real talent that he has. This was really interesting to be a part of.
You know, I agree. Even when I’ve interviewed him, he’s just always funny.
McNAIRY: Yeah, one thing those guys have a grip on is they sort of, in a way, separated themselves from Hollywood. They’ve gotten out of the rat race of this business and sort of gone on their own and done what they wanted to do. And, I have a huge admiration and respect for that. So, yeah they’re a great group of people to work with and be involved with.
I spoke to some people that are involved a little bit in Godless, and everyone tells me that the scripts are great, the production design of the towns was incredible, it’s something that everyone should be looking forward to. Can you sort of talk about being a part of that project and what really impressed you about making it?
McNAIRY: Scott Frank is an incredible filmmaker, incredible person to be around, an incredible person to work with. I met with him and talked with him. I grew up in Texas, born and raised. And I’m a sixth generation cattle farmer. My great-great-grandfather ran a cattle farm in the 1880s in West Texas. There was some sense that I grew up watching Westerns my whole life. So, the jump at an opportunity to do a Western … I wanted to do a Western way before I wanted to even be an actor.
So when this opportunity came, obviously I jumped on it. But when I saw the script, I just felt incredibly lucky and incredibly blessed to not just be a part of a Western, but be a part of this Western. Because Scott’s writing, and the delicacy of him making you really feel for every character in the story no matter how big or small the role is, I was incredibly impressed with. The story is really great; it’s a film that raises women to a higher standard. I feel like it’s really a film about women and women’s strength, it’s a hostile environment and women surviving that. And I also thought that that’s something that hasn’t really hasn’t been done so predominantly in a film. And, to do it in a Western, I just really wanted to be a part of it and was really blessed to even have the opportunity to be a part of it.
I was just going to say that also, the cast he put together for the project is incredible. So, when you’re on set, and you’re working with such talented people, do you sort of feel like you have to pull on … like there’s more pressure on yourself or what is it like when you’re working with such an all star cast and all star filmmakers?
McNAIRY: You know, my experience with working with really great actors is you don’t have to act. All you have to do is listen. And, that’s sort of a virtue and a wonderful thing to be able to experience. It’s so much less work when you’re sitting across from Merritt Wever, and Jeff Daniels, and Jack O’Connell, and Michelle Dockery, they’re such phenomenal actors that you really just find yourself getting lost in their performances. And you find yourself just listening to them. That is sort the level of what I do and the love of the game is I think to get lost in other people’s work. And, they make that incredibly easy and incredibly enjoyable for myself.
What’s coming up for you in the future? Is there a genre that you really want to work in?
McNAIRY: I just like good stories, man. I like really interesting scripts, I love really great filmmakers. And, that genre sort of changes on day to day basis based on what I read and what I look at. And I’m open to all genres and all stories. But, there are certain ones that attract me, and I don’t really look at what I think is going to be successful, I look at: is this what I want to do regardless of what everybody else thinks?
I mean this sincerely…Halt and Catch Fire is one of my favorite shows on TV. It’s really a pleasure to talk to you today, and I’ve loved season four, what I’ve seen so far.
McNAIRY: Thanks, Steve. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me as well. And thank you so much for being a fan of the show, and writing about it.