Scoot McNairy can’t be stopped when it comes to prestige television. Add the 1980s and a mustache to the mix, and the native Texan is there like no other contemporary actor. Recently, Scoot’s small-screen presence included a difficult True Detective role for HBO, and then he popped over to Tarantinoland for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Now he’s back on TV with Narcos: Mexico‘s second season on Netflix after narrating the spinoff’s inaugural year, for which he materialized onscreen during the season’s final moments as dogged DEA agent Walt Breslin.
No one who knows Scoot’s work will be surprised to see him own another 1980s project after Halt and Catch Fire and True Detective, and of course, he’s made splendid TV turns in other eras for Godless and Fargo. With Narcos: Mexico, however, Scoot rejoins an even more intoxicating version of the original series, and he’s doing the head-to-head thing with Diego Luna’s drug lord, Félix Gallardo. It’s a story that history tells us won’t have a happy ending, or an ending at all. We see the drug war truly begin as Breslin fronts Operation Leyenda in the wake of fellow DEA agent Kiki Camerena’s murder.
Obviously, the role’s a heavy one to portray, but Scoot was gracious enough to have a (mostly) lighthearted talk with us about his Narcos: Mexico experience. He also continues to be a champ while fielding ridiculous questions about his mustache.
Scoot McNairy: Hey Kimberly, this is …. Scoot.
Oh hey, Scoot. It’s strange to not hear a PR person right now.
I’m an independent dude and doing it all by myself today.
Well, I think last time we talked, I dug too deep into the mustache talk with you.
Ah yesssss. [Laughs] I do remember!
You seemed really excited about the prospect of getting rid of the thing, so let’s get this out of the way. Am I … talking to a mustache-less Scoot right now?
Um yes, you are.
Do you … feel like a different person? You’re known for having a mustache.
No, I don’t really. I think my kids give it a lot more thought than I do. They’re little youngsters, and they love playing with dad’s mustache.
When we discussed True Detective last year, you mentioned that you were working on another 1980s project. That was Narcos: Mexico, right?
That’s correct, oh yeah.
You’ve been very open about being grateful about all your roles and working your ass off, but do you ever think you’ll have enough of the 1980s?
Yeah, for sure. I think as an artist or an actor, you’re always looking to dive into different things, different challenges, so you know, this particular project, well, I’m a fan of the show, so I’ve been following it since its birth. And so 1980s or not, I have a really strong familiarities with the ’80s, since I’ve done so many projects from that era, but yeah, I have a couple of things that I’ve worked on in the last six months or so that sort of allow me to get away from that sort-of genre, that era.
Your character here, DEA agent Walt Breslin, is technically fictional, but he’s a composite drawn from multiple real-life agents. Your portrayal made him seem real, so how did you go about piecing him together?
Well, Operation Leyenda was real, and they did send a task force down there to do some illegal things. It’s something that’s sort-of buried inside the U.S. government. Yeah, they had the ability to go down there and sort-of break the law and do what they’d seen fit, so U.S. intel did not want to know anything about what they were doing. Because if they didn’t know then they couldn’t be responsible for it, and I think they really wanted to be able to point the finger at something in case someone did get caught. So that being said, it’s really unclear what Operation Leyenda was doing, that information isn’t really available. Well, it is, but the writers had to do an intensive amount of research for this thing, so any questions about the time period or these things, they’d have a book to refer you to or a long conversation to educate you.
So during Season 3, when I heard your narration, I found it to be Murphy-esque, but in Season 4, god, Walt has many more layers. Without spoiling, how did you feel about him having a dual motivation beyond justice for Kiki?
I think that’s probably one of the things that gets into Walt’s way. His professional agenda sort-of gets muddied with the personal one, and inevitably, I think that’s what gets Walt into trouble at times. He has nobody regulating him, and on top of that, he’s a type of damaged individual that doesn’t really acknowledge that personally. There’s a lot of damage, and he’s not dealing with it.
His personality stayed ambiguous for a few episodes, but it grew apparent that Walt has a sense of honor, and it’s important for him to keep his word.
He’s from Texas, and I’m from Texas. That’s just kind of a rule of thought, you know, a lot of people from Texas do handshake deals. I later learned when I moved away from there that those don’t exist elsewhere.
[Laughs] That’s sadly true.
One of the things I loved about growing up in Texas is that if you said you’d do something, you do it, and your word was your word. So that was just something that was unintentional that happened with Walt. Just being that the character was from Texas, and I grew up that way as well.
In terms of authenticity, did you speak with any real-life DEA agents?
I met with the DEA agents in Los Angeles, as well as James Kuykendall. I went and visited him down near the border, outside of Laredo [Texas]. But at the same time, the agents in Los Angeles are talking about times that are now, and this was thirty years ago, so what was more beneficial to me was James Kuykendal, played by Matt Letscher. He had a lot of information because he was actually the overseeing officer to Kiki Camerena and was there during that time. So his viewpoints were more educational because they were based upon his time in the DEA, twenty and thirty years ago.
I imagine there was far more friction between the DEA and the FBI and other federal agencies back then.
The DEA wasn’t really acknowledged as a legitimate agency by the other agencies during that time period. There were much smaller agencies that didn’t really have much credibility or jurisdiction. It is around this time that this season comes out that the DEA really started to birth. You know what I mean? After Kiki Camerena’s execution, well, in a way, that kind-of put the DEA on the map.
Well, you’ve portrayed a lot of stressful roles lately.
Tell me about it.
True Detective was a really hard role for you. This, I imagine, was just as difficult. With those other projects you mentioned previously, do you get to step out and do something lighthearted?
Yeah! Absolutely, I worked with Anna Kendrick on a really great show, and she was really fantastic. And I feel like that’s a little bit lighter and a little bit comedic, which is something that I haven’t really done. So we’ll see how that plays out.
You had a couple moments in Narcos: Mexico where you got to sing, though, at the end of Season 3 and for a few moments in Season 4. I had a little hope there. Do you consider yourself a singer?
Hellll no. You know that from watching me on camera that I’m not a singer!
And, of course, I couldn’t help asking about it.
That being said, I do, like everyone does when they’re in their car and whether they’re good or not. But I believe that I don’t have any musical talent in my body.
So if I was to drive by you and see you singing, what would it be?
Oh, whatever’s on the radio. If I know the lyrics, I’d be belting it out.
There’s some good music in this season, despite the heaviness. Do you have any ’80s bands on your playlist?
Hmmmm, I listen to a lot of classic rock. A lot of Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, that’s still in my wheelhouse. There’s a lot of things from that period that I listen to. I think Led Zeppelin an earlier era, but they were still very predominant for me in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That’s pretty much all I was listening to then.
We’re running this piece after Oscar weekend, but with Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, how do you feel about adding to your Oscar movies list after Argo and 12 Years A Slave?
It’s a fantastic piece of work. I thought Tarantino was incredible, and fingers crossed that they get the accolades that are coming to them. But I’ve never been to an awards show and tend to really get more excited about working on stuff than the aftermath of the project.
I only have one more question for you, mostly because I once fell down a rabbit hole of watching your old commercials.
Oh, amazing! The good old days.
Especially that Nestle ad, which was incredibly bizarre. If you went back to doing ads, who would you most want to do an commercial for?
I’d love to be the spokesperson for NASCAR. I would do a full-on campaign for them, Bass Pro Shop, Red Wing Boots, BMW motorcycles, obviously you’d be jonesing to advertise for things you enjoy. I’m a big fisherman, and I love motorcycles, so anything in regards to advertising from them? Please, call me.
Well, you got to yell, “Tilapia!” at the end of Season 3, so that must have excited the fisherman in you.
Netflix’s second season of ‘Narcos: Mexico’ streams on February 13.