A Nice Chat With Scoot McNairy About His Demanding ‘True Detective’ Role And His Righteous Mustache

Film/TV Editor

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The hugely anticipated third season of HBO’s True Detective will soon attempt to recapture first-season magic and overcome hurdles left in the second season’s wake. While the shadow of McConaughey and Harrelson still looms large, Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff will tackle a different mystery, and the anthology series leaves the LA-adjacent concrete jungle behind to tackle a horrific crime set in the Arkansas Ozarks. Within the decades-spanning story, Scoot McNairy plays a father who suffers an overwhelming loss that inextricably links him to the macabre case.

Of course, you’ve probably seen McNairy in a lot of things by now. Between his many TV credits (including Halt and Catch Fire, Fargo, and Godless) and roles in notable films (Argo, 12 Years A Slave, Gone Girl), the native Texan’s career continues to hit new heights. This year should be a defining one for him with a leading return in Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood also on tap. Yet McNairy still found time to talk with us about why True Detective was a particularly challenging experience for him. He was also an excellent sport about fielding multiple mustache questions.

Let’s start with me admitting that I’ve seen the five episodes that have been released to the press, but I can’t even begin to guess where your character ends up.

Well, let me just tell you the end of the show real quick.

Obviously, we have to avoid spoilers, so what’s it like to maneuver around a project that’s so shrouded in secrecy?

For me, since I’m familiar with what happens, obviously the show is highly anticipated, so I’m just excited for it to come out and see how it’s all put together. It will be a fresh sort-of watch for me as well, as I wasn’t involved in the other storylines and whatnot, so yeah, I’m very excited.

Season one was, many believe, one of the greatest seasons of TV ever released. It’s fair to say that folks had mixed reactions to season 2. Did you personally feel the pressure for a return to form?

Personally, no, I didn’t. I thought that season one was an incredible piece of television, and season two had its struggles, but for me, it’s a whole new story, whole new characters. It’s True Detective season three, but to me, they all feel like seasons that set themselves apart from each other, being that they’re different stories.

Your character’s tasked with a huge emotional burden. One would hope that no one could personally relate to his plight, so how did you climb inside Tom Purcell’s head?

It was tough, I won’t lie to you. I’ll just be honest with you — this role was really, really hard for me, and it’s something that I sort of tried to find the enjoyment in playing, but the burden and this weight that I carried with me throughout this shoot was really … well, I was relieved to finish the job. I have kids and pretty much just started there: “What if you took my kids away from me, and what would that feel like?” And my family did not travel with me [to Arkansas] for this job, so being away from them was where I started. From multiple conversations with [writer] Nic Pizzolatto, we fleshed out the characters and the ins-and-outs, but it was a tough character to sit with when you go home from work.

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