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Going Underwater with Scoot McNairy

The Black Sea star on the ups and downs of life in a submarine

In Black Sea, the new thriller from director Kevin Macdonald (Touching The VoidThe Last King of Scotland), a group of British divers—led by Jude Law’s Captain Robinson—and a gang of Russian crooks find themselves shoved cheek by jowl into an aging submarine in an attempt to collect a treasure that’s been forgotten at the bottom of the ocean. Things, as you can imagine, don’t quite go as planned. 

In his role as the resident company man protecting the interests of the sub’s financiers, Scoot McNairy plays the odd man out. His Mr. Daniels doesn’t fit in with either part of the crew and, as the boat sinks and tensions rise, his presence on board becomes increasingly problematic. Here, McNairy dishes on filming in a submarine, staying friendly with costars and just when he’ll be getting back in the water. 

There’s something about a caper on a submarine that feels familiar but still exciting for me as a viewer. Is there a similar feeling for you as an actor? 

What I found was a fascinating element to it was that it was a thriller with claustrophobia—there is no way out of that vessel. And so that was something I thought: What would happen if people turned on each other? That was the one element about it that really excited me, you know? This thriller that took place in the depth of the sea with that real feeling that there is no way out. 

Scoot McNairy

Scoot McNairy

Was turning on one another a possibility? 

Luckily, the cast was incredible and everybody was great because it was really tight, confined spaces.  We shot about two weeks of it on an actual Russian submarine that’s sitting about 40 or 50 miles outside of London. We shot a lot of the stuff in there and then they built a replica of the submarine that was just a hair larger. I think all in all it was about two feet larger just so we could get the camera in there, and then we worked in a water tank there as well.

A real submarine! What did you learn spending two weeks on one of those? 

That I never in my life want to be a submariner.  I mean, in the actual one we were on, two people couldn’t even pass each other, and it blew my mind that people lived on these things four, five, six months. They’d get back to the port and all they did was drink.

I was going to ask how you guys blew off steam…

I mean, you put 10 guys in a room with Russians and stuff happens… I’m kidding. We had a good time. You spend so much time together, all day, in those confined spaces, but we still managed to find time to grab dinner together afterwards. 

On camera, things were a bit more complicated. This story twists and turns throughout the film.

Just when you think something is fixed, another problem occurs, and there’s another hurdle for us to overcome. The script changed a little bit from the first draft, but each time the rewrites came in, it just kept getting better and better, with so many more turns and twists.  You know, it was fun playing both sides of that character as well.  

What is it about him appealed to you because he’s not necessarily the most likable guy?

I kind of labeled him as somebody who was a fish out of water. I was playing this character that’s not like any other guys he’s with; he doesn’t really fit into his environment, so the role was attractive to me because it felt like something I hadn’t done before. It was something that I felt I could sink my teeth into and have a good time with. 

You’re not going to be getting back on a submarine any time soon?

I don’t think so! Much less a boat, or much less the ocean! You know, put me on land, or put me on the mountains, but keep me away from the water—unless you give me a surfboard.