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Catching up with Scoot McNairy

The actor talks Halt and Catch Fire, Texas vs. California and more

When Halt and Catch Fire began, the technological drama set in 1980s Dallas appealed to actor Scoot McNairy because of the enormous potential he saw in his character Gordon Clark, a sort of mad genius who attempts to juggle family life with big, risky endeavors in business. Fans have since seen Gordon and the rest of the cast embark on numerous attempts at making a name for themselves in the early world of computing, and as the show enters season three, the characters have left a trail of salaciousness and computer code leading all the way to a much more familiar technology mecca than the Texas “Silicon Prairie” where the show began—Silicon Valley, California. 

While McNairy might not be very similar to the often turbulent Gordon, the two have undoubtedly been influenced by the two unique locales where the show is set. A Texas native, McNairy is a rare Hollywood figure who doesn’t live in Hollywood at all, but in Austin. Just ahead of Halt and Catch Fire’s two-hour season three premiere on AMC, he chats with DuJour about why he left Los Angeles, the one trait he shares with Gordon and what else is in store for him.

What initially appealed to you about Halt and Catch Fire?

The pilot episode told the story of a guy in a rut trying to reinvent himself (Joe McMillan) and a guy who has given up on himself and the people around him (Gordon Clark), both underdogs that want to be remembered in their field of business and in their realistic endeavors. It felt like these characters had a lot of room to grow.   

Were you aware of the role of Texas in the computer revolution before doing the show? 

Not really. Computers have never been an interesting topic for me and are still not today. The most I knew about the Silicon Prairie was the Texas Instruments building we would drive by on the way to school. 

Has being a native Texan helped you develop your character?

I’m sure it has. However, those pieces would be things in the subconscious. Gordon is originally from California. Just before starting the show my wife and I had moved from California back to Texas. So I had a year of being back in Austin before the show got picked up. So much of the tech industry is in Austin and that I found to be a big surprise.

Are there any similarities between you and Gordon Clark?

Some, but not really. I love to tinker in the garage. I have since I was really young, and still to this day, I stay up late in the night or through the night tinkering on things in the barn. Engines, fixing things. I love fixing old things or used things and getting them to work again. I don’t know why that gives me pleasure.

What do you do to get into character?

Honestly, I stare at the trees for a long time until something comes to me. I have so many ideas about character, and through a long process, so many of them get thrown out the door. But it mostly takes place when there are no distractions. Just quiet nature and wind blowing through the trees.

What can fans expect from Gordon Clark in season three?

Well again, I think it’s something the writers keep coming back to every season—Gordon trying to find his place in the computer world. He has a lot baggage he carries around with him. But this third season is so much about connecting and communicating.   

What made you decide it was the right time to leave Los Angeles?

A 12 year tour in LA will make you think about a lot of things. I never wanted to stay in LA, however I did fall in love with California—Big Sur, and the Sierra Nevada mountains. The beaches and the redwoods, and high desert fishing. It’s never the right time for anything. You just have to do it and figure it out. I grew up thinking dive in and learn how to swim later.

What’s next for you?

Working with Scott Frank in a western in Santa Fe called Godless. It’s been a project I have been longing for for quite some time.