Scoot McNairy, who plays Gordon Clark on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, talks about how he prepared for his role and how the show brought him back to his childhood.
Q: You’re like a different person with Gordon’s beard. Is that real?
A: Yup! It took about a month to grow out.
Q: Gordon Clark is an engineer. How much did you know about the profession beforehand?
A: Not too much. I wasn’t too knowledgeable about computers in general, but the story and the role got me to learn more about it and do some research. I interviewed some engineers just to see what their quirks were, so I could ground my character. They gave me some insight about other engineers that they worked with and how they were. So, I took some elements of that and muddled them all together to bring Gordon alive. The writers are incredibly talented in the scripts that they gave us. When you get good material, all you have to do is say the lines.
Q: Did you have to do any research about the rise of the PC to prepare for your role?
A: I read the Steve Jobs biography that Walter Isaacson wrote, which was incredible. It talks about that time period and how things used to be in terms of what we use today. It’s a really, really good book.
Q: You have to handle a lot of computer props, like parts, etc. Were those actual old computers?
A: Even if some of the parts weren’t working, they are the actual machine and things used to build computers, back in that time. Everything there was how it was done.
Q: We’re first introduced to Gordon Clark, who’s drunk and getting out of jail. What were you expecting of your character’s story arc when you first read that in the script? Does where Gordon actually ends up surprise you?
A: Absolutely – his arc and his turn – every time I got a new episode, it got more and more exciting. I just wanted him to go somewhere and there’s a definite arc to his character.
Q: You’re originally from Dallas, Texas where the show takes place. Did you feel at home?
A: For sure. Being in the Clark house brought back so many childhood memories. There were so many things in there that my parents had and that we had in our house when we were kids. It was like a time warp. Also, I have two kids of my own, so a part of me felt like my Dad during the show when I was at home.
Q: Gordon is referred to as a “misunderstood genius.” Do you agree?
A: Well, if you ask Gordon the character, no. [Laughs] But Gordon is a genius, no doubt.
Q: Both you and Kerry Bishé appeared in Argo. Were you surprised to see her again on the Halt and Catch Fire set?
A: I had a great time working with her on Argo. I was really excited to see her and to work with her again, on another show, and to play her husband.
Q: Your filmography is a mix of both television and movie credits. Do you have a preference?
A: Not necessarily. I think that each one is completely different and challenging and a different format of media. This is my first [full] TV series so it was definitely a learning process for me. In the end, I think that I just enjoyed the work.
Q: You’ve done quite a bit of producing, as well as acting. What’s the biggest difference for you between acting onscreen and taking on a behind-the-scenes role?
A: There’s a lot of problem solving, more so, as a whole, when producing and for the production. That’s one thing that interests me about producing. As an actor, I think there is a lot of problem-solving, internally, that you do for yourself.