“Killing Them Softly” is a gangster movie with a political agenda — one that it isn’t too keen on hiding. The latest collaboration from the “Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” duo, Brad Pitt and writer-director Andrew Dominik, is an adaptation from a George V. Higgins novel about two low-lifes who make the unwise decision to rob a mob-funded card game — and the hitman tasked with taking them down.
For MTV’s Fall Movie Preview, we spoke with Scoot McNairy, an up-and-coming actor who has snagged roles in high-profile projects including “Argo” and “Twelve Years a Slave” and plays one of the thieves in “Killing Them Softly.”
MTV: Tell me a little bit about your character, Frankie.
Scoot McNairy: Me and Ben Mendelsohn play these two small-time crooks that just do small-time jobs. They’re hoodlums. They’re both junkies, but I’d say Ben’s character is much more of a junkie and a little bit more of a loose cannon than my character, Frankie. He’s gotten out of prison a couple months before the beginning of the movie. He went into prison at the height of the economy, five years earlier, and all of a sudden, he gets out and everything’s gone belly up. It opens up with him walking through this dilapidated world of everything completely changing. That’s the launching point for the film.
MTV: “Cogan’s Trade,” the book the movie is based on, was written in the 1970s. How does that mix with the modern setting?
McNairy: It’s definitely got a political backdrop in the book, and [Andrew Dominik] has obviously modernized it and brought it up to speed with the McCain-Obama times and the Bush administration and all that. In the book, it’s set in Boston. We made it in anywhere in industrial America. It’s not specific as to where we are. There’s an Australian in the movie with an Australian accent. I have a Boston accent. I think Brad’s got more of a Chicago accent. It’s a whole group of different people in this industrial world.
MTV: How big of a role does the economic crisis play in the events of the movie?
McNairy: It’s very, very subtly intertwined, meaning — I don’t want to spoil it, but I’ll give you a little example. When [my character and Ben Mendelsohn’s character] are robbing the poker game, in the background Bush is talking about the bailout plans. It’s how the politics of gangsters work is like the politics of America work. It’s more of a comedic element to it.
MTV: You have several scenes with Brad Pitt. What was it like working with him?
McNairy: It was awesome, man. He was great. Our characters are not supposed to have any chemistry. We don’t know each other in the film. I opted to not meet Brad going into the production. I said, “I don’t want to meet him. I don’t want to see him. I’ll meet him in the movie.” I wanted to take some of that energy, whether it be nervousness, and take so much of that character and put it in the scene. That scene in the trailer is when me and Brad meet for the first time. I didn’t have that much anxiety going into it. I just didn’t know what was going to happen.