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McNairy: ‘Softly’ star gets chance to shine

10 Actors to Watch 2012: Scoot McNairy

To land the role of Frankie in TWC’s fall mob pic “Killing Them Softly,” Scoot McNairy got some help from a persistent illness to pull off the croaking two-bit gangster.

“I wanted Frankie to sound like he was sick, very malnourished and unhealthy. I kind of found the voice because I had the flu the first time I went in to read for (director Andrew Dominik) and the second time I came in to read I had a cold from being in Utah. Those two things just worked to my advantage,” says McNairy, who stars with Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins in the pic.

With the hope of guiding his first-impression jitters into a tense onscreen pas de deux, McNairy elected not to run lines with Pitt before they meet onscreen. In the film, Pitt’s character uses naive Frankie to pull off a series of bounty hits as penance for ripping off a criminal poker game.

“There needed to absolutely be no chemistry with me and Brad, so that is why I decided not to meet him,” he says. “I wanted to take the nervous energy you have meeting someone for the first time. You have to take that newness and incorporate it into the scene.”

McNairy will reunite with Pitt in Steve McQueen’s period drama “Twelve Years a Slave” and can be seen alongside Ben Affleck in the actor-director’s “Argo,” which received strong reviews when it unspooled at the Toronto Film Festival.

The thesp first came to Hollywood to become a cinematographer but found acting roles instead.

After studios initially passed him over, McNairy stepped into producing to land meatier roles, subsequently starring in and producing the L.A.-set indie “In Search of a Midnight Kiss.”

The multihyphenate is currently writing and developing a Southern-themed pic as a vehicle to star in and direct. He describes the project as a cross between “Winter’s Bone” and “Midnight Cowboy.”

He is also producing two films, a feature based on doc “Frank and Cindy” and a follow-up to his turn as Andrew Kaulder in “Monsters.”

Lucky break: “It was a slow break over the course of 10 years. I don’t think it’s about one job or anything. It’s just persistence. I can’t tell you how many times people said, ‘No,’ ‘Get out of my office, ‘You’re awful’ or ‘You shouldn’t be doing this.'”

Career I would like to emulate: Gary Oldman. “He’s had such a great career, especially in the last five years. He is a good friend of mine as well.”

Favorite Film: “Everything from ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ to Michael Mann’s ‘Heat.'”