Here’s a great article about MC Gainey: often seen in the company of hot babes and motorcuycles at JazzFest. He told me it was the best part of his job.
For ubiquitous character actor M.C. Gainey — most recently seen in the New Orleans-shot films “Django Unchained,” currently in theaters, and “Stolen,” landing Tuesday (Jan. 8) on DVD — it all started with a dream to live in the French Quarter. Plus a bit a part in a Charles Bronson movie. And a fortuitous wager on a Muhammed Ali fight — but all that’s getting a little ahead of the story.
It all really started with that French Quarter dream, which Gainey had harbored long before growing into a gravel-voiced grizzly of a man. In fact, that dream first came to him back when he was just grizzly of a kid coming up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and it’s one he took with him when he later moved to Jackson and then Tylertown, Miss.
So when, after a stint in the Army, he moved into an apartment above the Petit Soldier shop on Royal Street, he figured he had arrived. Turns out, his journey was only beginning.
Fast-forward 35 years, and Gainey — despite an affable nature, a booming laugh and a very New Orleans affinity for kicking back and relaxifying — has become one of Hollywood’s go-to bad-guys. A character actor with a memorable scowl and an imposing 6-foot-2 frame, he has played assorted scumbags and sociopaths in everything from the 1997 action film “Con Air” (as a character named “Swamp Thing”) to a biker-type who bares it all in a memorable scene in the 2004 indie drama “Sideways” to the menacing “Mr. Friendly” in the hit ABC-TV series “Lost.”
“Bikers, cowboys and convicts are my spe-ci-ality,” he said in spring 2011, grinning, leaning back and testing the strength of the folding chair in his trailer on the New Orleans set of action film “Stolen,” which shot under the working title “Medallion.” He adds: “Just an honest face and a pleasant personality.”
Stumbling into a career
To that extent, Gainey’s two most recent roles fit in nicely beside most of his others. “Stolen,” directed by Simon West (“The Mechanic,” “The Expendables 2”), stars Nicolas Cage as a double-crossed bank robber and Gainey as one of his gang. In writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s “Django,” he plays someone even more despicable — a whip-happy slave overseer whose cruelty invites the unchained wrath of Jamie Foxx’s title character.
And it all started, he said, when — within a few months of his move to Royal Street on the July 4th weekend of 1974 — the Charles Bronson movie “Hard Times” began shooting in town.
“I had been acting in college and really had been obsessed with acting,” Gainey said, “and I thought, ‘Well, this would be a good a chance to see how it’s done in the movies.'”
So he applied for — and landed — a gig as an extra. He parlayed that into an extended stint as a stand-in for the film, where he struck up a friendship with actor Strother Martin, who was co-starring with Bronson (and who had already become famous for his unforgettable line as the warden in “Cool Hand Luke”: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”)
“He took me under his wing,” Gainey said, “and he told me, ‘Son, you’ve got to go to California if you want to be in the movie business. You’re never going to get anything going in New Orleans.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ I did what I needed to do — I raised the money to go to California. Mainly, I bet every dime I had and every dime my girlfriend had on the Ali-Foreman fight. … I won, like, four or five thousand dollars, which was like all the money in the world to me — and moved to California.”
Specifically, he went to San Francisco, where he studied at the American Conservatory Theater — building on what he had learned as a theater student at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, and building an impressive list of stage credits in the process.
Typecasting would quickly follow.
“I went to Hollywood,” Gainey recalled, “and I presented my list of theatrical credits, and they said ‘Oh, you’ve done some of the greatest roles in the English-speaking theater. Give him a gun.’ They took one look at me, and just like the police always had, they made me right away. And thank God they did.”
New Orleans state of mind
The resulting career has kept Gainey fat and happy, and although it plucked him from his Royal Street dream only six months after his arrival, it also gives him the financial security — and the scheduling flexibility — to come back and visit New Orleans often. As an enormous fan of local music, he does so often. So much so, that he can be considered a full-on New Orleanian, despite his Mississippi upbringing.
HE SAID IT
In addition to being a terrific character actor, the affable M.C. Gainey is also a quote machine. Here is a collection of too-good-to-go-unpublished snippets from our recent chat on the New Orleans set of the action film “Stolen”:
On whether people recognize him from his nude scene in “Sideways”: “No, strangely enough, a lot of people didn’t look at my face in ‘Sideways.’ And it’s always funny: Men recognize me from it, but I have yet to have a woman say, ‘Weren’t you in “Sideways”?’ – at least not while I have my clothes on. … That was a wonderful experience, but I’ll never do that again – nor is there a clamor for me to do it again.”
On his first real acting gig in New Orleans: “The first thing was in ’88, I did a pilot for a CBS TV series called ‘Elysian Fields.’ … It was so good and so nuanced and so brilliant that the network executives at CBS said ‘forget it’ and threw it away.
On what draws him back to New Orleans: “Music. It’s all about listening to music. Music, music, music. And eating. Irene’s is probably my favorite, my personal preference of where I like to at more than anything else. And I just love music, man.”
On the crime thriller “Stolen,” which he shot in town under the working title “Medallion”: “It’s a complicated, lurid tale of violence and betrayal, and I think its going to be really good.”
On his secret to staying steadily employed in Hollywood for 30 years: “Look at me! I’m a bank robber! I’m clearly a criminal! … I just have one of those faces. My wife always says I can’t cash a good check.”
After all, how can you not bestow honory citizenship on a person who worked on a natural-gas pipeline in Houma back in 1965 (“Every shovel, you had to kick it off. It sticks to the shovel like gumbo. … I’m still shoveling it in a way.”); who walked in Ernie K-Doe‘s funeral procession in 2001. (“It was so hot, I got about halfway through it and I threw up in the bushes over on the boulevard over there. My head was spinning around. I thought, ‘Man, I want to crawl up in there with Ernie.'”); and who was married on the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival grounds in 2002.
And it’s Jazzfest as much as anything that brings him back to the city, with 50 or so of his friends — calling themselves the “Krewe of Maggie” (long, sordid story) — converging in front of the Gentilly Stage nearly every year to soak in the sunshine, shake their tail feathers and drink anything liquid.
In fact, when Gainey received the offer to appear in “Stolen,” he realized it would bring him to town for the 2011 Jazzfest and so he jumped on the chance.
“I always tell people, if you just come (to Jazzfest) and you just wander around, you’re going to hear things you’ve never heard before and see things you’ve never seen before, eat things you’ve never eaten before,” he said.
“And at the end of the day when New Orleans’ finest come in and force you to leave the Fairgrounds, you walk out and there’s not a bigger thrill in America to be had, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve played craps in Las Vegas and marched in parades in New York. There is not a bigger thrill in this country than being the last one off the Fairgrounds at the end of the day. You’ve got that one crawfish bread tucked away in one pocket. If you’re lucky enough you’ve got that key lime pie stashed away, and you go off and it’s just like you just ooze back into the city.
“It’s a wild narcotic of the soul for me, man. It’s a beautiful thing.”