M.C. Gainey’s path to success might be one of the most interesting stories ever told – and the talented character actor has loved every minute – even though he never prepared for it to happen.
“I didn’t intend to get into the business,” Gainey explained. “In high school I was a folk singer and did some school plays. After coming home from the army and going off to college, I was looking for something to do that I could actually enjoy doing and I happened on the theater department. It was a nice way to meet girls. It’s a different world – very sexy, very exciting compared to English Literature, Creative Writing or Political Science.”
Gainey would know about different worlds, as his first career wasn’t exactly the one you would expect.
“My stepfather owned a funeral home,” he said. “He was training me to be an undertaker, but I was unprepared. It wasn’t the right thing for me; I couldn’t stand the grief so it was a short-lived career – one that I never regret walking away from, that’s for sure.”
Gainey’s hasty exit from his first career was the world’s gain, as he has carved out a massive career as a character actor – enhanced by his love and knowledge of those who came before him.
“I admired character people like Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen and Thomas Mitchell,” he stated. “I looked at Thomas Mitchell in 1939-40 and the year he had where he played everything from Scarlet O’Hara’s dad in ‘Gone With the Wind’ to ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ and ‘The Long Voyage Home’ – he had so many great parts. I really admired the Irish character actors in the Hollywood studio system – it was like my first crush on things where I said, ‘Wow, this is a career I could have.’ In my mind, I hoped it would be like it was for those guys – where the studio hires you and you do 10-15 movies a year – but that was long gone by the time I got to Hollywood.”
Not missing when Gainey arrived was opportunity – and the talented actor got right to work, starring in a number of television shows and films, playing a variety of characters – from villains to the chauffeur for a youth hockey team.
“There wasn’t a whole lot for me to do in ‘The Mighty Ducks’”, he remembered. “In the beginning of the movie the character had some meaning, but once they became a team they didn’t need me to drive them around anymore. However, the studio used me in a lot of shots because the kids were growing so fast.”
Another growth Gainey saw first-hand was the rise of Philip Seymour Hoffman – with whom he worked on “Leap of Faith”. “I didn’t do much in that,” Gainey explained. “Hoffman’s talent blew me away; it was only his second movie and the first one hadn’t been released yet. He was ambitious and I was constantly trying to slow him down but he was right to be eager and impatient – because he has enormous talent. Anything you want to know about acting, he will know it. He’s a tremendous artist.”
Between “The Mighty Ducks” and “Leap of Faith” Gainey was most happy that he had back-to-back movies where he didn’t hurt anyone; it also prepared him for his role as Swamp Thing in the blockbuster “Con Air”.
“It was an amazingly unique experience,” Gainey exclaimed. “All the character guys I had been competing with and compete with to this day – all of a sudden we are all in the same movie. Danny Trejo, Nick Chinlund and Steve Buscemi were all great. Buscemi was a maniac. As opposed to being just a murderous thug, I thought this character could be something other than that. I never kill anybody. I never commit any acts of violence against anybody in that entire movie. I’m the guy who just loves to fly – so I just didn’t see any reason to be anything other than as happy as I could possibly be. He doesn’t care – he’s just flying the plane. There’s a joy to that that I tried to show. I was able to laugh and joke and not give a fuck. I was really inspired by Donald Sutherland’s character in ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ – he was offbeat and crazy and didn’t seem like he belonged in that movie because he was having so much fun. It was like someone in hell having a good time.”
Gainey’s previous film had not been as great an experience.
“’Con Air’ was a welcome change because I had just shot ‘Breakdown’ which was an amazingly unpleasant experience in several ways,” Gainey said. “I had to starve myself down to 225 pounds, I wore a long black shirt and dark clothes and it was a small cast so there wasn’t anybody to hang out with – no fun to be had.”