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Small roles add up for former atlantan Ray McKinnon

Conyers native Holly Hunter isn't the only Georgian in the ensemble of the new Coen brothers comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou? Ray McKinnon, who was born and raised in the small south Georgia town of Adel and who trained on the stages of several Atlanta theater companies before embarking on an increasingly impressive career as a movie character actor, is very appropriately cast as Hunter's drippy fiancé in the film, a Southern-fried revamping of Homer's The Odyssey.

Back in the 1930s, when this version of the story takes place, the part might've been played by someone like Ralph Bellamy, the obligatory third wheel in movies about the relationship between bigger stars like Irene Dunne and Cary Grant -- or, in McKinnon's case, between Hunter and George Clooney (as her first husband, whom she divorced while he was in prison). It isn't a terribly lengthy role and, however purposefully, it borders on being stock caricature, but McKinnon is a veritable veteran at making the most of whatever he has to work with.

"Especially in the context of a farce like this, except for two or three leading characters, most of the others have to be drawn rather quickly and in very broad strokes. It's a little frustrating. You're in and out of the story like that, so there isn't much time to add a lot of color or texture to your character, because the audience isn't going to get to know you very well, anyway," McKinnon explains with a shrug during a recent interview in Los Angeles.

Besides, the actor insists, the so-called "pros" far outnumbered that singular "con." For one thing, "I've been in awe of the Coen brothers ever since I saw Blood Simple, and it was incredibly rewarding to feel like I'd been granted a temporary membership in this exclusive repertory company of theirs," he says.

The icing on the cake was filming a memorable fisticuffs sequence in which he punches out Clooney. "That was fun," McKinnon admits with a grin. "I just psyched myself up by thinking about his salary per day compared to mine."

McKinnon may have a point, but he isn't doing too shabbily himself, really. The 41-year-old actor moved to Atlanta in the mid-'80s, after graduating from Valdosta State College and enrolling in the Alliance Theatre's acting internship program. For the next few years, he honed his skills on the local stage. He cites among his personal highlights Life and Limb at Horizon (co-artistic directors Jeff and Lisa Adler were "the first people in town to let me do something other than play the third goofy guy from the left") and The Nerd at Theatre in the Square (which brought that "goofy guy" front and center in one of his best showcases).

Occasional guest-spots followed on TV shows such as "Matlock" and "In the Heat of the Night," where McKinnon, playing a redneck drug dealer, uttered his "all-time favorite" line of dialogue: "We're gonna make Sparta a one-crackhouse town!" When he landed a full-fledged supporting role alongside Dennis Hopper, Barbara Hershey and Ed Harris in the cable movie Paris Trout, McKinnon knew it was time to test the waters out in L.A.

Since relocating from Atlanta some 10 years ago, he has found steady work in a string of films. On his very first audition, he landed a small part opposite Warren Beatty and Annette Bening in Bugsy, which led to more sizable roles as Richard Gere's lawyer in Sommersby, as Walter Matthau's son in The Grass Harp, and as one of the control-room technicians in Apollo 13. He was Sandra Bullock's ill-fated co-worker in The Net, and Ed Harris' gullible deputy in Needful Things (during the making of which McKinnon met and married his wife, actress Lisa Blount of An Officer and a Gentleman fame).

Most recently, McKinnon had one of his best roles to date as a fellow cop and Bible-thumping sparring partner to Ellen DeGeneres in the noirish 1999 thriller Goodbye, Lover. That the film died a quick and quiet death at the box-office was unfortunate. "I was really hoping that would be the one to bring me up to another level, where maybe I could be in contention for some bigger and better roles," he admits. "Thankfully, I only put 11 of my eggs into that one basket."

Indeed, McKinnon has another egg up his sleeve, as it were: He has written, produced, directed and starred in his own short film, "The Accountant," which was recently selected for inclusion in this year's Slam Dance festival (one of only 30 shorts accepted from more than 1,500 submissions). He says he hopes the exposure might help land him a deal to make his own feature-length movie.

Shot last fall in and around Covington, "The Accountant" also features a couple of McKinnon's best friends, former Atlanta-based actors Eddie King and Walt Goggins. "It's about two brothers trying to save the family farm, and about the mysterious stranger who shows up with some unusual accounting measures," McKinnon notes with another smile. "That would be me."

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Recent Comments

  • Re: Fresh air

    • Local band Manchester Orchestra, who provided the soundtrack, probably would have appreciated a shout-out.

    • on June 29, 2016
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