A rangy, amiable performer with a knack for playing humorous Southern types, Ray McKinnon was a popular character actor in films and on television in the late 1990s and beyond, most notably in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000) and "Deadwood" (HBO, 2004-06). But he was also an accomplished writer and director whose debut project, "The Accountant" (2001), netted an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 2002. McKinnon balanced his acting roles with turns behind the camera as writer, director and/or producer on three indies, including the critically praised "That Evening Sun" (2009). His versatility made him one of the more accomplished under-the-radar talents of the modern independent scene.
Born on Nov. 15, 1957 in Adel, GA, McKinnon attended Valdosta State College in Valdosta and launched his acting career on the stages of Atlanta. His first feature and television credits were projects that filmed in his native state, including the hit "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989) and the TV movie "Murder in Mississippi" (NBC, 1990), which co-starred his future producing partner, actor Walton Goggins who would go on to fame himself as vogue cop Shane Vendrell on "The Shield" (FX, 2002-08). McKinnon's talent eventually brought him to Hollywood, where he was frequently employed in character roles, essaying all varieties of Southern men in major features like "Bugsy" (1991), "A Perfect World" (1993) and "Apollo 13" (1993), as well as on series like "Designing Women" (CBS, 1986-1993) where he portrayed the classless car salesman husband of Carlene (Jan Hooks). While working on "Needful Things" (1993), he met actress Lisa Blount, who would later become his personal and professional partner.
McKinnon's profile continued to rise in the late 1990s and early 2000s with prominent roles in projects like "Dead Man's Walk" (ABC, 1996), the prequel to "Lonesome Dove" (ABC, 1986), and the Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou" (2000), in which he played George Clooney's rival for the affections of wife Holly Hunter. The following year, McKinnon made his directorial debut with "The Accountant" (2001), a comedy short about a rough-hewn moneyman (McKinnon) who reveals the secrets of corporate America to a desperate farming family. With Goggins on board as co-star and co-producer (along with Blount), the film won the Academy Award for Best Live Short in 2002, and opened the door for additional directing projects.
McKinnon continued his steady flow of roles while preparing his feature debut in 2005; his features during this period including Ron Howard's Western thriller "The Missing" (2003), and he enjoyed a recurring dramatic role as H.W. Smith, a sympathetic reverend whose attempt to bring civility to the town of "Deadwood" (HBO, 2004-06) ends with a prolonged and agonizing death. In 2005, McKinnon made his feature directorial debut with "Chrystal" (2005), a moody drama about a marijuana farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) who returns to his wife (Blount) after a lengthy stint in prison. Though infrequently seen outside of arthouse circles, the film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
McKinnon, Goggins and Blount followed this up with "Randy and the Mob" (2007), a comedy about identical twins (both played by McKinnon) who attempt to extricate themselves from the attention of a mob "fixer" (Goggins). It too was a hit on the festival circuit, and won top prizes from the Slamdance and Nashville Film Festivals. In 2009, McKinnon and Goggins co-produced the critically acclaimed drama, "That Evening Sun" (2009), an emotionally charged drama about an aging farmer (Hal Holbrook) who returns to his family home, only to find it occupied by a poor family ruled by an abusive father (McKinnon). The cast, which included Goggins, received the Special Jury Award at the SXSW Film Festival in 2009, while McKinnon was individually honored with an Independent Spirit nomination. That same year, McKinnon also appeared in the feel-good hit, "The Blind Side," in which he played the football coach who helps a troubled teen realize his gridiron dreams. Along with Goggins, he capped off a stellar year by selling the pilot for a television series called "Rectify" to the American Movie Classics network, with Goggins and Blount in the lead roles.
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Made TV acting debut on "In the Heat of the Night" (NBC)
First film appearance, "Driving Miss Daisy"
First acted opposite Walton Goggins in the NBC TV movie "Murder in Mississippi"
Appeared in two episodes of "Designing Women" (CBS) as Carlene's (Jean Smart) ex-husband
Cast in "Needful Things," a film adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name; first collaboration with future wife Lisa Blount
Had a small role as a scientist in Ron Howard's "Apollo 13"
Played Holly Hunter's high-strung suitor in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Wrote and directed the Academy Award winning short film "The Accountant"; co-produced with wife Lisa Blount and Walton Goggins
Appeared in Ron Howard's Western thriller "The Missing"
Landed a recurring role as H.W. Smith, a sympathetic reverend, on the acclaimed HBO series "Deadwood"
Wrote and directed first feature film "Chrystal," which premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival; co-starred Billy Bob Thornton and wife Lisa Blount
Wrote, directed and played dual roles in "Randy and The Mob"; also co-starred Blount and Goggins
Appeared in the CBS miniseries "Comanche Moon"
Co-produced and co-starred in the critically acclaimed drama "That Evening Sun"
Nominated for the 2009 Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male ("That Evening Sun")
Played the high school football coach in "The Blind Side"
Joined the cast of the FX drama series "Sons of Anarchy"
Cast in the remake of "Footloose," based on the 1984 dance drama that starred Kevin Bacon
Created, wrote, and directed the series "Rectify"
Had a recurring guest role on "Fear the Walking Dead," opposite fellow "Deadwood" alum Kim Dickens
Appeared on an episode of "Law & Order: SVU"