Interview with John C. McGinley
In Hollywood, finding a successful balance in one's life is often as achievable
as the proverbial herding of cats. And yet, may we present to you John
C. McGinley. An actor who has watched his success rise over the past 20
years, McGinley has secured roles in 50 feature films, just co-starred
in a number one hit movie and has one of the most coveted roles in comedy
television. He plays softball, surfs practically everyday and is the spokesperson
for the National Down Syndrome Society. He is completely committed toand
passionately enthralled withhis son Max. At the age of 43, McGinley's
life is, as he would state, incredibly symmetrical.
Born in Greenwich Village, New York, McGinley's love for acting began
as an undergraduate at New York University. In 1984, he received a master
of fine arts degree from the prestigious New York University Theater Program.
McGinley's first big break in theater came when he took over the role
played by actor John Turturro in the Circle-in-the-Square's Danny and
the Deep Blue Sea. He went on to perform in numerous theatrical productions,
including Requiem for a Heavyweight on Broadway as well as Ballad of Soapy
Smith and Talk Radio at Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival.
McGinley has also had an impressive career in film while portraying a
diverse range of characters. His feature films include The Animal, Any
Given Sunday, The Rock, Nothing to Lose, Set It Off, Seven, Office Space,
Wall Street and Platoon. Most recently, McGinley co-starred opposite John
Cusack and Ray Liotta in the psychological thriller Identity, and appeared
in the comedy Stealing Harvard and in the feature Crazy as Hell, directed
by Eriq La Salle. McGinley also served as producer on a number of films
including Colin Fitz and Watch It. On television, McGinley starred in
two Dean Koontz miniseries, Intensity and Sole Survivor. He also starred
in and produced the television movie The Jack Bull. Currently, McGinley
is relishing his chance to portray the gruff, worldly Dr. Perry Cox on
the hit NBC comedy Scrubs.
Away from the set, McGinley spends a lot of time with Max, who has Down
syndrome, and he is actively involved in fund-raising activities for the
National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). As the 2002/2003 national spokesperson
for the Buddy Walk, an advocacy walk organized by the NDSS, McGinley is
lending his time and efforts to help raise awareness, funds and support
for families of children with Down syndrome. ABILITY Magazine's Chet Cooper
and Romney Snyder recently sat down with McGinley at his Los Angeles home.
During the interview, McGinley shares his personal experiences of 9/11,
the hilarity of his life as Dr. Perry Cox and his very personal experiences
of raising a child with Down syndrome.
Chet Cooper: Thank you for inviting us into your home. I was just admiring
your coffee table. I used to have a similar one, but it seemed to attract
John C. McGinley: Thanks, I sanded it by hand. One wordcoasters!
Romney Snyder: Are you a native Californian?
JM: I was born in New York and raised in New Jersey.
CC: What part of New Jersey?
JM: Short Hills, which is a beautiful suburb of New York. Unfortunately
it was eviscerated by 9/11, as most of the suburban towns in New Jersey
were. My brother, Mark, was on the 65th floor of the second tower and
somehow got out. That day, we were shooting our second episode of Scrubs.
The commute to the hospital from here is almost an hour, I left around
5:00 am, which was actually 8:00 back east, so I listened to most of it
on the radio. When I got to work, the buildings had started to fall. It
was mind boggling.
CC: It was completely surreal.
JM: The phones obviously didn't work since the communication towers were
on the top of the two towers and all the power had gone out. I couldn't
get a hold of anybody in New York for about two hours. I didn't know what
happened to my brother. I was bracing forŠ it looked like everybody was
dead. If you were in those towers, it pretty much looked like you didn't
make it. Mark somehow got out. Sixty-five flights he walked down. He's
a bond trader and his whole trading desk got upa lot of them had
been there years earlier when the bomb went off in the basement. From
the speakers they were hearing, "You're in a safe building." Fortunately,
they didn't wait. I guess there were 17 minutes between when their building
got hit and the first one got hit. In the intervening 17 minutes they
made it down about 20 flights before their building was hit. That would
put them on the 45th floor or so. Then it took them about an hour to get
the rest of the way down, which is unimaginable to me. It would seem you
could do a flight of stairs every 15-30 seconds, right? It took them almost
an hour. He got out and made it to midtown, and that's when I talked to
CC: The entire time you were at work waiting to hear from your brother?
JM: When I got to the hospital, I went through hair and make-up and then
sat in my room. Work was cancelled and I just watched. I was on the cell
phone with one ear and a landline on the other, just maniacally pressing
redial. I couldn't get anybody on the phone. In this case, we have a lot
to be thankful for; my brother made it out.
RS: What an amazing story.
CC: Well... alright. Thanks. We'll see you later! (everyone laughs) JM:
It's a pretty unbelievable story! [John C.'s dog, Hudson, stretches out
across the feet of Chet Cooper.]
JM: As soon as Hudson bothers you, tell me. We are looking to have him
gutted and stuffed. We'd like to put him on the mantel but...(laughs)
CC: Taxidermy on the side? Speaking of your other day job, what can you
tell us about working on "Scrubs"?
JM: Well, we get to ride the coattail of Friends for one more year...
which is nice. It's kind of like we are a top-ten show, but everyone wants
to put an asterisk next to our rating because we follow Friends. But give
me a break, I'm not buying that. Scrubs is my favorite show on TV. As
objective as I can be, I think it's smart and completely subversive. It
aspires to be like M*A*S*H. Then I get to play this guy who is kind of
a mix between Danny DeVito from TAXI and Lou Grant from The Mary Tyler
Moore Show. He's cut from that clothhe's the tough guy with the
heart of gold. He's only gonna help these little knuckleheads once in
a blue moon...and only if they promise never to tell.
RS: He's such a great character!
JM: He's so fabulous! (laughs) He is this tower... this tower of inadequacy
and damage, but he is so morally in the right place. He really wants to
be a caregiver, he wants to make these kids responsible for saving lives
and there is no middle ground. So he gets to be this mix of babysitter,
mentor, teacher and dad. They made me audition about six timeseveryone
wanted to play this guy. It is a very desirable role.
CC: Now that you're in the role, I can't picture anyone else.
JM: Honest to God, I couldn't eitherfor a couple of reasons. I felt
(a) it was a great role and (b) I wanted to stay in town. I wanted to
stop going to these four month and five month gigs up in Toronto or Montreal
or Vancouver or down in Mexico. I wanted to be around my son, Max. This
came along and I was like, "I really want to play this guy!" I went in
and the first audition/interview was with the guy who created it, Bill
Lawrence, who had just come off a wildly successful run co-creating and
co-writing Spin City. He was basically given the "keys to the kingdom"
to write whatever he wanted, and he wrote Scrubs.
CC: Do you think you envisioned the character any differently than the
JM: Not for the most part, although I did feel Dr. Cox, the character
that I was auditioning for, was too similar to the head of the hospital.
He was too arrogant and mean. I approached him kind of like I had a miniature
Max sitting on my shoulder. I pictured Max saying, "This guy has got to
give love every once in a while. He has to!" I knew there had to be tiny
little windows of redemption. Without that, I didn't really want to play
him. It is just that he perpetuated so much meanness, and that's not where
my head is, or was. I don't know why I had such a sense of hubris, or
entitlement, but then they started to tailor him in that direction. Really,
that's what every actor wantsto collaborate just a little bit. When
Billy started to move it in that direction and let this guy give love
every once in a while... and then take it back... (laughs), it just creates
this wonderfully damaged character. I guess I get to bring "Max love"
with me to work. And not all the time, because it'd become to Saccharin,
too goofy. But once in a while, this guy gets to just cream these little
knuckleheads and then maybe give them a hug or something. That's why it's
fun for me. Plus, he has these three and four page speeches and I can
only do them as fast as Scorsese can talk! Otherwise, if you take a breath
they don't work! (laughs)
CC: They're great!
JM: I had no idea that I had the capacity to be quite this facile with
language. Until, what do they say, "Necessity is the mother of invention."
Is that it?
CC: Good enough for me!
JM: (laughing) And then all of a sudden, it's as if I'm channeling Marty
Scorsese. There is this text with these wildly ambitious steady cam "walk
and talks," where we just walk through the halls of the hospital... there
are no cuts and so you gotta get it right.
RS: I've seen the outtakesyou don't always get it right! (laughs)
JM: We never get it right! (laughs) I mean... oh, gosh!
CC: Has this been your most difficult role?
JM: No, Platoon was the most difficult, but this is also a great gig.
It's the best character I have ever gotten to play. Just because, like
I told you, I get to sprinkle a little Max in it. I can do the caustically
assertive stuff in my sleep, but Cox is this crazy contradiction. His
ex-wife is pregnant with his child, he thought the father was a pool-boy
from Greece, he has three little knuckleheads who are this close to killing
people every time they pick up a scalpel, he's bangin' Heather Locklear,
he's making out with Kelli Williams. He is just nuts!
CC: So it doesn't mirror your life? (everyone laughs)
JM: No, my life is, all of a sudden at 43 years-old, incredibly symmetrical.
Everything is in a good place right now. I unfortunately got divorced
and now the dust has settled on that. Max's mom and I get along great.
Everybody had to step aside and focus on this little package, this little
CC: Do you get to spend a lot of time with Max?
JM: Half and half. There is no drama. We do whatever keeps things nice.
I'm employed and that's also nice. Most actors want to be employed. (laughs)
I just did a hit movie, Identity, that we filmed last year with John Cusack
and Ray Liotta. We were down at Sony on the same stage where the Emerald
City was in 1939 and shot for almost three months. It's an old-fashioned,
popcorn-eating, Hitchcock-type thrillerjust with a new kind of interesting
spin that you aren't going to be able to call until you see the end of
it. It is an hour and 20 minutes. As soon as you think you are ahead of
the movie, it's over.
CC: And then "Scrubs" comes on.
JM: Right. One Monday morning, I check the New York Times' media scoreboard,
and come to find out Scrubs lines up the entire season at number nine,
and Identity is number one.
CC: Tell us about your son, Max. How old is he?
JM: Max is five now, he'll be six August 30th. He was born the day that
Lady Di died. It was very strange at Santa Monica/UCLA because everyone
was walking around in this weird funk. Of course, we were too because
we didn't know Max had Down syndrome until he was born. In fact, he was
supposed to be a girl and all we had were girl names. We didn't have an
amnio because the doctor told us it could cause a miscarriage. Some amnioswhen
the embryonic sack is compromisedcause a miscarriage. It was quite
confusing to be all of a sudden taken aside by the doctor and told that
your son has Down syndrome. I didn't even know what she was talking about.
Then she asked me if I thought we should tell his mom. I was like, "Yeah,
I think we probably should." As if there was any question. Then this guy
from the state, who I guess was charged with telling you adoption services
are available, came in.
CONTINUED IN ABILITY MAGAZINE...... subscribe!