‘Scrubs’ Star McGinley Juggles Roles
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ John C. McGinley is flying through the air, a blue backdrop behind him and a hospital parking lot in front of him.
McGinley is creating a bit of television magic for the NBC comedy ``Scrubs,″ acting out a superhero fantasy with the help of a springboard and special effects to be added later.
Three jumps later, he’s soared as high as a few dozen feet while striking a perfect Mighty Mouse-aloft pose. Cast and crew members respond with cheers and applause.
``The last one was so cool,″ says an exuberant McGinley. It’s not his first leap of faith with ``Scrubs″: He already shifted from respected supporting actor in films to an unfamiliar role as a sitcom co-star.
The timing was right and so was the job, said McGinley.
``It was the opportunity to be around Maxie. And to play Cox,″ he said.
Maxie is 4-year-old Max McGinley, the son whose photos are proudly displayed to visitors in the actor’s dressing room.
Cox is Dr. Perry Cox, the crusty-but-humane physician who is serving as the erratic mentor to a naive intern, J.D. (Zach Braff). ``Scrubs,″ in its first season, airs 9:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
The role and Max are connected, according to McGinley. Working on a Los Angeles-based TV series (it’s filmed at an unused hospital) instead of trekking to film locations allows more time with his son.
And playing a character with heart became more important to McGinley because of Max. The child has developmental disabilities from Down syndrome.
``Max spent the first month and a half of his life in neonatal care. It changes your perspective,″ said McGinley, 42, who has joint custody with former wife Lauren Lambert.
McGinley’s character on ``Scrubs″ is part of that new outlook. Cox is outwardly brittle ``but every once in awhile they let me do these wildly human things that have no right happening on a sitcom,″ the actor said.
That’s far different than the roles he’s known for in movies, which McGinley describes as ``the No. 4 or 5 guy, the next-door neighbor or the co-worker or the bad guy or the expository guy.″
The last category, he explains, is the character needed in the second act to tell audiences where the story stands.
``It’s usually a massive amount of text that you have to say clearly and coolly and get out so the hero can do his thing,″ McGinley said. His most notable ``expository guy″ appearances were in ``GoodFellas″ (``the Copacabana shot″) and a seven-minute walk-and-talk in ``Point Break.″
He’s also played in a half-dozen Oliver Stone films, from ``Platoon″ through ``On Any Sunday.″ Stone discovered McGinley when, as an understudy in ``Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,″ he stepped in one night for John Turturro.
His movie roles often had a comic undertone, McGinley said, so ``Scrubs″ isn’t a complete departure. The sitcom role has earned him newfound attention, and justifiably: The lanky actor brings a scene-stealing, crackling energy to it.
Bill Lawrence, the series’ youthful executive producer, recalls engaging in college debates over favorite actors; his list included McGinley.
``He was so funny and so distinctive that when we starting casting I told the casting people I wanted a John C. McGinley type,″ Lawrence said. He got the real thing instead.
McGinley is as high-voltage off-screen as on. Preparing for his superhero stunt work (for a two-part episode that airs May 7 and 14 and guest stars Brendan Fraser), McGinley does warm-up exercises, juggles interviews and spins charming tales of his early acting days.
He fibbed to Alan Alda about his pole-vaulting abilities to win his first film role in the 1986 satire ``Sweet Liberty″ (``I’ve been to enough track meets and I’ve seen Jesse Owens in Leni Riefenstahl’s film about the 1936 Olympics,″ was among McGinley’s rationalizations).
His worst moment on stage came after rushing from the set of ``Wall Street″ to the off-Broadway production of ``Talk Radio″ with moments to spare before curtain. Flustered, he froze halfway through a four-minute monologue.
``I started to cry. I got really scared and didn’t know what to do. And I’m sure it was fascinating theater, to see a human being dying in front of your eyes,″ he said, dryly.
He rallied and continued with the play (later made into a Stone movie starring writer-star Eric Bogosian) for six months. Even that disastrous night couldn’t dissuade him from acting; he’d already decided against the family tradition of a career in finance.
``It was too much of a grind,″ he said of his one-summer Wall Street stint.
Some consider TV series work a grind, often requiring 12-plus hour days. But on the final day of shooting for the current season McGinley looked ready to keep flying.
He’ll get the chance. ``Scrubs″ has been renewed for another year. There’s another project lined up, too, this one for Max: McGinley is helping promote the May 20 start of the National Down Syndrome Society’s revised Web site.
On the Net:
National Down Syndrome Society: http://www.NDSS.org
EDITOR’S NOTE _ Lynn Elber can be reached at lelber``at``ap.org