Five minutes into my interview with John C. McGinley and things have settled down nicely. Initial stock questions have been dealt with unproblematically and he’s started to expand in an interesting manner upon some of the more probing queries I’m throwing his way. Then, suddenly and without any warning, everything goes tits up.
“So, do you ever think that you, John C. Reilly, will be overshadowed by your most well-known character, Dr. Cox?” I ask, with a wide-eyed, enquiring look on my face. Suddenly, his expression changes from amiable interest to confusion.
“John C. Reilly? I’m not John C. Reilly, I’m John C. McGinley,” he replies, a little note of bewilderment in his voice. My jaw drops ever so slightly as I’m struck by the realisation that I’ve gone and made a bit of a blunder. Step Brothers star John C. Reilly came to Trinity during the summer and appeared in issue one of the paper, hence my similar name slip-up. But that’s not really much of an excuse, is it? In short, then, it’s game over. I’ve broken the most basic rule of interviewing: don’t call your subject the wrong name.
I desperately attempt to think of other people I can blame for this little faux pas of mine. The Phil council, yes, they’ll do. Barry really should have given me more notice for the interview. Of course, that’s right. And who books two guests called “John C.” within two months of eachother? Confounded, reckless scoundrels is who.
Luckily, John C. Reilly, oops, I mean McGinley is actually a pretty nice chap and wasn’t that perturbed at all by my astonishing display of ineptitude. The Scrubs star (he plays the wise-cracking, wisdom-imparting Dr. Perry Cox, in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid watching the show or, indeed, television for the last eight years or so) visited the Phil a few weeks ago and addressed a huge crowd in the Edmund Burke Theatre.
The last time he visited a college in Ireland – UCD, three years ago – over a thousand students (including myself) were turned away as the demand to see him speak was simply too high. “I’ve never felt anything like the energy I felt in that room,” he recalls. “It was like my impression of what the Roman senate would have been like – the lecture theatre itself is shaped like an amphitheatre and people were hitting tables and making noise. Standing there, it felt like there was a wall of energy coming at me, it was astonishing.”
Perhaps more astonishing is the success that Scrubs has enjoyed on this side of the Atlantic as opposed to the States. “At home, it’s chugged along for eight seasons now. It’s been the darling of the critics, but as far as popularity goes, it’s no Friends. At the same time, never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be going this long.”
Scrubs has been a hit over here, but not so much back home. I mean, a lot of people aren’t even aware it exists
Despite his satisfaction with the show and the innings it’s had so far, McGinley remains uncertain with regards to its future. After its seventh season, Scrubs was dropped by its original network, NBC, and picked up by ABC. Having just wrapped up season number eight, the first to be produced for ABC, McGinley explains what may lie ahead. “There are two possible directions, two business models that the show is going to follow now. Either the network will take a band-aid approach, fix it up a little and see how long it lasts, or it’ll treat it like an old antique – polish it up and make it run further; reinvigorate it in a way. I don’t know which one it’s going to be but obviously I’m hoping for the latter.”
This talk of “reinvigoration” points towards indications by Zach Braff during the summer that season eight may be his last in the lead role of JD and ABC president Steve McPherson’s suggestions that the show may continue with new characters. Regardless of its future, McGinley is more than happy to talk at length about Scrubs, something I wasn’t really expecting, especially in light of the considerable number of high-profile projects in which he has been involved throughout his career. Since his first movie role in 1986, he has appeared in almost fifty films, including Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), Se7en (1995) and Office Space (1999) – as well as the less notable likes of Highlander II: The Quickening (1991), On Deadly Ground (1994) and (shudder) Rob Schneider-vehicle The Animal (2001).
Does he ever fear that his popularity as Dr. Cox will lead to him being typecast? “Not in the states, certainly. It’s been a hit over here, but not so much back home. I mean, a lot of people aren’t even aware it exists.”
With his extensive television and film experience, it’s easy to forget that McGinley’s acting career bagan on stage. When asked whether he would consider a return to theatre, he replies, “Right now, with an eight month old baby and a new house to fix up, I’ve got a lot on my hands. In the long term though? A thousand times yes. Especially if the Abbey called me up.”
With a name like McGinley, it’s no surprise that the New Yorker has strong ties to Ireland. “Every few years, I come over for ten days or thereabouts with my father and my two brothers, which makes a perfect group for golf, of course. I’ve travelled all over the country. A few years back I made my way from Galway to Dublin, driving along the southern coast. When I did that, I had two rules: if I saw something fun or engaging, I stopped. If I didn’t, I kept driving.” He must have made it to Dublin in a jiffy, so.
And where is his favourite spot in the country? “Donegal. It’s one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been in my life.” With my “token questions about Ireland” box firmly ticked, I ask McGinley about how he approaches his roles. “As I see it there are two schools of acting. There’s the kind of DeNiro approach where the actor dives in to the role, immerses themselves entirely in it, like someone like Daniel Day-Lewis. On the other hand, there’s the John Malkovich approach where, instead of the actor becoming the character, the character becomes him. Someone like John is a lot more comfortable letting the character into his world. I go for the second approach. I like to add some of my own flavour to a character, to bring my own bag of tricks to the text. I don’t pretend to be as talented as these guys, though. Daniel’s performance in There Will Be Blood blew me away – it’s the greatest performance by any actor in the last 25 years.”
And what’s own personal proudest moment? “I’d have to say either Platoon or the eight years of playing Dr. Cox, I really would. Of course, you’re dealing with two different tasks there. With film, you’ve got two hours to flourish and very often you can be confined by a finite function with those kinds of time restrictions. TV is more of a grind, y’know? You’ve got persevere, keep things fresh. It’s more difficult because you’ve got to be constantly digging, but at the same time you’ve got to stay true to what you established eight years ago.”
It’s important to really embrace a family who’ve just discovered that their child has Down Syndrome and help them to see that this is a chance to be a great parent
Beyond acting, McGinley has played an active role in the National Down’s Syndrome Society since his son Max was born with the condition in 1997. It’s a topic he’s extremely passionate about. “You’ve got to put the emphasis on inclusion and on empowerment; you’ve got to celebrate the similarities, not the differences, y’know? You’ve got to just dive in there and get the similarities all over you,” he explains as he rubs his arms enthusiastically, miming the metaphorical plunge.
“It’s important to really embrace a family who’ve just discovered that their child has Down’s Syndrome and help them to see that this is a chance to be great. Y’know, maybe most parents don’t have to take their kid to aquatic therapy several times a week, or to that extra class or to go that little bit extra for them. As I see it, you’ve been blessed with the chance to be a great parent and you should embrace that.”
Parenting is something that will be preoccupying McGinley for the time being, it seems. Second wife Nicole Kessler, whom he married last year and who accompanied him on his visit to the college, gave birth to daughter Billie Grace in February. When I ask what the future holds, he tells me, “Right now, I’m papa bear. As I said, I’ve got an eight month old daughter and an eleven year old son to take care of and a new house to work on, so I’m busy with that. At the same time, if Oliver [Stone – McGinley has appeared in six of his movies] calls or if the Abbey calls, Nicole might have to paint the house herself,” he finishes with a laugh.
As he leaves to have dinner with several members of the Phil council, I bid McGinley farewell with a casual “thank you.” No names. Just in case.