John C. McGinley Interview: "Scrubs" Star Discusses "Benched" and "Stan Against Evil"
Image attributed to John C. McGinley
John C. McGinley is best known for his roles as Perry Cox in Scrubs, Bob Slydell in Office Space and Sergeant Red O’Neill in Oliver Stone’s Platoon, just to name a few. He has had a prolific career primarily as a supporting character actor. Other film appearances include The Rock, Wall Street, Point Break, Highlander II: The Quickening, Seven and 42. In 1997, McGinley received critical acclaim for his performance as a serial killer in Dean Koontz’s thriller mini-series, Intensity.
Currently, McGinley can be seen in IFC’s hit half-hour comedy-horror series, Stan Against Evil, on which he also serves as a producer. The third season will premiere October 31, 2018. He stars with Garret Dillahunt, Jlynn Johnson, Graham Schneider, Brogan Hall and Keith Jamal Evans in the heartwarming comedy Benched in theaters and available on VOD and Digital HD on August 17, 2018. The film is about two adverse little league coaches coming off the bench and getting their heads in the game.
"I wanted to be a storyteller for as long as I can remember. It was that simple.
John C. McGinley: Where are you, Melissa?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m in Birmingham, Alabama.
John C. McGinley: We shot down by you. We shot Benched down your way in Nashville.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Cool. I thought the film was very entertaining, John.
John C. McGinley: Oh, good. You got a chance to watch it? I didn’t know that. Great!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What interested you in the role of Coach Don in Benched?
John C. McGinley: I had just done Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway with Al Pacino. I did a revival with Al, Bobby Cannavale, Richard Schiff and all these great actors. Remember, Benched is based on a play, a two-man play, and on stage, the two characters generate all that baseball. They generate all that off-stage life up on stage. There’s just two characters. So when Richard (Dresser) opened it up and incorporated the baseball into it, I just thought it really breathed a lot of life into the text while not diminishing the fear and positioning and inadequacy that the two lead characters are dealing with.
It’s not unlike Glengarry Glen Ross, which is a study of men and the fear and positioning and the way they manipulate each other. The same thing happened between these two characters in Benched, and I thought it was fascinating they set it against little league baseball because some of their behavior had to be tamped down. They had to put a lid on it unlike Glengarry, and it’s interesting when behaviors have to have a lid on them. Most of the time, all of us are subjected to putting lids on our behavior otherwise there would be anarchy.
I just felt the screenplay was stunning. The guy who produced it, Fred Roos, was the casting director for Francis Coppola forever and then a producer in his own right. He’s been trying to put me in something for 25 years, and we never quite found the right thing. He called me up, sent me this script, and I thought it was magnificent. So I was down doing a really scary horror movie in Bogota, Colombia, called The Belko Experiment, and I had this grand ensemble of actors in Bogota.
I was to go straight from Bogota when I rapped on Saturday. I was to travel on Sunday to Nashville and start shooting on Monday, which is what I did. But for the three months I was down in Bogota with this amazing ensemble of actors, I rehearsed Benched because I didn’t have that much to do in Belko, and I had access to this stunning ensemble. I rented this rehearsal space in Bogota, and I’d just drag these actors in there with me and make them hit it around with me a little bit because, as you know having watched the film, I don’t stop talking for an hour and a half. So I had to get those words into my skull, and there’s only one way to do it for me. You’ve got to go over it and over it and over it and over it until you’re blue in the face.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you prepare this way for each role?
John C. McGinley: Yeah. Well, usually there’s no time, right? But in this case, I had three months. But like with Scrubs or Stan Against Evil, there’s no time. You have to go with your gut. You have to figure out a way to get the words into your skull and crank it. With Glengarry and Benched, I had a sufficient rehearsal period where I could really attack the text, and that’s the most fun for me.
When somebody actually calls action, if I had a rehearsal period, I guarantee you I know what’s going to happen because we’ve just beaten it into the ground. When I work with actors, it’s not dissimilar to an NBA player or a major league baseball player practicing either their swing or their free throw. When you get to the free throw line in the NBA, you’ve already shot thousands of free throws so you’ve been there before. When you get into the batter’s box in the big leagues, you’ve swung the bat thousands of times. I want actors, when someone calls action, to have been with that text, to have been with those words so much that it’s the same as your swing or free throw. It should be second nature.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): But this time with Benched, you worked with some very inexperienced child actors. How did that go?
John C. McGinley: As far as I know, they were all first timers. They were scared to death, which is fantastic because you should be. What that yielded was this great respect for the process. So they were all gamers. In Nashville, it was in the middle of the summer. It was 100 degrees every day with 100% humidity, and as you saw, we shot an enormous amount of baseball exteriors on that baseball field with that train rail going on in the background. But they were just tremendous. Each one of those kids was absolutely astonishing. I absolutely adored them.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): This certainly is not your first baseball film.
John C. McGinley: I’ve done a bunch of baseball movies. I did one with Freddie Prinze, Jr. called Summer Catch. I did 42. I’m a bit of a baseball fanatic, and Coach Don could be a baseball fanatic. But we worked backwards in Benched from that great monologue Richard wrote about the kid getting tagged out at third, and Coach Don never getting to come to the plate. We worked backwards. We tracked backwards. The whole storyline we tracked back to that, that Coach Don was going to protect kids from every being in that circumstance. That’s how he was going to coach. So he was going to protect their ups. That’s a saying in baseball. Save my ups. Those kids on his team were going to get their ups, their at bats.
It just yielded profound dividends working backwards from the history that’s in the script. So you didn’t have to make something up and kind of sprinkle the script with stuff that’s not there. It was all in there. All the answers were in the script, and we mined it. We mined that script.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And not only is Benched about baseball, it’s also about relationships in the lives of the two coaches.
John C. McGinley: That’s what drew me in the most.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What drew you to acting in the very beginning, John?
John C. McGinley: I wanted to be a storyteller for as long as I can remember. It was that simple. I was just going to be part of a storytelling process somehow either as an editor, as a director, as a producer, as an actor. I was going to be a part of a storytelling process. I just had to be a storyteller.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In the 1980s, you had a two-year stint on Another World. Was the daytime drama sort of a springboard to everything else in your career?
John C. McGinley: It wasn’t a springboard for me as much as a training ground because I went to grad school at NYU. I got out in ’84, and I got a play with John Turturro right out of school, and that was great. Another World was shot out in Brooklyn, and Cosby was on the other side of the soundstage. First of all, you get $817.00 a day when you go out there. So if you’re in a hit play in New York, you’re making $320.00 unless you’re on Broadway, which Broadway’s minimum is about $740.00. But I had a day guaranteed. That was the contract.
So all of a sudden, you’re just swimming in butter. I mean, I’d never made that much money in my life a week! So that was great. They used to shoot them with three cameras. They’re now four cameras. It’s live in front of these cameras. There’s no audience. But the three cameras are a single on you, a single on me and then a wider master. If you don’t know your lines, they just cut to you listening to me. Then they fix the person who doesn’t know their lines in post.
All actors want to be in front of the lens. I mean, why else would you do it? And you will not be in front of the lens unless you know your lines when you’re doing a soap because they’ll just cut to the other person listening, doing head nods and really interesting “I’m so engaged” faux things. But my takeaway from that was to learn your lines backwards because they’re doing 60 pages a day, which is preposterous, but that’s what those guys do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it then that you realized you could make acting a serious career?
John C. McGinley: I had just gotten out of grad school. I was fully in. Once you go to grad acting school, you’re pregnant. You’ve stopped everything. You’ve incurred three more years of debt. You are in.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did your relationship with Oliver Stone begin?
John C. McGinley: He came down to see this play I was in called Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, which was written by the guy who won the Academy Award for Moonstruck, and it was all the rage. The great actor John Turturro was in it, and I was his understudy. He went off to do Desperately Seeking Susan for about a week, and I got to take over for him. An assistant casting person came down to see Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, and John wasn’t there. I was. So this assistant casting person saw me and said, “You should come up and audition for Platoon.” I did. I got a tiny part. Originally, I got the tiny, tiny part of Tom Berenger’s radio man. Then the film was cancelled for two years. Either money or something fell out. It was a variable that didn’t connect.
When Platoon resurfaced two years later, John Spencer who had been cast as Sgt. O’Neill, was doing a Broadway play, so he was not able to commit. So Oliver called me and said, “Do you want to play Sgt. O’Neill?” I was doing Hamlet with Kevin Kline over at the Shakespeare Festival, so I had to go ask Joe Papp if I could go and do this movie because if he said, “No,” I wouldn’t have done it. Back in New York when the Shakespeare Festival was very vibrant and kind of the place to be, if an actor was lucky enough to get into that fraternity/sorority, you would never ever burn that bridge because Joe just kept putting you in plays.
So when I went in to ask him if I could go do Platoon, I wasn’t kidding because if he had said, “No,” I would’ve respectfully called Oliver and said, “I’m doing Hamlet with Kevin Kline.” But instead, Joe said, “Go. It won’t be an issue.” And good to his word, he hired me to do Talk Radio right when I got back. I did Talk Radio for two years, and then eventually Oliver did the film, and he asked me to recreate the role that I created at the Shakespeare Festival. So for someone like Joe Papp to be good to his word like that, it impacted me in an incredibly positive way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I recently read that Adweek listed the best TV shows about doctors ranked by real doctors, and Scrubs was #3.
John C. McGinley: Yeah. The AMA gave us a stamp of validation really early on. They came by the hospital because we shot in a defunct hospital, and they gave us a pat on the back early on. It meant a lot to all of us.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you recognized on the street more for Dr. Cox in Scrubs than anything else?
John C. McGinley: No. It depends demographically where I am. Sometimes, it’s Office Space. Sometimes, it’s Platoon. Other times, it’s The Rock. Now it’s Stan Against Evil, although without that facial hair, I seem to get away with murder. Then, yeah. Scrubs is in there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s coming up on season three of Stan Against Evil?
John C. McGinley: The last time we saw our heroes at the end of season two, the world had ended. So the title of the first episode of the third season is “Hell is What You Make It.” The script that we came up with is, if Stan and Evie can go through their own personal hells, if they can navigate that landscape, then they’ll find themselves back in current time. It’s one of the best episodes we’ve done. We’re editing right now. We’re up to the sixth episode. We’ll edit two more in the next two weeks.
I’m one of the producers on it, and we shepherd the tone of the piece very meticulously, and that’s our number one focus. We were just down at Comic-Con. We had this huge Comic-Con down at San Diego. Now we’ll ship off to New York the first week of October to promote the show some more. Then the start of season three will be on Halloween.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any other upcoming projects?
John C. McGinley: Just Benched. I’m so proud of it. I’m so thrilled you got to see it!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I found it to be about much more than baseball. Very well done.
John C. McGinley: I thought so, too. Baseball’s sort of a backdrop for relationship and guys seeking redemption. And the kids. God, I love them so much!
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