Just weeks after filming potentially his last ever appearance as Dr Cox, John C. McGinley speaks to Paul Fennessy about Scrubs, acting and taking the piss out of John Cusack.
As I greet John C. McGinley or Dr Cox, as he is known to millions of TV viewers worldwide, I half expect to hear him attribute some random girl’s name to me, before launching into an amusing verbal tirade in which he highlights a series of my inadequacies.
Such is the ubiquity of Scrubs and the imperious nature of his character, that he admits how people in real life often approach him “with no small degree of trepidation”.
He claims that there are similarities between himself and the indefatigable Cox; ‘‘There’s a ton of John C. McGinley in Dr Cox,’’ he states. ‘‘While he’s rough on the little jackasses, he’s charging them with saving lives, not selling cars, no disrespect to car salesmen. He’s not fixing the plumbing, he’s trying to teach these kids to be better than they ever imagined and what that might yield is saving or helping to preserve a life. None of that ever comes out, but it’s just what I grounded Cox in.’’
Nonetheless, McGinley comes across as being a lot more relaxed and reflective than his zany and perpetually agitated on-screen persona suggests. His relatively stern nature is unsurprising though, given the particularly harsh experiences which he was forced to endure prior to attaining success as an actor.
He recollects how, just before kicking him out of the house, his father left him with the imparting words; ‘‘Jumbo, I’d like you to use your head for something other than a hat rack’’.
The actor hit his lowest emotional ebb in high school, before experiencing a prescient epiphany: ‘‘I stopped talking for two or three years and just listened. During this period, I decided that I wanted to be an actor.’’
After subsequently studying acting at New York University and garnering praise for some eye catching performances on Broadway, a thoroughly rejuvenated McGinley won his first major film role in Oliver Stone’s war movie masterpiece, Platoon. He consequently proceeded to appear in a further five films with Stone at the helm.
‘‘I stopped talking for two or three years and just listened. During this period, I decided that I wanted to be an actor’’
Despite the fact that he is talking about the man who wrote Scarface, McGinley portrays Stone as a fairly level headed individual, while also expressing his gratitude at having been able to work with the maverick director. ‘‘Oliver’s probably the brightest guy I’ve ever met as far as being well read and being able to articulate an opinion with analogy and comparison and just make it really clear what he’s trying to communicate to you,’’ he confides. ‘‘On Oliver’s sets, he has creative blinders on and when you fit within the scope of that vision, it’s heaven.’’
While his accomplished filmography has also encompassed roles in pictures such as Seven and The Rock, McGinley maintains that Dr Cox remains his proudest artistic achievement to date: ‘‘I’m most proud of Scrubs, because it’s a different monster to ride a character for eight years,’’ he explains. ‘‘I think Cox is a really rich, damaged, eccentric character. With the writers, Cox gets to enjoy a windfall of eccentricities because he’s so damaged. So you get to play all these wonderful storylines that nobody else does.’’
McGinley dismisses the widely held perception that TV is inferior to the movies and details the arduous process of shooting Scrubs. He reveals how it generally “takes five 14-hour-days to shoot an episode,” before adding that “you have to hear the dialogue five or six hundred times”.
Returning to the subject of the influence which he exerts on Dr Cox, McGinley explains how he acquired the habit of placing female names on male friends long before the show’s conception. Initially, it was his close friend, John Cusack, rather than J.D., who was the subject of his inimitable rancour: ‘‘Cusack can be a little bit of a precious girl, so to take the piss out of him, we just started calling him girls’ names and referring primarily to him as ‘her majesty’.’’
Therefore, his ability to bring personal elements to the character undoubtedly contributes to his impressively idiosyncratic performance style. With that in mind, does he ever feel the need to completely immerse himself in his character? ‘‘John Malkovich said that no character could ever be as interesting as he is, so he lets the character become him and I don’t think he meant that in any kind of a conceited way.’’
‘‘There’s no character I know better than John McGinley, and what I can pull from is 49 years of experiences and added on to that an infinite amount of dreams and possible scenarios that I’ve thought of. And so, do I become Dr Cox? No. Dr Cox becomes me.’’
Seeing as Zach Braff has elected to pursue other projects, the future of Scrubs has been thrown into doubt. McGinley claims to be none the wiser about whether or not producers will finally pull the plug on the show after eight successful series. However, at the moment, his only concern is ‘‘taking care of the family for a second or two’’. After starring in eight series and providing fans with countless laughs, McGinley’s temporary respite is fully deserved.