John C. McGinley Makes His Pitch
Versatile actor takes on the role of a legendary baseball figure
John C. McGinley, whose career includes a variety of comedic and dramatic roles in TV and movies, portrays Hall of Fame broadcaster Red Barber in the movie 42, which chronicles the historic period when Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier.
Copyright 2012: The Celebrity Front Page. Entertainment Information in Chicago. All rights reserved.
YOU might remember John C. McGinley as Bob Slydell in the movie Office Space, where he plays the role of a cunning auditor who goes on a firing spree at his firm with his partner Bob Porter. Or maybe he’s more familiar to you as Dr. Perry Cox from TV’s long-running and award-winning show Scrubs. Those are just two of McGinley’s long list of memorable characters, characters that have shaped his career and earned him the distinction as one of the best character actors in the business.
A sports enthusiast who grew up as a diehard New York Yankees fan, McGinley had to rely on much of what he has learned as an actor to be believable in his portrayal of an icon, sports announcer Red Barber, in the new movie 42, starring Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman as baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson. “It was an honor to be part of a movie about a Hall of Fame baseball player who was a seminal figure in the Civil Rights Movement, but my real focus was to somehow [duplicate] the voice, cadence and rhythm of Red Barber who did all of the Dodgers’ games, and his sound was very distinct and very strange to one’s ear until you get your head around it,” says McGinley, who did extensive research on Barber to prepare for the role, including reading Barber’s 1997 autobiography, Rhubarb in the Catbird’s Seat. “I had gotten four or five CDs of World Series broadcasts Red did and got his cadence down after about five or six weeks. This role was so difficult because there are no Brooklyn fans––they are fanatics who hold Red Barber to their hearts as some of us hold our children to our hearts. So not to elevate and honor the way they treat and regard that voice and that memory would have been a real profound mistake.”
By most accounts, from movie critics and moviegoers alike, McGinley’s preparation paid off in his portrayal of the Dodgers’ play-by-play man (from 1939 to 1953) who was a proud Southerner from Mississippi and Florida, and who initially had some difficulty with the change Robinson brought to the game. But early on, after seeing Jackie play, Barber became more positive and his listeners became more tolerant. It is said that the Hall of Fame broadcaster’s “support” for Robinson was greatly instrumental in accelerating the rate at which Major League Baseball’s first Black player was accepted in Brooklyn and other cities.
In the TV sitcom Scrubs, McGinley, appearing in a scene with Kerry Bishé, starred as Dr. Perry Cox during the program's nine-year run. He also made his mark on cable's Burn Notice, where he starred opposite Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar.
McGinley, recently in Chicago as part of a tour to promote the movie, says, for him, the most interesting part of the movie was to see how Robinson handled himself during the racially volatile and discriminatory times of 1947. “His answer to the racial assault that he was barraged by was restraint. That’s not most people’s go-to reaction to conflict situations, and that was the mandate that [Dodgers owner] Branch Rickey gave Jackie,” says McGinley, who was scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Cubs/Texas Rangers game and sing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. “He couldn’t answer a curse with a curse or a slur with a slur. He had to answer with his feet on the base paths, his mitt in the field and his bat in the batter’s box. And that’s astonishing!”
Born in Greenwich Village and raised in Millburn, N.J., McGinley went to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts before working on stage and in television, including the nine seasons he played Dr. Perry Cox on the comedy Scrubs. In addition to Office Space, his big-screen credits include The Rock, Set It Off, Se7en, Alex Cross and six roles in Oliver Stone films (Platoon, Wall Street, Talk Radio, Born On The Fourth Of July, Any Given Sunday and Nixon), which gave McGinley some insight into the award-winning director who he could work with again in the future. “I understand Oliver’s energy, and his creative vision on the set is tantamount to a Kentucky Derby thoroughbred with blinders on,” McGinley says. “If you can fit within the creative vision of those blinders where the storyteller is, then it’s nirvana. If you operate outside those blinders, you’ll get run over. When you fit into Oliver’s creative vision, whatever that story is, whether it’s about Vietnam, Wall Street, talk radio or Nixon, If you can come into that vision, it’s heaven.”
Aside from the comedy and drama that McGinley is known for on TV and in film, he is a dedicated, tireless worker in the “Spread The Word To End The Word” campaign, an effort by the Special Olympics that’s designed to sensitize the public to the words “retard” and “retarded.” He has a 15-year-old son with Down Syndrome who, he says, has inherited the stigma that’s associated with the R-word, and McGinley is working to eliminate the hate-speech and insensitive language that’s often directed at those with special needs. “We want to sprinkle some compassion into the way people use the words retard and retarded. All I’m advocating is for us to use increased awareness or compassion when using those words,” says the actor, who is a spokesman for the National Down Syndrome Society. “Like a racial epithet, when we use the type of language that puts down a population––whether it Blacks, Jews, homosexuals or people with special needs––that’s not OK. It’s not OK to diminish a group of people and make them less than. That’s what Spread the Word aspires to do, to sprinkle awareness and compassion into the use of the words retard and retarded. When you use those words, it’s always a put-down; it’s never a compliment.”
McGinley is a man of many faces, literally, as is evidenced by his movie portrayal of Red Barber, who was a central figure in one of baseball’s historic moments. But as one who “bleeds Yankee blue,” if McGinley been around in 1947, would he have been a backer of the Brooklyn Dodgers? “I don’t know about rooting for the Dodgers, but I certainly would have cheered for Jackie Robinson.”