John C. McGinley: The TV Squad Interview
AJ: NBC announced its fall schedule this (Monday) morning.
McGINLEY: Yeah, it looks like we're picked up and we're going to be back on in January again.
AJ: How do you feel about that?
McGINLEY: Great. It worked this year so... the tricky thing was having football on for four hours on Sunday nights. I guess that shuffled the deck for them. It worked great for us this year. Everybody seemed to respond to an hour. It's pretty phenomenal to be an hour comedy on Tuesday nights. I'm electing to go glass is half-full on this one.
AJ: Good plan.
McGINLEY: I know there was a struggle and we may have wound up on ABC and there were all sorts of hijinks going on at the last second. I'm just glad we wound up back at NBC. People like the continuity of destination.
AJ: I don't know if it would be a good thing to move to ABC or not.
McGINLEY: I don't either. I have a feeling that they'll really pimp the show mid-season. God willing, we'll get a... now that we're in the club as far as Emmy nominations... maybe we'll be included in that kind of hootenanny come this fall and that'll give them some ammo to promote the show.
AJ: That would be nice.
McGINLEY: A lot of things went incredibly well for Scrubs: from a ridiculous number of downloads on the iPods, to whenever they issue a new season on DVD it kinda sells out, and we got nominated for an Emmy. To be picked up for six years is all gravy, man.
AJ: This is the longest you've ever done a TV series.
McGINLEY: I've done an episode or two here and there. I did an episode of Frasier with my friend Kelsey Grammar once. I did a bunch of different TV movies but I never dreamed this would go six years.
AJ: How do you like that?
McGINLEY: I love it. I wish we'd go longer. I love playing Cox. It seems bottomless. Such a collection of damaged goods that the writers have no problem stringing together these amazing storylines. When the script shows up in the mailbox, it's like Christmas every weekend.
AJ: Even when you have to read your monologues?
McGINLEY: Those are great as long as I get them early enough to be able to get them into my noodle. Those are tricky when I'm handed them and the ink is still hot on the paper and I'm walking onto the set. Then, I'm not clear on how I'm supposed to get it out of my mouth.
AJ: How do you get it out of your mouth?
McGINLEY: Fear, Anna. Fear. I'm afraid if I don't do it right, they'll write them for somebody else.
AJ: Are they getting longer?
McGINLEY: Yes! There are some weeks where Cox has exactly a two-page, single-spaced rant and then he just gets out of the way of the episode. It's almost like you're a special effect. It's almost like you're Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross where you come in, do the monologue, and leave.
AJ: Dr. Cox just had an arc in the past couple of episodes.
McGINLEY: It was unbelievably flattering for the executive producer of the show, Bill Lawrence, to come to me and say, 'We're going to write you a big three-episode arc where you lose three patients because you pulled the trigger on harvesting the organs for transplant. It's based on a true story, you don't test for rabies.' Which nobody in the United States does because there are six reported cases of rabies per year. So it isn't truly Cox's fault, but the guy's such an unimpeachable, ethically sound and pretty great doctor--I mean, he's a damaged human being, but he's a great doctor. Cox is going to go into a tailspin. I was overwhelmed, I was so flattered, I couldn't believe it.
AJ: How do you think it turned out?
McGINLEY: It was the best three episodes of the year. I thought the first one, My Lunch, was the best one we've done since Brenden Fraser's episode (My Screwup, 2/24/04). I read you guys' website and a bunch of different chat roooms and stuff, and everybody online seems to really respond to when Scrubs has the courage to touch emotional bones as well as funny bones.
AJ: That's the amazing thing about the show. It can be so goofy, especially with the imaginary sequences...
McGINLEY: When they work well, they pretty much are really well executed silent movies. They almost don't need dialogue. That's hard. It invariably means it has to be a sight gag. Most of them aren't language-driven. They're visually funny. And so, when they really work, they're really, really efficient and visually hilarious. And, all of a sudden you've got people dying on air. You've got Brendan (Fraser) passing. The show shifts gears just so seamlessly. That's what people seem to respond to the most.
AJ: You enjoy being the boss from hell and also having a soft spot?
McGINLEY: Yeah. I think that was the note I gave Lawrence when I was auditioning for this thing. Don't ask me why an actor would give an executive producer a note when he hadn't been offered the role yet. But, through some sense of hubris or entitlement, I felt that if this worked out I wanted that input. I wanted to have been heard on that level. Damn if he didn't assimilate that into the character.
AJ: Dr. Cox is never going to see the other doctors as an equal?
McGINLEY: No, never. Not until they're equally as damaged as he is. The chances of that happening are zero.
AJ: How did he get so damaged?
McGINLEY: I don't know. That's a good question. He just is, man. It's just the gene pool that spawned him.
AJ: I think my favorite interactions are with Dr. Cox and Jordan because she can just shoot him down. Is there any love in that relationship?
McGINLEY: No. I think there's reliance. What's wonderful there is they're kind-of borrowed from the model that Rosalind Russell created in His Girl Friday, directed by Howard Hawks and it stars Cary Grant. That's an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play called The Front Page. Hawks and Grant decided it would be really interesting if Grant's sidekick was a woman instead of a guy. They gave it to Rosalind Russell. She comes in and she's just a typhoon. She's as strong or stronger than Grant. Hawks just kind-of let her go because she was as much of a powerhouse as anybody else on that set. That's the way it is with Christa (Miller), she comes in and she just nails it. And Billy writes to her strengths. All her years of cutting her teeth on Drew Carey have yielded this really keen sense of comic timing. And she's great at it.
AJ: We haven't seen much of her (Christa Miller) in the past few episodes.
McGINLEY: She has two kids now and the schedule in real life has to revolve around-- she's a great mother and she's there as much as she can be.
AJ: Why does Dr. Cox hate Hugh Jackman?
McGINLEY: I think it's because the creator of the show just can't stand how talented he is. Hugh Jackman is just too talented. For him to have won a Tony, he's Wolverine, and he's deadly good-looking. He's a great athlete, he can sing and he can dance. That's too much for Billy (Lawrence) to process.
AJ: In one episode this season, you were talking to a stapler instead of talking to Elliott. Was that a shout-out to Office Space?
McGINLEY: I saw that online. Everybody's way ahead of us. No.
McGINLEY: Maybe to some of the writers. There are 14 writers and they're split up in two groups of seven. They're in two different rooms over at the hospital and they're in the psychiatric ward-- which is a little ironic. I don't know what they concoct in the back of their feeble little minds. That was lost on me. I can't remember all that stuff. Now that people brought it up, I remembered it. I wish I would've had that awareness at the time. During the season, we just grind this thing out. It's 14 hours a day, 5 days a week and you grind. Someone gives you a scene where you talk to a stapler, you start talking to the fucking stapler.
AJ: You don't think about the greater meaning?
McGINLEY: No! I'm just thinking about why I'm not talking to Sarah.
AJ: Do people ever quote lines from Office Space to you?
McGINLEY: Yeah, non-stop.
AJ: What lines do they quote the most?
McGINLEY: People always ask me 'What exactly do ya do here?' and they say 'Upper office management written all over you', and 'I enjoy his whole catalog.'
AJ: The Michael Bolton stuff?
McGINLEY: They go Michael Bolton on me.
AJ: Do people recognize you more for that or Dr. Cox?
McGINLEY: I would say combo sandwich. Now Cox more than anything else. My brothers and I just took my father to Dublin, Ireland and it's like being John, Paul and Ringo over there because it's (Scrubs) on every single night. It's very much in lock-step with the British and/or Irish kind-of wry sense of humor they have. They devour the thing. It's extraordinary going over there. Instead of being what's-his-name over here, you go over there and it's the second coming. I told everybody in the cast, 'If any of you guys are having self esteem or ego problems, get a flight to Dublin. It'll all work out for ya.'
AJ: Do you call Zach Braff girl names in real life?
McGINLEY: No. It started with calling (John) Cusack girl names. My best friend and neighbor, Johnny Cusack, is kind-of a queen bee. We just decided that she was a big, fat girl so we started calling her girl's names about ten years ago. I don't know why I started calling Zachie's character girls' names in the pilot, but I did. Billy Lawrence thought it was funny and told me to keep doing it.
AJ: Going into the sixth season, are we looking at possibly the last season of Scrubs?
McGINLEY: I don't know. I hope it's not. I'd love to keep doing it.
AJ: We fans have to wonder, since NBC keeps pushing it back to the mid-season... we don't know what that means.
McGINLEY: Yeah, me neither. I'm just glad we're coming back.
John C. McGinley is the official spokesperson for National Down Syndrome Society's Buddy Walk. More information: NDSS.org.