What’s the difference between playing supporting roles in the movies and a supporting role on a hit network comedy? For one thing, according to John C. McGinley, you can’t beat the visibility of television.
“It’s unbelievable,” says McGinley, who, after years of being best known for secondary roles in “Platoon,” “Any Given Sunday” and several other Oliver Stone movies, survived five auditions to land the part of Dr. Cox on NBC’s “Scrubs.” “About 13 million people are turning on the tube every Tuesday,” he says, “and that number is growing. It’s extraordinary.”
“Scrubs'” audience size — which has been close enough to that of “Frasier,” its lead-in, to justify a move to NBC’s all-important Thursday night lineup in the fall — isn’t the only thing about the stylized comedy that excites McGinley. He sees his character, a gruff M.D. with a good heart, as following Lou Grant and Louie De Palma in the golden lineage of television’s great curmudgeonly bosses.
“Those guys kind of taught or mentored with a spoonful of dirt and then a cup of sugar, and that appeals to me,” says McGinley, father of a young son with Down syndrome “When my son was born with special needs, I lost interest in playing straight-up bad guys. They didn’t resonate for me. So the fact that Cox is a teacher/mentor/baby sitter/father figure to some of these kids on the show is complex and damaged and twice as interesting.”
Dr. Cox’s barbs have found their mark with audiences and critics, and McGinley is quick to credit “Scrubs'” creator and executive producer, Bill Lawrence, and the show’s hard-working writing staff.
“They write these scripts, and rewrite them and rewrite them, and every rewrite is better than the last one so you don’t have a foot to stand on about complaining,” he says. “It’s all very glib and there’s a sarcasm that’s between the words. You should be so lucky to get these pages.”