Oliver Stone fave John C. McGinley makes a name for himself

By Bruce Fretts
Updated October 15, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

John Q. Public may not know John C. McGinley’s name, but he probably knows his face. The question is, from where? ”It depends demographically,” says the veteran character actor. ”Middle-aged white dudes, ”Wall Street” and ”Platoon.” Black dudes, ”Set It Off” and ”On Deadly Ground.” Kids, ”Office Space” and ”The Animal.” Hopefully, for the next little while, it’ll be ‘Scrubs.”’

The 42-year-old McGinley’s wildly varied film résumé led the NBC sitcom’s creator, Bill Lawrence, to cast him as chops-busting veteran doc Perry Cox. ”I’m a huge movie fan, and my buddies in college were always talking about who the best character guys were — M. Emmet Walsh, J.T. Walsh, and we were all McGinley fans,” says Lawrence. ”When this came up, I actually had him in my head.”

Still, McGinley had to audition five times for the part. ”I saw a lot of other actors there who I assume don’t normally audition,” he says. ”It’s a bit of a cherry role.” McGinley likens Cox to such vintage TV tough-guys-with-hearts-of-gold as ”Taxi”’s Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito) and ”The Mary Tyler Moore Show”’s Lou Grant (Ed Asner): ”This guy’s cut from the same cloth. He teaches with a spoonful of dirt, a spoonful of dirt, then a cup of sugar. And that’s delicious.”

Life hasn’t always been so sweet for McGinley. After growing up in Millburn, N.J., he toiled in New York theater, understudying John Turturro for a year and a half in an Off Broadway play called ”Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.” ”John didn’t go down — it was rough,” McGinley recalls. ”Finally, he let me go on.” A casting scout from Oliver Stone’s company happened to be in the audience, and McGinley soon landed ”Platoon.” He’s worked with Stone five more times since, most recently as the Jim Rome-esque sportscaster in ”Any Given Sunday.” Why have they collaborated so often? ”I don’t know, but I don’t want to jinx it,” says McGinley. ”That’s a good relationship, man.”

But the divorced dad’s strongest bond is with his 4-year-old son, Max, who was born with Down’s syndrome. The stability of a sitcom gig has allowed McGinley to spend more time with Max at their Malibu home. ”This is a very attractive scenario to me,” he says. ”To be able to drive over the hill every day to work and come back and surf, play with the dogs, and hang out with my son — are you kiddin’ me?” Plus, he digs his ”Scrubs” wardrobe: ”It’s the greatest,” he says. ”It’s like wearing pajamas!”