John C. McGinley says his obsessive-compulsive streak came in handy.
42 written and directed by Brian Helgeland, with Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford and John C. McGinley. A Warner Brothers release. 128 minutes. Opens Friday (April 12). See listings.
John C. McGinley is the kind of character actor whose face instantly sparks the reaction "Oh, that guy!"
Chances are you know him best as the sarcastic Scrubs doctor Perry Cox, the sleazily mustached drone in Office Space, the motor-mouthed cop in Point Break or the tragicomic sergeant in Platoon.
He's been a fixture of eccentric character work in Hollywood for decades, and now, in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, he takes a swing at baseball broadcasting legend Red Barber. He was the man who called the Brooklyn Dodgers games during Robinson's colour-barrier-busting 1947 season, and McGinley slides comfortably into Red's specific nasal tones.
McGinley fought for the role that satisfied both his acting chops and his lifelong love of baseball, and gave the part the detailed attention it demanded.
"Brooklyn Dodgers fans are Brooklyn Dodgers fanatics, and they hold Red Barber close, like a father holds a child," says McGinley, in town for a recent promotional day. "I wanted to honour and respect that and elevate myself to the level of Red Barber."
The performance is rooted in a level of research and mimicry that McGinley has never attempted before, but that he enjoyed immensely.
"It suited my obsessive-compulsive nature in a really productive way," he laughs. "There was no improvising. Everything Red says in that film we either extracted from a couple of discs of World Series recordings or pulled from autobiographies or other sources. A lot of times I get hired to bring some John McGinley flavour to a piece. With Red Barber, you don't want to play games - and that was very liberating."
McGinley's armed with a handshake that could cause paralysis and a dizzying machine-gun speech pattern, so it's not difficult to see where the actor's intense performances come from.
Clearly, embodying a sports hero he loved was a dream for the former broadcasting student. When he was locked in Red's replica booth to shoot his scenes consecutively, he thrived.
"It takes focus and discipline, which I have. Well, it's more than that and kind of obsessive, but in this case healthy. When you get in that groove, it's nirvana. ‘We're doing Red today, guys. What else are we doing? Nothing, just Red. Know what we're doing tomorrow? Red. Guess what we're doing on Tuesday? More Red.'"