Actor McGinley returns to broadcasting roots
'42' star dishes on studying with legendary Scully in 'Express Written Consent'
Having a supporting role in any baseball movie would have been a thrill for John C. McGinley, even without the special training session he received while researching his part.
But getting tips from the greatest living broadcaster, on how to play one of the greatest broadcasters of all time? Pinch him.
McGinley played Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber in "42," the thought-provoking film about Jackie Robinson's historic foray into Major League Baseball as its first African-American player. To prepare for the role, McGinley spent significant time with Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, the still-working treasure of an announcer who not only has been behind the Dodgers mic for more than six decades, but who was once upon a time mentored by -- yep -- Red Barber.
When it came time for McGinley to study his role in "42," Scully extended his time and knowledge, speaking of his years with Barber as if they happened recently instead of more than 60-plus years earlier.
"It was amazing how intimate it was to be right with him, and then how great inside the conversation it was, how clearly mentally agile he was," McGinley said. "Just going back immediately to 1953 and going back to when he was interning with Red, like it was yesterday. He has almost a photographic memory of the way Red trained him and the discipline Red imprinted him with. I don't hero worship anybody, but the closest thing in sports for me would be Vin Scully."
McGinley, who recently spent time in the Klondike Suite as the featured guest of the most recent taping of "Express Written Consent," once aspired to be a sports announcer. But he changed his path during his college years and instead pursued acting. Judging from his body of work, it's obvious he made a sound choice. Most notable for his roles in the hit comedy Scrubs as well as films such as "Office Space," "Platoon" and "Wall Street," McGinley has also written and produced for television and film.
So perhaps acting as a sports announcer in a movie was, in a way, a chance for him to experience the best of both worlds. It was also fitting that he would be a part of a movie about injustice, intolerance and the need for social change, given how much time away from the job McGinley spends advocating for sections of society that are, to this day, unfairly treated.
McGinley is a spokesperson for the National Down Syndrome Society, works closely with the Special Olympics and is currently supporting a world-wide campaign to "Spread the Word to End the Word."
The word, "retarded," is something "kids around the planet were being subjected to and assaulted with," McGinley said.
A couple of years ago at the World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho, a group of athletes came up with the slogan in an effort to educate people about "exclusionary language of a population that we have no right to use."
McGinley's passion for this cause melded well with his passion for "42," given the similarities in the overall message.
"It's a story about how horrible racism and bigotry is," McGinley said during an interview with MLB.com after the EWC taping. "It's a cycle that, unfortunately, we keep revisiting as members of the special-needs community and are subjected to it all the time. I think for us to be reminded that's not OK behavior -- in fact, it's deplorable, which is what we see when Ben Chapman is attacking Jackie in the movie. And it circles back to 2013. We haven't grown that much. There seem to be cycles of behavior that we revisit, unfortunately. For the film to advocate being better than that, and to elevate above that, that's the movie I want to be in."
Born in Greenwich Village and raised in New Jersey, McGinley "grew up bleeding Yankee blue," during the pre-George Steinbrenner era. Owned by CBS, the Yankees were, as McGinley described, "the quintessence of mediocrity," until Steinbrenner took over and began collecting free agents like most kids collect baseball cards.
"He just stocked the pond," McGinley said. "He started bringing in the early free agents -- Andy Messersmith, Tommy John, Reggie Jackson. If you were a quality free agent, you were probably up on 161st Street."
McGinley attended Syracuse University, where he enrolled in the Newhouse School of Communications with the intention to become a sports announcer, a la Bob Costas, Marv Albert and Howard Cosell. But all he did was write copy for the upperclassmen, without being afforded the opportunity to recite it himself. Sick of that role, he left the school and transferred to New York University "to become a storyteller of a different kind," McGinley said with a smile. "I became an actor."
For all of the characters McGinley has played during his career, the Barber role in "42" was the first real-life person he's portrayed.
"Everyone else has been works of fiction," he said. "It was a privilege to play a guy that impacted so many people in a profoundly wonderful way. It was fun to make."
And, of course, it was fun to research.
"That Red had such an impact on Vin -- you could see it in his eyes, the stories he was telling," McGinley said. "The minute I asked him about Red Barber, he lit up. It wasn't just another celebrity coming to get a shoulder massage. I genuinely wanted to know what it was like to have this living, breathing person, how he impacted Vin Scully. What a treat."