TV

John C. McGinley On 'The Ground Floor,' Back Busting Chops

11/14/2013 04:22 EST
The Comedy Network

John C. McGinley should be considered for "Horrible Bosses 2." The actor spent nine seasons portraying abrasive, egotistical attending physician/Chief of Medicine Dr. Perry Cox on "Scrubs." Now, after a brief hiatus from television, McGinley is back to busting chops and delivering laughs on TBS/The Comedy Network's "Ground Floor."

The series follows hot-shot banker Brody (Skylar Astin), who becomes enamoured with one-night stand Jennifer (Briga Heelan), a maintenance worker in his office building. Their respective colleagues believe the two floors of different status and salary shouldn't mix. From there, romantic comedy ensues. McGinley plays Brody's critical boss, Mr. Mansfield.

"Ground Floor" premieres on November 14, and while in Toronto to support his friend Chris Chelios being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, McGinley spoke to HuffPost TV about returning to comedy, capturing his character's essence and profanity.

After "Scrubs," did you ever expect to find yourself on another sitcom?

John C. McGinley: No, and here's why. After "Scrubs," I was lucky enough to do a Broadway play with my friend Al Pacino, "Glengarry Glen Ross." Before that, I got to do "42," the Jackie Robinson story. I was kind of moving in a different direction and only because my glass was gloriously filled from "Scrubs." Getting to play a quasi-iconic character was a gift. I didn't necessarily need to revisit that venue, that format, anymore. Then Billy Lawrence called me up, the creator of "Scrubs" and "Ground Floor," and he seduced me.

How did you put your own spin on the Mr. Mansfield character?

The entry point into Mansfield for me was finding his sound. I had just done that with some degree of success on "42." I had to find Red Barber's voice because it's such an iconic voice. Then I was watching Daniel Day-Lewis being interviewed about playing Lincoln. The first thing he said he wanted to do was find Lincoln's voice. I thought, "Maybe I'm onto something here."

So the first thing I wanted to get down was what Mansfield sounded like. I'm a bit of a film geek, so I went back and revisited some of my real heroes, like George C. Scott and Lee Cobb, and borrowed from them. The connective tissue is there's [in a gruff voice] "That thing they throw in the back of their voice." I wanted to add some of that gravel to it. That's what I came up with.

Then I wrote a thing called "The Mansfield Manifesto" and sent it to Billy and the writers, which is a little presumptuous. They loved it. It turns out I wasn't trespassing. It turned out they were input-friendly, which is the greatest thing on the planet.

Is there any Dr. Cox in Mansfield?

No, I wanted those notes to be totally different. Mansfield is not as glib or sardonic as Cox. Mansfield also fundamentally wants to be a mentor to Skylar's character, Brody. As we will find out, he doesn't have a son. He openly embraces, with no compunction, that missing piece. Whereas Cox is the most dysfunctional, reluctant mentor in the history of television.

Mansfield seems to display moments of pride towards Brody.

One-hundred percent. If he could, Mansfield would adopt Brody. Spiritually and emotionally, we'll see him adopt Brody as his son.

What's so funny about workplace comedies? What makes an office a good backdrop or relatable?

Because we all vicariously know exactly what they are talking about in "Office Space," in "Wall Street" and in "Ground Floor." We've all either been there or know someone who works there. Most of us have to roam around in that environment.

How much improv are you and the cast doing in the moment?

Very little. I love when the writers are bold enough to give you great alternates on take two, three and four. When you're doing this in front of a live audience, the head writers will just come up and pitch you. Because you already nailed the way it was on the page, now they want to really get in and mine it.

Does being on the Comedy Network allow you to push certain boundaries?

Yes. You're allowed to say sh*t three times. You can say bullsh*t or some iteration of "sh*t" three times. The writers have saved that as a knockout blow, so it's not an exercise in crassness. Nothing is more repulsive than when someone is crass. They just save it and save it and then when someone lands a sh*t word, it explodes. It's great.

Comedy is so subjective. What can viewers expect on a weekly basis?

What's great about "Ground Floor" is the "A" story every week is Mansfield's love for Brody and then Jenny's love. They'll be in an emotional tug-of-war. Then craziness can feed off of that. That lets the show be really fresh and relevant and these young actors are incredibly skilled. The storylines are genius. It is a study of culture clash, which we're in the middle of in 2013. A study of class conflicts.

There seems to be a lot of heart and charm in the series, too.

Tons. As the season progresses, that's what tested the most, so the writers wrote to that. What didn't float in the pilot is gone. The stories start to become more important and engaging than fraternal gestures.

"Ground Floor" premieres tonight on The Comedy Network at 10:30 p.m. EST/PST.

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