How do you make Brooklyn Nine-Nine even better? You bring in John C. McGinley, who’s added another dash of brilliance to the hit NBC comedy. The veteran actor who had audiences rolling in the likes of Scrubs and Office Space is stealing even more scenes as Frank O’Sullivan, the police union rep who is keeping things interesting in the 99th precinct.
Before tonight’s new episode, I took a few minutes to talk with John C. about coming aboard Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s final season, the contrast of playing in a cop comedy after his much darker turn as Superintendent Brian Kelton on NBC’s Chicago PD, and working with the likes of Andre Braugher and Andy Samberg.
“They sent me this offer to play Frank O’Sullivan, who is the head of the policemen’s union. He will serve as a foil for Andre and for Andy’s character. They are oil and water. I’m oil and water with both of those guys,” John C. explained. “The writers were brave with this because they have a guy who’s an advocate for cops. If not handled in the right tone [it] could be tone-deaf, and so the way they handled him is they made him kind of Archie Bunker meets Yosemite Sam. I was thrilled. I was all in. The character is so delicious. He’s so damaged. So I said, “Let’s go.'”
His appearance on Brooklyn Nine-Nine might be jarring for regular NBC viewers, because the last time we saw him on the network, he was on the complete other side of the cop world. Chicago PD is the antithesis of B99, and John C.’s character Brian Kelton was a corrupt police superintendent who would stop at nothing to become Mayor of Chicago. Unfortunately for him, shortly after he was elected, he was also murdered. So how was that role compared to this one?
“Kelton was so intense and so ambitiously drawn,” John C. recalled. “What’s great about Kelton was that oftentimes, actors are always looking for what’s redeemable about the characters they get to play. Kelton was just unapologetically an exercise in ambition, and that was thrilling, not to have to apologize for anything. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, this guy Frank O’Sullivan, he’s just hilarious. It’s a total other end of the spectrum. I don’t think he could play a buffoon, but he’s such a self-righteous advocate for cops that he just constantly is digging himself a hole, and then Andre and Andy get to play off of that.”
Both Andre Braugher and Andy Samberg have won awards for their portrayals of Captain Ray Holt and Detective Jake Peralta respectively, so what was it like for John C. to play off two actors as comedically talented as he is?
“It’s always great when the writers are writing to actors’ strengths. That’s what they smartly did in this eighth and final season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” he told me. “The eighth and final season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine didn’t serve as a whiteboard that the writers could throw up every eccentricity that they never got to exercise for the different characters and get that out of their system. They went back and wrote to each character’s strength.
“Andre’s strength is everything, and Andy’s is how quick he is. To write to those strengths and then introduce a foil was just so structurally sound,” he continued. “To be able to play opposite Andre and Andy is the stuff you hope for, to be able to be invited into that ensemble. That’s the stuff dreams are made of.”
One thing you won’t see this season, though, is an Office Space in-joke. John C. did tell me that no references were made to the cult classic film, in which he played one of the infamous “Bobs” in scenes that perfectly sum up the frustrations of corporate employment.
“The writers shied away from that. I don’t know why, but that’s a great idea,” he said. “I would have done it in a minute.”
So we won’t see Frank asking Jake or Amy if they’ve filed any TPS reports or if they’re fans of Michael Bolton. But no matter how much he Frank causes for Holt, Jake and the rest of the 99th, there’s something that’s endearing about him. One could even say that about Kelton, even though he was as corrupt and shameless as any bad cop ever portrayed on TV. John C. McGinley has a knack for making every character he plays, however antagonistic or outlandish, someone that the audience wants to watch and wants to like—so how in the heck does he pull that off? Especially when he’s in roles like Brooklyn Nine-Nine where his whole function is to be a challenge?
“I think it’s because [of] my son Max, who was born with Down syndrome, and my connection to the special needs community never ever is not on me and it’s never not in my heart,” he reflected. “When I teach actors down here, I tell them that the camera is and always will be an X-ray machine. When you step in front of it, it can see right through you. As much as we all want to put on all these affectations and we want to have a limp and we want to have a tick and we want to do all these things, the camera’s an X-ray machine.
“So for John McGinley, you’re always going to see Max. You’re always going to see the people with Down syndrome that I advocate for. You’re always going to see the Special Olympics athletes that I work with. You’re always going to see the mentoring program, the Best Buddies that we work so hard with. That’s the camera’s X-ray machine,” he continued. “That’s what you see in John McGinley, that you don’t buy the fact that he is as horrible as whoever this person is he’s trying to play.”
He also gives a tremendous amount of credit to the cast and crew of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Where many TV shows feel different in their final season, or seem to flag, John C. explained that this group was still bringing their best game to their last ride.
“Being with an ensemble of actors like that, which is like putting on a baseball glove that was worn in and it felt really good, I might as well have been stepping into the Scrubs ensemble. It was that tight,” he concluded. “The writing was so good. You don’t have to pull a rabbit out of a hat to flourish. You really just had to hit your mark and engage with that ensemble, because they’re going to hit the ball back.”
One other thing’s for certain—the addition of John C. McGinley to Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been a home run. It’s always a pleasure to see him on screen, and already fun to guess what Frank O’Sullivan is going to do next.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.