Interview: Actor John C. McGinley of ‘Dead Head Fred’

Meet Fred Neuman: he’s dead and he’s got no head. Brought back to life by a peculiar experiment and with no memory of his past, Fred aims to find out what the hell happened to him in the first place. The corpse-turned-sleuth chases down suspects and attempts to solve the baffling mystery, all while collecting an assortment of ability-altering heads along the way. And which actor has the perfect voice to play the decapitated private eye with a potty mouth and a bone to pick? John C. McGinley (of course). The cult-favorite character actor (“Scrubs,” Are We Done Yet?, Office Space, The Rock) took some time away from taping the new season of “Scrubs” to talk about playing the video game voice of Dead Head Fred on the PSP.

How did you get involved in this project?

[Vicious Cycle] contacted my publicist and pitched the idea to her, and they e-mailed a whole animation of what was going to happen. It looked fantastic and hilarious and self-deprecating and not too precious, and I thought we could have some real fun with it.

How did the sessions go? Were there a lot of them?

Yeah, it was long. We started doing it like the first week of January, and it went about two days a week for about three weeks. So it was a lot of stuff. The [developers] were down in North Carolina and I was over in Burbank, and we were just putting it all out there to see what stuck.

How did you get into the character? Was it all laid out for you or did you come up with additional ideas of your own for what Fred would be like?

I think we just kind of hit it back and forth, and when we finally arrived at a rhythm and a sensibility for the guy, we went back a couple of different times and re-recorded what we had done before. We finally arrived at this wise-cracking detective with a chip on his shoulder because somebody had blown his head off! And he was trying to get it back. So you can paint with brush strokes and just kind of take a really general approach to it. As we whittled it down and got things more specific, it sounded right to my ear and to the guys in North Carolina who created the game. It was a really fun process.

When you were voicing Fred, did you think back to any other characters you’ve done before?

No, this guy was unique because, well… his head was gone! With him, you could really just open up your imagination and roll out a cavalcade of eccentricities and see what makes sense to you. It was pretty much unlike anything I’ve ever done before.

I actually heard you ad-libbed a lot of the lines, maybe even added a little cursing. Is that true?

Yeah, well it’s just like being on any movie set, not necessarily “Scrubs” as much as a movie set; I like to do what’s on the page and then start to add some personal flavor. And I thrive in environments where that’s encouraged, and the guys from North Carolina were certainly doing that. After we did what was on the page, we just added a lot of John McGinley flavor and they were cool with that, and that feels more fun when we do it that way.

What’s the “John McGinley flavor”?

[laughs] I said, “Well, let’s make the guy unique in some way.” And the way is that instead of him being another smart aleck, let’s make him pissed off! You know, his head’s gone for God’s sakes. That sucks, man! [laughs]

Would you consider other video game voiceover work?

It’s tough to imagine anything else being as fun as this. Somebody called me about some Navy Seal thing the other day. The technical advisor who shot The Rock with us is doing one, and he called and asked if I wanted to do it. And I told him “Sure,” just as a favor because he worked so hard out on Alcatraz with us on [the film]. So I’m going to do something there, but it’s a much more minor character.

Do you have a PSP? Do you play video games?

Stuff before everybody was born! Donkey Kong. And Pac-Man on the “Scrubs” set. Donald [Faison] kicks everybody’s ass in Pac-Man. And I don’t have a PSP yet, but these guys are going to send me one that I could use, and I was going to start being a gamer with Dead Head Fred and give it a go!

Would you be keen on doing a Dead Head Fred sequel?

Are you kidding me? Absolutely! I loved it. I thought it was great. I can’t wait to see the game! I’m just really proud of Dead Head Fred.

[To see John C. McGinley in action, watch the behind-the-scenes video below, and check out Dead Head Fred on PSP in stores today.]