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John C. McGinley talks Red Barber, '42'

Director and screenplay writer Brian Helgeland and John C. McGinley live next to each other in Malibu. Todd Williamson/AP Photo

Actor John C. McGinley spent one year in the early 1980s at Syracuse's Newhouse School of Public Communications with the hopes of being the next great sports broadcaster.

"I wanted to be Red Barber, Mel Allen or Howard Cosell. I loved their personalities and all of their sounds," McGinley said. "I realized soon that I didn't have the skills so I transferred to New York University. Cut to 30 years later and now with this opportunity, I jumped on it."

That "opportunity" is portraying broadcaster Barber in the new movie "42" about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball in 1947. Barber was one of the first announcers to broadcast the play-by-play in games featuring Robinson and his Brooklyn Dodgers.

"I felt so strongly wanting to be in the movie," McGinley, known for roles in "Platoon" and the TV show "Scrubs." "Any way I could do it, I was going to make it happen."

And McGinley's approach was a little unconventional.

"I couldn't get any traction in the traditional way of being cast, but I knew that the writer/director Brian Helgeland lived just a pitching wedge away from me in Malibu," McGinley said. "So I walked over and asked him directly. He gave me several discs of Barber doing some World Series broadcasts. I studied for a week, and he offered me the job."

Because McGinley's part was broadcasting coverage of the games, he wasn't on set until after the film wrapped. He spent three days in Atlanta on a sound stage reciting some of Barber's favorite lines such as "can of corn" for softly hit fly ball and "rhubarb" for an on-field dispute.

"It was a great three days because it was like putting blinders on a thoroughbred. I stayed as Red and never came up for air," McGinley said. "I was able to stay in the groove and make the voice my own. It was a real luxury."