Fighting Gravity With John McGinley
John McGinley is best known for the rich characters he creates in films such as Platoon, Office Space, The Rock and, of course, as Dr. Perry Cox on Scrubs. However, to XPT, he’s better known as John, and he’s part of the family.
A 20-year friend of Gabby and Laird’s, John is known as much for his muscles and determination in the pool as he is on the silver screen. An early adopter of the XPT lifestyle, you never know when John may pop in to teach a course or join the Experience right alongside you. We had the privilege of speaking with John about his involvement and perspective regarding the XPT Experience.
XPT: It’s always a pleasure, John McGinley. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.
JM: I’m very comfortable talking about XPT. It’s easy talking about something you really believe in.
XPT: How did you first meet Gabby and Laird?
JM: I met Gabby 20 years ago in the produce section at Ralph’s supermarket. My ex-wife and I were three weeks from welcoming our son Max into the world, and now he’s 20. I introduced myself and we became acquaintances. When she brought Laird into the mix, we started to visit them in Maui, before they were in Kauai, and spent Thanksgivings together. Then they bought their house in California and became Malibu-ites.
A year or two after meeting Gabby, Laird started a pool regime that I got involved with along with Darin Olien and Hutch Parker, spawning what we call, ‘The Core Four.’ While Laird and Gabby are in Hawaii November through May, Darin and I use the facilities at their Malibu home to keep up our regimen in the gym and pool. We’re there at least five days a week—unless someone’s out of town on a gig—but most of us are there six days a week, with Sunday being the off day. God, when you say that out loud it sounds a little crazy but that is how we start our day! I was there every morning this week and I’ll be there every morning next week. I schedule other things around all of us being there in the morning.
XPT: What do those mornings look like?
JM: We congregate at 8:00 a.m. and are underway by 8:10 a.m. and unless someone is playing games in the pool, you’re done in an hour. We’ll do a 20-minute section then hit the hot house (sauna) and then go in the ice; totaling 10 min in the hot house and five minutes in the ice. Two sections at 35 minutes and you’re toast. Unless there’s goofing off, everyone should be out of there by 9:30 a.m.
“John’s a constant. If you were to ever be in a fox hole this is the guy you want with you. He is an incredible combination of compassion and strength.” -Laird Hamilton
XPT: Muscle and Fitness rated you in the Top 10 Most Underrated Celebrity Bodies Ever. Do Laird or any of your other friends give you a lot of crap for that?
JM: (laughs) That’s funny! No, no—at 58, I’m glad to be in any conversation. My father had my favorite saying of all time. He was a two-time, All-American football player at the University of Pennsylvania. He was this big Irish-American guy and they used to always ask him, ‘Jerry, how y’doing?’ and he’d say, “Fightin’ gravity. All day, every day, Fightin’ gravity.” And he meant it! I only heard that about ten thousand times. He meant it. He was telling his truth. I know what he means now. ‘Fightin’ gravity.’ But in the pool, it feels like you’re fighting oxygen.
XPT: Film and TV sets have such long days and early mornings, how do you fit in a workout when you’re filming?
JM: If you’re doing 16-hour days you’re not working out. I do push-ups in my trailer or I’ll bring one of those big blue workout balls and a couple of twenty-fives to try and get exercises in. For that concentrated eight weeks that I’m on set, it just has to come in second place; there’s just no time. If I go through a workout and have to go through make-up and hair again, it’s just not worth it.
I stack up going into a gig and then the verb changes to ‘maintain’ which is a passive verb when you’re working out, but that has to be okay, just to maintain. I grab a workout when I can; I cram what I can in on Saturday and Sunday and then I’m back at it again with a 5 a.m. Monday morning call time. When I get back at night, I’m not working out; I’m going to get food, look at tomorrow’s work, look at the changes in the script and hopefully I’m horizontal by 10 o’clock.
I can reconcile with all of that, no problem. I’m going to lose a little muscle mass over eight weeks, but not that much. However, as long as I stack it up going in, it’s going to be fine.
XPT: What’s your approach to nutrition?
JM: It’s pretty boring, actually. I’m a smoothie in the morning guy. I’ll do a salad and some chicken at lunch and by dinnertime, I’m starving. So, whatever my wife, Nichole is making, I’m ready.
Nichole is an upper-echelon Ashtanga yoga teacher and nutritionist so we get to eat super clean around here. My biggest challenge is portion control at dinner. That’s what I struggle with the most. If I eat a zillion pounds of rice and a zillion pounds of fish at dinner, it’s nutritious, but too much food; so, portion control is my biggest issue.
XPT: Have you ever had to bulk up for a role? Or slim down for a role?
JM: Yeah, I bulked up for The Rock. I put on about 20-pounds. I took off 60 pounds to do a film called Highway and I had dreads sewn in. That was a mistake because the film stunk. Physicality and the roles I play usually go hand in hand.
Usually, for men on camera, it’s about getting your chest and shoulders jacked up because that’s what’s going to read. You put that into the protocol and it works. The camera picks that up. When you effectively change the physique of the character it means you have to talk less because a lot of the story telling is done visually. That’s what I like—anything to tell the story visually works for me.
XPT: After all the years that you, Laird, and the guys have been working out, what do you think about the life the XPT brand has taken on?
JM: Well, Laird’s let me come and teach at a few XPT Experiences and what’s interesting is how quickly the men and women who come check their ego at the door. Because it’s clear that during these 3-day events, that this 96 hours is going to be different than anything you’ve done before. Unless you check your ego at the door and open up your listening channels and your capacity to assimilate and adapt, you’ll get into trouble.
It’s great to see a lot of these young men and women—a lot of whom are very successful—show up and engage and really, really want to learn because it’s really hard. The learning curve is hard. I think it’s been amazing to see the effect that XPT has on people in this incredibly condensed time period. It’s very demanding and you see people breaking down, which is great. Then they assimilate the input and they excel, flourish and feel fantastic. Even if you’ve been there, done it, seen it all—which is unfortunately pervasive on the work-out landscape—you damn sure haven’t been there, done it, seen it XPT. You just have not. If you have the spine to show up and participate and really give it a go, it’s thrilling. I see these people and their faces and they are thrilled! It’s exciting to witness.
“John is one of the hardest working, straight forward, loving, honest humans on the planet. Someone truly to be respected.” -Gabby Reece
XPT: What do you think is the highlight for most people?
JM: I’ve participated more in pool work with participants. I had two young, vibrant, stout athletes who were really struggling at first. The water is a profound equalizer. When people can move through that horrible, horrible feeling of failing underwater and get to where there’s baby steps towards executing these different drills, you watch them learn that there’s a whole unlimited resource that they’ve tapped into in themselves. What a phenomenal thing with which to provide someone. It’s where success stories come from.
XPT: How do you think fear plays into that?
JM: What I try to share with the different people that I’ve worked with is—and they can’t process this until the second or third time—but what I try to impress upon them is that this is not about holding your breath. When I say this, they look at me sideways.
What this is about is you going and getting the air. Just like when I have actors and they are struggling in scenes, I try to get them to find aggressive verbs to get them through the scene. What are they doing? They aren’t allowed to use the word ‘try.’ I don’t care what you’re trying to do but what are you doing? When I can get people to stop holding their breath, which means your shoulders are going to be up around your ears and your burning all of this oxygen holding your breath, I want you to go and get the air and it will liberate a lot of things in the way your machine is working. It will free up all of these tension pockets that are devouring your oxygen. You’re holding your breath in your shoulders that are up around your ears, you’re sequencing your face; all of these things are real, they aren’t affectations, you’re scared and you’re holding your breath. What is this anyway? Go get the air! Go get it! It’s right up there. Seven feet above your head, just go get it. Now we are doing something!
It gives people who are objective-oriented an objective because ‘to hold’ is a counter-productive verb underwater. It’s a little esoteric but it’s true, and as soon as people can wrap their brains around that they can go through the exercises with more ease and less tension. Tension just devours oxygen like Lady Pacman—Waka-waka-waka. In your brain you’ve failed. It feels horrible. Nobody comes to XPT to fail.
XPT: Let’s shift a bit to long-term wellness and fitness. What do you think are the most important things to focus on as you evolve and grow older? Do you find it to be a bigger challenge when you get older or is it routine because you’ve always incorporated into your life?
JM: Routine because I’ve always fanatically incorporated it into my life. There are people who bust my chops but I don’t really care. I mean, I’ve got a bad ankle but I’m stronger now than I was in high school, and I was really strong in high school. That feels good! It feels really good to leap from role to role, from film to film and be able to adapt. It isn’t easy, but I have a tool kit: I can adapt and change. That process is not arduous because I don’t let myself get out of shape. Getting into shape is a pain in the tail when you’re out of shape, so for me, it’s better to stay in shape.
XPT: Do your kids share your enthusiasm for health and wellness? How do you work out as a family?
JM: I think it trickles down from Nicole being the biggest impact in their life. All three of them are terrific athletes. My oldest—Max is 20—was born with Down Syndrome. He’s very active in the surf and in the water and that feels good on his joints. My 9-year-old Billy does aerial work, and she’s a ripped-up piece of steal. Kate, who is the 8-year-old, is Miss Soccer; she’s a female Huck Finn. They don’t work out as much as they play.
Max will come to the pool with me; he loves being around Laird. He’s known Gabby since he was zero. He swims around. He doesn’t do all the monkey business we’re doing, but he loves being there.
XPT: Thanks for your time today! Can you leave us with any parting thoughts about XPT that resonate with you?
What’s so interesting about XPT and our group is that it is a collection of alphas. Everybody is an alpha in his or her particular thing. Hutch is an alpha on a movie set, Darin is arguably one of the most alpha nutritionists on the whole planet, Laird is the alpha waterman and I’m an alpha actor. Everyone up there is an alpha, but you got to check that at the door. That is not the way this is going down. This is not going to be who can be the biggest alpha.
Laird is on top of the pyramid and everybody else can fill in; that’s very liberating for a lot of people. Why are you going to compete with Laird? That’s pointless. I think, being able to lay your burden down in that sense and check your ego, it’s liberating for a lot of guys.
John’s new show Stan Against Evil has won critical acclaim and starts up again in November. Check it out on IFC. We think it’s hilarious. And, to support the Global Down Syndrome Foundation click here.