John McPhail was born in Burlington, North Carolina, to Weston and Judith McPhail on December 24, 1962. His father worked as a bank, and his mother was a homemaker.
Johnny, the eldest of four children, attended North Burlington High School and went on to attend Duke University in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he earned a B.S. in economics 1979. While working after college as a junior manager at the accounting firm Malmouth, Howell, and Stern, he met Adele Howell, and they were married in June of 1983.
In 1988, Johnny and Adele moved to Oxford, where he and college friend Arthur Elias established a small bookkeeping and accounting service. The McPhails' only child, Ruth, was born in 1989; she settled in the San Francisco area after graduating from Stanford University with a degree in computer science. Adele has worked in the Spanish department of the University of Mississippi as an administrative coordinator since 1996.
McPhail now devotes quite a bit of energy to acting. Always a film fan, he developed an interest in acting, and he leaped at any chance he got to read scripts, be involved with stage plays, or work on film sets. He is mostly retired from his accounting practice, except for a few clients here and there, and devotes as much time as he can time to auditions and script reading.
He has worked as a stand-in for Jon Voight in The Rainmaker and been in a scene with Debra Winger in Big Bad Love. He has also appeared in several other movies filmed in the area including Cookie's Fortune, The Chamber, The People vs. Larry Flynt, A Time to Kill, and The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag, as well as several documentaries and educational videos produced by PBS and by the University of Mississippi.
In addition to his film work, McPhail also has won roles in several Oxford stage productions, including Going Up, Symmetry, Paper, Swim, Sail Sun & Fish, The Taming of the Shrew, Larry Brown's Dirty Work, and Larry Brown's Joe. He has also worked as an announcer, an emcee, and a performer for local radio programs and supper clubs.
In the spring of 2019, McPhail met Dalton Kimbrough in an Oxford bar. Kimbrough often made wild claims in conversations with other bar patrons, and, at the time, McPhail wrote him off as a drunk. By November 2019, McPhail hadn't seen or thought about Kimbrough for several months when he saw the younger man's call for actors in a local newspaper. McPhail remembered Kimbrough from the bar and decided to respond to the ad to see what it was all about.
McPhail found Kimbrough a changed man from their last interaction, and the two quickly became friends. At Kimbrough's invitation, McPhail joined the cast of the movie, and soon after, retreated to a lodge in a remote area of Yoknapatawpha County with the other members of the film's cast and crew.