Capone tries to KISS Zach Braff one LAST time! Braff refuses, but does grant him an interview!!!
Published at: Sept. 15, 2006, 3:40 a.m. CST by quint
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here with my conversation with fellow Northwestern University alum Zach Braff, a guy that can swing from being a complete cut-up to deadly serious dude depending on the topic. I like that about him and his work. Although I’m not a regular viewer of “Scrubs,” what I’ve seen, I like a lot. And my affection for Garden State know few bounds. We had much to discuss, including his exceptional new film The Last Kiss that hits this week; his next film as writer-director-star Open Hearts; and his very likely turn in Fletch Won.
One more thing, during the course of our conversation, some details about the films ending (and alternate ending) are divulged. This could definitely be considered Spoiler material. Read at your own risk. You’ll see it coming before Braff actually says it, so just skip that paragraph. Otherwise, enjoy.
Capone: Sounds like you’ve a busy day already today.
Zach Braff: Yeah, well, I wanted to come to Chicago because I have great memories of being here, so we packed it all into one day.
C: Sounds like it. And, you have the screening tonight, right?
C: My wife and I are both Northwestern alums, and I found it interesting that you followed the director track at NU and not the acting track, although you did some acting.
ZB: They made me choose, It’s kind of a weird thing in the program that somebody should one day fix, but when you get there as a freshman, you have to decide, Do you want to be a theater major or film major. You have to choose, and I always thought that was weird, because in the theater school you study acting, but there’s no acting program in the film school. So, for someone like me who wanted to learn to act and direct, but also learn the technical aspects of filmmaking. There’s really no program. You couldn’t even minor in theater.
So, anyway, I decided that I knew a little bit about acting, but I really wanted to use the film school to learn everything that I possibly could about film production in four years. So, I actually talked my way into an acting class, which everyone told me I wouldn’t be able to do. But, I got this great teacher who let me come into his acting class.
Other than that, I did one play there, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. But, the rest of the time, every free second, I was working on somebody’s movie. I was doing the sound or I was doing the food or I was directing or I was shooting. I did every possible thing you could. And, in four years, the greatest thing I got out of the film school was just working on movie after movie after movie. It really got me a solid education for how to make a movie.
C: And, then you didn’t do it for a while after that.
ZB: Well, then I got out of school and I was broke, so I PA’d in New York City on music videos. And, I would audition, you know, it was the same thing--I was trying to do both. I thought I could climb both ladders at the same time, and who knew which one would make me a living first?
And, I couldn’t take a PA job at a movie because I couldn’t audition. So, what I would do is, you know, go on these stints of working on a music video and then make enough money that I could…I lived very frugally in New York so I could do a music video or a commercial for, like, five days and then not have to work for, say, two weeks. And so I would try to audition during those times. It was a crazy, crazy time.
But, my first paying gig came doing a production of Macbeth at the Public Theater. So, that was kind of my big acting break.
C: What year was that?
ZB: That was in ’98.
C: I’ve been schooling my wife on the films of Woody Allen, and we just watched MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY three weeks ago, and I hit that scene where you play Woody and Diane Keaton’s son, and I said, “Holy crap! I didn’t know he was in this film.”
ZB: [Laughs] That’s when I was 18 actually. I’d acted a little as a kid. Occasionally, I would go into the city and commute from Jersey, and I got an after-school special, and I got a Bruce Paltrow pilot that didn’t get picked up--little things like that. But, when I was 18, right before I went to school, I got that part in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY. It was actually a bigger part when we shot it than what ended up in the movie, so part of me was, like, Should I go to school? I mean, I was just in a Woody Allen movie. Should I ride this wave? And I decided to full on just dive into being a student at Northwestern.
C: Looks like it paid off. With “Scrubs,” I’ve noticed every guy I know that watches the show will say something about you like, He seems like he’s a really cool guy, I want to hang out with him. And then after GARDEN STATE, every woman I knew would say, I want to marry this guy, I love this guy. So, is this part of your overall plan for world domination?
ZB: [Laughs] No, no, I think…you know, when I first started acting, I would go and I would sit in the waiting room of audition rooms, and I would sit next to some guy who was, like, a model, like the most handsome person in the world. And I’m, like, I’m never going to get this fuckin’ part. And then, I hear him go in the room and read, and I’m, like, Ah-h-h, there is a God! The guy can’t act!
So, I think the anxiety that I had about not being, you know, the most good-looking, Brad Pitt actor in the world actually worked out in my favor, because one of the things I hear most about J.D. on “Scrubs” and in GARDEN STATE is people going, You look like a guy I went to high school with. You remind me of a friend I knew. It’s kind of like the Jimmy Stewart school of being an actor, the everyman that people can relate to. And, I think that’s a very lucky thing to be.
C: And, also with THE LAST KISS, certainly the issues that you’re dealing with in this film, I think, a lot of men and women can relate to. I’ve had people ask me, Is it like GARDEN STATE? And, I say, I think it’s better if you think it is, going in, because you’ll be surprised that it’s not. I don’t want to give away what it is, because it impressed me that it was more serious. It starts out sweet and funny, and I must say, it features one of the greatest fart uses in the history of comedy films.
ZB: It’s not too serious that we can’t include a fart joke.
C: That’s what I mean. It’s silly, and then it gets deadly serious in the last half. But I’ll lie when telling people about it and say, It’s like GARDEN STATE, but there are two hot chicks instead of just one.
ZB: If you’re looking to see hot chicks having sex with me, you’re gonna get your fill.
C: Yeah, so I found this to be almost like a 30-something horror film, because every guy in this movie is scared that either he can’t tell where his life is going--he’s aimless--or he can see very clearly where his life is going from now until he dies. And, it’s scary on both sides of that equation. Why do you think men seem so less capable of dealing with a future that appears mapped out for them?
ZB: Well, I think there’s a couple things. I think that our’s is a generation of people whose parents for the most part got divorced, and that adds a whole new level of “‘til death do us part,” because we don’t want to admit it, but we wonder, does that thing work? I mean, you know, Is it possible? Is there anyone that does it? There’s a line in the movie, “I told you I’d marry you when you can name three couples that you know that have lasted more than five years.”
C: I have that line written down right here. It really hits you. It’s funny, but it’s true.
ZB: So, you start to go--as I image people do in the movie--Well, let’s see, Bill and Pam. I wrote that line, actually, because I couldn’t think of three couples I knew. And I’m talking about…second marriages doesn’t count…first marriage lasting more than five years, and I couldn’t name more than three. And, I included celebrities, and I couldn’t name more among those either. So, I think it’s time we’re honest with ourselves a little bit. It’s understandable that there’s some anxiety around it.
I do think that women maybe are a little sooner to be able to commit because they have a maternal clock, and if they want to have children, they know they’re going to have to begin that in their 30s. So maybe men are a little more hesitant because they don’t have that ticking clock. But, I know plenty of women, even though this movie focuses on the men, there are plenty of women I know who think they’re with a guy, but they’re not completely sure, I mean, it feels like the one, but, you know…the women are the same way. I think men get more flak over it.
C: It’s rare to see a character in a romantic drama that so completely owns his mistake. I don’t know how else to put it. But, he…
ZB: …takes responsibility.
C: That’s what I mean. That’s what I’m talking about. He does. And, we’ve seen plenty of films where a guy tries to apologize and goes to great ridiculous lengths to apologize, but to actually sort of spend so much time dealing with taking responsibility. The scenes your character has with your girlfriend’s parents are a part of that. You don’t really see scenes like that in films any more. Was that something that appealed to you?
ZB: I couldn’t believe the studio was making this movie, first of all. It felt like such a foreign film, obviously, which it was [THE LAST KISS is a remark of an Italian film of the same name]. But, when I met them, I said, There’s no way you guys aren’t going to test this and change the ending. Be honest with me before I sign off. And the Lakeshore guys said, We’re not going change it.
C: Was the ending that’s in the film, the same ending as written by Paul Haggis?
ZB: Yeah, well, yes and no. The Paul Haggis version had an epilogue on it that sort of showed years later. And, we shot it. And, then we didn’t put it on, because we felt like these situations are so often unresolved, and when they are worked out, it’s over years. You know, this couple’s going to have a fighting chance. They’re going to go to marriage counseling, etc. An epilogue just felt like it cheapened it. Why not allow the audience to be smart enough to put their own ending on what happens.
C: The epilogue was them still together?
ZB: The epilogue was them together with their kid…
C: How many years later?
ZB: Maybe like a year later. The Italian movie had a major difference in it--that an Italian audience would be okay with and an American audience would never be okay with--and that is that he doesn’t come clean about in the Italian movie. He cheats on her and never tells the truth, and they end up happily ever after, and he’s sort of, like, Whatever, that was a life experience.
But, in the American movie, we thought it was very important that he at least buy back his integrity and come clean and is a good man. Even though he did a stupid thing, he is fully honest. And, that change in the movie made us choose to not have the epilogue on it, because it was, like, more interesting to sort of have it open.
C: And, there’s certainly no guarantee with this ending that there’s not going to be a whole lot more screaming and yelling and problems.
ZB: Of course…or they might not end up together. I think it’s all up for conversation. I think one of the reasons the movie will be such a great conversation piece for people is, What do you think happens?
C: But an ambiguous ending also forces you in every interview to answer the question, What happens to them?
ZB: I think it’s up for interpretation. I’m a romantic, so I say they get back together, but everyone will have a different answer.
C: I have to imagine that after GARDEN STATE you got just a boatload of scripts that were more traditional, romantic comedies. Let me be the first to say, Thank you for not taking any of them.
ZB: They’re awful, man!
C: So, why are you in drama now…and we’ll get into OPEN HEARTS in a second, because I’ve seen the original Danish film. Be warned: people might string you up, because they’re going to come to you for comedy, and they’re going to get that!
ZB: I’m telling my fans right now, I’m telling them early on, that there is probably a half a smile in OPEN HEARTS, and other than that, it is the dark drama. I want to try everything, man.
So, to answer the first part of your question, I got sent a buttload of crap when GARDEN STATE was successful. And, it’s so funny, I mean, people will think I’m exaggerating, but I probably got five scripts sent to me that were guys who had just avoided the plane crash, who were dealing with big life transitions because their cousin died, and they fell in love with a girl. I mean, they were like cookie-cutter scripts of the movie I had just done. It’s so funny how pigeon-holed you get in Hollywood. They go, He knows how to do plane crash scenes. How about him for this movie? There was that genre.
And, then there was just the big Hollywood, glossy, you know, romantic comedy thing, which doesn’t interest me at all. So, I’m lucky enough that with “Scrubs” I make a nice living, and I didn’t have to run out and take a payday, which so many actors have to do when you do indies for years. And, a payday comes up, you go, Oh, I gotta take it. So, you do it. I’m so lucky I didn’t have to fall into that trap. So, I could say ‘no’ to all the paydays and the stupid stuff and wait for something that caught my eye. The barometer I use is, Would I go see this movie? And, nine times out of ten, when I read a script, I go, I’d never see this movie. I wouldn’t even see this movie on video.
And, so I waited, and I read THE LAST KISS script, and as I said, I was, like, This is too good. And, then I saw the Italian movie, and I was like, This is awesome. And, then at Lakeshore, I go, Be honest with me, you’re not going to change this. And, when they said ‘no,’ and they said Tony Goldwyn would direct, and I loved for A WALK ON THE MOON. It was a perfect fit.
C: Were there any bizarre scripts that you got that read and wondered, Why would anyone think that I was right for this?
ZB: The funniest is when someone says, It’s really between you and Tracy Morgan, and they can’t decide. You dig it? They really have no idea which way they’re going.
C: Back to the themes of THE LAST KISS. Are people allowed to screw up really bad once and still be forgiven? That’s always sort of been my rule: people are allowed to make one major mistake in a relationship. If they do it again, that’s it.
ZB: That adage: Screw me once--shame on you. Screw me twice… you know what I mean? In terms of a relationship, whether it be friendship or romantic, I think that that’s probably true. I think you can forgive once maybe, maybe not twice. Unfortunately, we as human beings make many throughout our lives. But in a relationship, yeah.
C: The other theme, of course, is temptation and giving into it or not giving into it. Is that something you were able to identify with as someone who maybe is tempted more than most of us?
ZB: I don’t think so. I don’t think I’m tempted more than any other person out there. But, I think it is an interesting thing to explore, this idea of this male sexual fantasy, like Tom Wilkinson [who plays his girlfriend’s father] says in the movie, I haven’t even met last brunette. That doesn’t go away. The temptation doesn’t go away, but it’s what you do in the face of that temptation that hopefully changes and matures.
C: Let me talk about a few of your future projects. We talked about OPEN HEARTS a little bit. Which character are you playing in that? The paralyzed guy or the doctor?
ZB: The paralyzed guy.
C: Have you filmed this already?
ZB: No, no, I haven’t shot it yet. I was supposed to shoot this summer, and I put it off because I wanted to wait until I got the perfect cast.
C: That was my next question. Who’s in it? But, I guess you don’t know.
ZB: It’s not…there’s, um…I’m hoping…I don’t want to say, ‘cause it’s all up in the air. But, there’s a couple of people I’m hoping to get. And, it’ll be sometime in 2007, either the summer or fall when we start filming.
C: So, this is something you have to wait to do until after…
ZB: This is something I’d wait until the end of the “Scrubs” season. I can’t do it simultaneously. I do “Scrubs” until April, and so it’ll either be summer or fall of 2007 that we shoot. So, it’ll be a while before it’s out.
But, it is a Danish movie that really just blew me away with how powerful it was. And, it was Dogme and shaky cam, which I’m not a fan of, so I thought, Wow, this is such a cool movie, but it’s, you know, it’s a Danish movie with shaky camera, handheld video, that no one will ever see in the United States.
C: I don’t think it ever opened. I saw it at a festival a couple years ago.
ZB: And, it’s only on Netflix, actually. You can’t even rent it. I was looking for something that I could adapt, because I didn’t have time to sit down and write a movie from scratch at this point. And, I wanted to do something with drama, and I wanted to do something small. And, it just…the movie is so simple, and yet it discusses such a wide range of human emotions, all about a very simple thing. There’s a car accident. A man is paralyzed and how that unravels the two families that are involved.
I just found it a fascinating script. In fact, I didn’t do too much to the script, other than Americanize it and have a couple moments of release, because the Danish movie had zero moments of release. So, a couple of moments where you can at least smile, not necessarily laugh, but at least take a rest.
C: You said ‘release.’ See, I might have easily thought you meant crying. There’s plenty of time for that in this story.
ZB: Oh, no, no. I meant, like, humor. That movie just is so intense. You have to have a moment where the audience can lean back in the chair for a second and take a rest.
C: Well, I’m dying to see how you do this. And, I hope people respond to it, because if you get it even close to what the original is, it’s going to be tremendous.
ZB: Thank you. I think I can do it. I just need to get a great cast and be very faithful to the Danish movie.
C: You’ve said in some places that this was probably going to be the last season of “Scrubs,” at least for you?
ZB: No, what I said--and it’s been a little misinterpreted--was that this is the last year that I’m under contract for “Scrubs.” So, it’s the first year that the decision will be up to me whether I come back or not.
C: My real question was going to be does it terrify you at the prospect of having all of that time to fill. If you don’t have to squeeze in one movie between seasons.
ZB: I don’t know, I mean, part of me…of course, it’s my family, and I love it, so I don’t know the answer--whether it’s definitely my last year or not. I love it, and I’m loyal to it, and I’m loyal to [show creator] Bill Lawrence, because he gave me my big break, but I also have, you know, a lot I want to do. And, I’m 31, and I’ve put in six years of the show, and part of me says, Hey, time to start a new chapter, and there’s part of me that just wants to stay with what’s comfortable and familiar. Fortunately, I have eight months to figure it out.
C: Is this FLETCH WON thing still a possibility? Is that any closer to happening? I know Bill’s name has come up as possibly being attached to it with you starring.
ZB: Yeah, I was talking to Harvey Weinstein about it when Kevin Smith was going to do it, and then Kevin fell out of it, and then I told Harvey that, you know, the perfect guy is Bill Lawrence, because there’s not a bigger fan of the Fletch book series than Bill. I mean, he is a Fletch fanatic. He’s one of those geeks that’s, on the Fletch websites.
C: I didn’t know there were such things.
ZB: There are Fletch websites. So, Harvey hired him to write and direct it. Bill’s starting from scratch. He’s going back to the book, and he’s got a really good template for it. His idea is…he uses the movie BEVERLY HILLS COP as a reference. If you think about BEVERLY HILLS COP, everyone thought it was a comedy, you know, you think back, and you think of all the funny stuff, but it also really holds up as an exciting action movie with high stakes. Someone gets their head blown off in the opening scene. I mean, it’s a high stakes mystery, action movie, but at the same time, hilarious. And, in the spirit of that, that’s what Bill wants to do with FLETCH, having you laughing a lot, but also have real stakes and have it be an exciting mystery.