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September 2006
THE LAST KISS: An Interview with Zach Braff

THE LAST KISS: An Interview with Zach Braff
By Brad Balfour

Zach Braff Faces the Challenges of Adulthood--His and His Generation

While New Jerseyan Zach Braff has made his mark as the neurotic, fresh-faced co-chief medical resident John "J.D." Dorian, working in a hospital full of unpredictable staffers and patients, he has extended his persona of a man fraught with the traumas of the world into the world of film. First he directed his own film, "Garden State,"—a comedic tale of a 20-something grappling with the meaning of his life. Then he became the lead in "The Last Kiss"--based on a Italian hit, directed by actor Tony Goldwyn and written by Oscar-winning Paul Haggis ("Crash")--a not so comedic look at the trials and tribulations of a man hitting his 30th year.

Braff give his Michael as much depth as he can to a character in constant state of panic about what's happening to his life. He's joined in the struggle by his live-in girlfriend Jenna played by Jacinda Barrett and buddies, Kenny (Eric Olsen), Chris (Casey Affleck) and Izzy (Michael Weston). Even Jenna's parents (Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner) have to wrestle with the meaning of their longtime marriage. And of Michael is tested by the temptation of a hot younger woman played by Rachel Bilson along the way. A romantic film far more serious than other recent relationship flicks like "The Break-up,"director Goldwyn and writer Haggis serve up a remake of an inspired Italian film of the same name. It takes the Europeans to provide the thought-provoking inspiration behind this take of "The Last Kiss."

This is obviously not same old romantic comedy...so what attracted you to this story?

Zach Braff: I made "Garden State" because there were no movies out there that I want to go see. Maybe [there's] one a year that I thought targeted me and my tastes. So I thought why don't I make a movie that is the kind of movie I want to go see and that was "Garden State." After its success, I ironically got tons of scripts that were the exact opposite
from anything I would want to do, like by-the-number romantic comedies that were so predictable. So I waited a long time. Fortunately I had "Scrubs" going on, so I didn't have to rush out and take a pay day or something like that.

Then I read this and just loved it. I thought, "It's so gutsy. I can't believe a studio is actually releasing this movie." It had a very foreign film feel to it. It had the courage of an Italian movie. I met with the producers and said, "You guys have to promise me you're not going to wimp out and change this movie, "and when they did promise, I said yes and signed on.

It was a refreshing take on relationships and an honest look at settling down and the anxiety over settling down. I come from a generation of kids whose parents  pretty much all got divorced and I think we have a skeptical take on the whole "til death do us part" thing. That's not to say the movie is anti-marriage--I really don't think it is. But it's about having a conversation about it. Not ignoring the giant pink elephant in the room.

But it does deal with some of the same concerns as "Garden State" being about a guy lost in his life and trying to find something to anchor to.

ZB: I think they're very different. There are some similarities--it is about being lost. I'm always lost no matter what age I am. I'm not going to set out and make seminal lost movies for my entire life. It is coincidentally in the same spirit in that it is about maturing and looking for ways to grow up but it's a very different movie. It's a lot darker movie; even though "Garden State" had some drama in it, this is a more, even brutally, honest view about what men are thinking. I just thought the character was different. It's a movie about making choices and honesty.

You've said "…your 20s are about looking around and seeing what you want to do," if so, what is being in your 30's about?

ZB: I don't know about the 30s, I can tell you that the 29 to 31 range is about society telling you that you should think about getting married soon, and uh and uh if I buy one more baby carriage for someone on Amazon.com. Everyone getting married and having babies and its this giant societal convention that doesn't really seem to work like it did when our parents were doing it or at least they stayed in it longer and didn't bail on it.

There's a line in the movie where a character says "I told you I'd marry you when you could name three couples you know personally who lasted more than five years" and she can only name the ducks in the duck pond. So I think that for the first time it was an idea to have a no-holds barred discussion about settling down.

Was your amazing success with Garden State is a double edge sword, where everyone now compares what you do to that movie?

ZB: Garden State was lightning in a bottle. I didn't expect it to do that and I can't do that with every movie I make. I can't set out to make seminal movies about the state of 20-something. I didn't think people would have the response they had to it, it was very surprising to me and I feel very lucky. I'm very honest with my fans on my web site and when I talk to people, they don't expect me to go out and make "Garden State II," literally or figuratively. It's not what interests me. I promise that I am only going to make movies that I would like if I went and saw them; so if you're a fan of "Garden State" than I am going to continue to make movies I think people will like. Some of them will be dark dramas and some will be broad comedies, but I think they will definitely be in the spirit of what I started to do, 'cause it's what I really like doing.

Chances are you'll end up making out with a younger hot actress like Rachel Bilson.

ZB: Yes. In every film I do, no matter if it's slapstick or a tear jerker, I will make out with a 20-year-old girl. I have that written into my contract. Like if it's a Holocaust drama. Is there a young girl for me to make out with? Uh no. I need a rewrite.

This character is so likable even though he does this thing that is so horrible, was that a hard line to cross?

ZB: I just found it so damn refreshing. I was like "Oh my god a movie where the protagonist actually makes a wrong decision. Oh my god something bad happens to a protagonist that isn't from an outside force operating against him." It was a movie about a human being; we all do stupid things and we all do things in our lives that we wake up the next day and go "I'm such an idiot I wish I had a time machine and could go back."

Obviously this guy is flawed but I don't think he's a serial cheater; I don't think he's  done it before and I can guarantee you he'll never do it again, but he's human and he falls. I thought it was so refreshing to play a character that the lead in a movie that doesn't make all the right choices. Like I said I couldn't believe a studio was going to make it.

There's a line in the film where Jenna's dad [Tom Wilkinson] says do whatever it takes to get her back does that translate to do whatever she says?

ZB: No, I think what he goes on to say is that you can't fail if you don't give up. I think at a certain point you'll get a restraining order slapped on your ass but I think what he's saying is um if you really have clarity now and this is the love of your life and you know it now more than ever you can't walk away from it. You can't allow her to walk away from it. Do whatever you can to make things right. We don't know at the end of the movie what's going to happen. Maybe eventually they realize its not going to work. Maybe she cant forgive him. Maybe they'll spend a year in marriage counseling and realize they move on. Maybe they'll find something new. I like that about the movie. It doesn't try to answer all the questions. It doesn't try to say everything is wrapped up in a nice little box.

Did you edit the script?

ZB: You don't need to rewrite Paul Haggis. I did ask, because I love writing dialogue and I felt like I knew these guys, if I could custom tailor some of the dialogue to myself and they were open to that. I did do a little tweaking of the dialogue not because it needed it but, much like a dog, I wanted to urinate on the fire hydrant and make it my own. The producers were really open to that, me personalizing it a little bit. So I did a little tinkering.

Is the process of filmmaking an easier one than doing TV?

ZB: The thing with film is you spend a year working on projects and you're going to show it once. At least for one period of time. A TV show you have to continually impress people every single week with something new. It's a lot more to ask, The Nielsen system is obviously flawed. I'm not someone new for saying that. There is 2000 Nielsen boxes in the country deciding what the entire country should watch and not a single one of them is on a college campus. What do you do when your show is largely aimed at a college audience? So I don't have time to fix that or I don't have any answers to fix that but I do know that it's a shame. I thought "Arrested Development" was one of the funniest things I've seen in my life. According to the Nielsen boxes only seven people were watching it. Something tells me that's not true.

Does the 6th season of Scrubs with a fan base?

ZB: We really have like 40 million fans its just coincidence that none of them have a Nielsen box. It has a great fan base but unfortunately none of them have Nielsen boxes. We've managed to defy the odds.

Is this the last season?

ZB: I'm not sure that it's the last season. I'm not sure if it’s my last season or if it were my last season if the show would go on without me. There's so many variables. We’re not even on the air yet. The network hasn't decided. They're waiting for their other shows to bomb before they put us on the air. We don't know.

Will it be wackier?

ZB: It will be just as wacky. We're doing it for us now and the fans obviously but we think we have a good sense what the fans like. There are some people that like Scrubs to be more dramatic when it tends to be more dramatic and we'll always do those episodes but we like going to work and being silly and goofy and crazy and running into walls and being really .. friendly, random… I felt last season was the funniest season.

You have great chemistry with the guys making it believable that they longtime friends.

ZB: Michael Weston and have been friends for a long time. I didn't know Casey or Eric. We all decided we need to learn how to fake this really quick, we barely know each other. So we were hanging out in Montreal and we just started genuinely bonding.

Montreal has a fun night life so we went out a bunch. We all played "Halo" on my Xbox in my hotel room. We all just really liked hanging out and got along. Sometimes you do a movie and you don't like someone and you gotta pretend their best friends. This was an example of guys I genuinely love. I'm actually going to see them all when I go up to Toronto on Saturday and I'm so excited. Rachel, Tony, everyone, we all really like each other.

How does it feel when you go back home for a visit and you find friends who are married and you're not?

ZB: People have matured and have careers now and live-in girlfriends and beginnings of entering their 30's, which again is more about starting a family. Maybe "Garden State" was about looking for that home, sense of home, maybe this film is about you've got that home no are you going to start a family. I didn't write this movie. It isn't from my life experiences like "Garden State" was but it is something I could really relate to.

When you come back home to visit your friends where do guys hang out?

ZB: I hang out in Manhattan, and go out with my friends downtown. Or see some theatre.

Are there places in South Orange you like to go to?

ZB: I wouldn't want to give them away (laughs). But I go home to South Orange and see all my buddies and hang out in the town.

If you finish "Scrubs" would come back to this area?

ZB: Yeah, I love Manhattan. I love Jersey. I feel really home in Manhattan. Of all the cities I go to I feel like it's I grew up having this as my city so I love the theatre here and everything here. So the answer is yes. The answer is I could very much so imagine at least having a place in Manhattan and I will always have to have a place in LA but bouncing back and forth.

What do you miss about New Jersey?

ZB: I miss that no one in Jersey could give a rat's ass about Hollywood (laughs). It's just like, everyone's very real, very genuine for the most part. It's a stereotype but everyone says what's on their mind. I go home and hang out with my Jersey boys and I go off and hang out and no one cares. We talk about Hollywood for maybe 20 minutes and then no one cares it's just back to being the regular guy I was in Jersey.

THE LAST KISS opens on September 15, 2006




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