About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Home
July 2004
Garden State: An Interview with Zach Braff

By Wilson Morales

Garden State: An Interview with Zach Braff

Making that transition from television to films as an actor is one thing, but as a director as well, that's big feat to accomplish at the same time, and Zach Braff has managed to just that. Not satisfied with being the star of the NBC TV series, Scrubs, Braff set out to direct and star in a small film, GARDEN STATE, which was positively received at the Sundance Film Festival. Running to make its run in domestic theaters across the country, Braff spoke to blackfilm.com about making it in Hollywood and growing up in New Jersey.

What are some of the odd jobs that you've had to endure while trying to make it in Hollywood?

Zach Braff: The scene in the restaurant is almost verbatim to the conversation I had as a waiter at a French Vietnamese restaurant (Le Colonial) in Beverly Hills. I wore a black tunic. I got threatened with head shots of other actors that were applying for my job. That's all completely real. I waited tables, I worked as a production assistant on music videos. I did all sorts of odd jobs.

Were you a good waiter?

ZB: I was an awful waiter. I hated it. The problem for me is I had a little bit of success acting but not financial success. I was in a little movie called the Broken Hearts Club which was out in theaters while I was waiting tables which was really uncomfortable because people would come to the restaurant after the movie and they'd do a double take and they'd say, 'we saw your movie, it was great.' And I'd be like, 'let me tell you about our specials! We have the tuna which is excellent tonight!' It was depressing. It was hard because in Hollywood you're trying to let people know that things are going well for you so I'd have a meeting with some huge agent and then he'd come to this restaurant and I'd be pouring his wine.

A lot of people will be surprised by your directing chops.

ZB: The fortunate thing is the thing that separates me from the actor who says he wants to be a director is that I had gone to film school and had made a bunch of short films. I was a director who said, 'wow it would be fun to act.' With Scrubs I thought it would be more helpful to actually get the movie made than it turned out to be. It was indirectly in that it got me a new fancy agent and they were able to package this movie together. I had myself starring in it and Natalie Portman starring in it and Danny DeVito producing it and I still couldn't get anyone to finance it until the last second. People were afraid of taking a risk.

In the film you have a friend who has become exceedingly wealthy after discovering silent velcro. What are your feelings about the overt excess of success?

ZB: I felt my whole life was geared towards trying to make money and get enough money to buy a house and afford a family and eventually be able to retire. It felt like a scary shallow existence. I wanted to make a guy in his twenties who makes more money than he could ever fathom and then he has no clue what to do with himself and he's completely lonely, miserable and bored. That was a comment on that. It was based on the Dot com craze where I read in the paper that some twenty year old was worth a billion dollars. I just felt that guy's life would be so twisted from now on. When the Dot coms crashed I needed to find another catalyst for that so I came up with the idea of silent velcro.

Has your life measured up to what you thought it would be in terms of your success?

ZB: I don't make that kind of money (laughs).Financially I'm not like that but I think I'm the same person. I don't feel any different having some success in my career than I did when I was a waiter. I feel lucky that I get to do my dreams and I can make a living doing what I love to do more than anything in the world. I'm the same exact guy who was asking if you wanted the cubed filet mignon.

What was the most difficult scene to shoot?

ZB: The pool scene (of the wealthy friend). There were lots of extras. It was night and it was raining. There's a fifty foot crane and we're at a twenty five million dollar mansion where all the toilets are backed up and the woman (owner) is freaking out and yelling at me because I'm the only person she recognizes. That was really hard. There were nights like that where I thought this was gonna suck. Then you get the footage back and none of that shows other than really cool moments.

Do twenty something people all have this dependency on pharmaceuticals like they do in your film?

ZB: I think it permeates my generation. I don't know anyone who doesn't know someone who is on some sort of pharmaceutical. In most cases I've seen it do a lot of amazing good for people and it saves people's lives. I think it's a topic of interest that we're the first generation to be growing up with access to all these drugs from everything to Ridilin and Prozac. The drugs are only getting more and more effective. In my lifetime there's gonna be, 'if I'm having a crappy day if I pop this thing everything is awesome and everything is great and what will be the ethical issues surrounding that.' I think it's something to question and look into in my generation.

Why did your character drive a motorcycle with a sidecar?

ZB: I had to take motorcycle lessons in the dead of winter in Queens. I always liked motorcycles but we were never allowed to ride them as a kid. I thought the concept of a sidecar was so funny to me. If you get in someone's sidecar you're kind of their bitch and there's no denying it! It is tricky to drive especially when you're not used to driving a motorcycle. Much like the shark in the movie Jaws, the motorcycles never worked so we were constantly dealing with the fact that none of them would ever start.

Your friend in the film (Peter Sarsgaard) has an adopted African brother. What inspired that character?

ZB: I have an adopted Mexican sister who was adopted when she was a month old and then raised as a conservative suburban Jew which I always thought to be interesting (to say the least). It was a comment on the Americanization of people and nature/nuture and how there he was using the clapper and words like Mac n cheese when he was raised in a completely different environment. I wanted to show his drive for making something out of his life vs. some of the apathetic (characters in the film) Americans who were more content to sit and pull bong hits in front of thetelevision.

How does the rest of your family feel about this personal film?

ZB: They love it. My Dad is a groupie. He calls every day to find out what's happening on the road and he's seen it a bunch of times. A bunch of them had cameos in it and I had to cut them out for one reason or another so no one made it into the movie. There was a big scene at a shivah which is a Jewish wake and I had lots of them there. The camera went by there and you overheard their conversation. My father in particular was complaining about the cost of his son's barmitzvah and how he was embarrassed that the theme of it was gonna be Broadway musicals (which was my theme when I was barmitzvahed. It was awful but great fodder), and that he was really upset he had to lay out ten grand for someone to build a barricade of French garbage (for Les Miserables) across the Boche lanes at his tennis club.

Was your childhood growing up in South Orange, New Jersey as full of adventure?

ZB: I had a lot of stories and suburban adventures. I wasn't ever repelling but I took tours through the quarry (where we shot in the film) and drink canned beer on that very crane and we'd scream. The town was in a constant battle with the developer to put aluminum sided condos in there and since we shot in there they lost. Now if you go there it's covered with really tacky condos. I think the movie is a Wizard of Oz-like journey through suburban streets. You can see a lot of crazy stuff in suburbia. People think I made up that (scene) of the peep show in hotel's hallway. That was something that was in the New Jersey papers where they drilled holes in all the rooms of the hotel and were spying on people. These were all things that happened in suburbia. It was an adventure through every day life.

What is it like to go home again to South Orange, New Jersey after your own success?

ZB: You look at people who live there all year 'round and go, 'wow how are these people not bored out of their minds?!'  There's really that alienation for me being in the entertainment industry, and it was really awkward because they all had a warped sense of what my life was like. All those lines (in the movie) where my friends would say, 'Oh you're an actor. F**kin DeNiro buddy!' Stuff like that would really happen and people would say, 'we should do something together 'cos I got a lot of good ideas. You could play me!' Stuff like would happen all the time. With all these entertainment channels that glorifies this Hollywood lifestyle was definitely not one that I lead. It was coming home and everyone having this warped sense of what my life was like.

How many people have recognized themselves in this film that you grew up with?

ZB: Nobody has really seen it yet in New Jersey. My buddies will recognize themselves but they're all sort of a conglomeration of different people. We're having a huge outdoor screening on July 29th in my hometown which is kind of fun. At the Floods Hill in South Orange where I grew up they're gonna have a huge outdoor drive-in free screening. That'll be the first chance that anybody from home town sees it so that would be really cool.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy