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November 2005
Chicken Little: An Interview with Zach Braff

Chicken Little: An Interview with Zach Braff

By Wilson Morales

After an impressive directorial debut last year with "Garden State", Zach Braff is ready to take on the animation world. Besides fulfilling his day job as Dr. John "J.D."Dorian from NBC's comedy show, "Scrubs", Braff will lend his voice in the latest film from Walt Disney Pictures' new computer-animated film "Chicken Little.". In speaking with blackfilm.com, Braff talks being in a Disney animated film and working with Garry Marshall.


Where did you come up with the stuff that makes Chicken Little so fun to love?

Zach Braff: I don't know. I didn't want to do just my voice. I wanted to do a character thing and I basically thought of what a little boy would sound like. We tried out a bunch of different things and when I was cast, he's a little boy that's big essentially; so I was just trying out a number of different things and that's what we settled on.


Did you try to avoid being too cute a character?

ZB: It's hard for me to be not extraordinary cute. I had to fight it. Because he's such a goofball... you didn't want him to be too annoying. You wanted him to be endearing because he's such a klutz. The trick was to find a voice that made him endearing and sweet.


How much of a strain on your voice was that?

ZB: Not much. I joked with the filmmakers that I would say, "Can I please have a line without an exclamation point?" Once the movie gets going, so much of it is action adventure, that it's all yelling so when there was big yelling, we would save it for the end of the session because that is where you voice out.


Was it nice to have so much time to develop a performance as oppose to television?

ZB: It's definitely an interesting process to work on something this long, but really the development of the character falls on the hands of the animators and the director in this medium because I'm just coming in doing exactly what they tell me to in terms of the voice and what's going on the scene; really the arcs are all in their hands.


With this, it's just you and a mike?

ZB: Yeah, ma and a booth. With one exception in this movie, they put Garry (Marshall) opposite each other so we look at each other and interact with each, which is good because Garry is a wonderful improve actor and I was able to keep up with him; but for the most part it's you alone in a sound booth just recording.


Had you done "Garden State" already?

ZB: With this, I've been doing for two years, so it overlapped with "Garden State".


How does becoming a director and working with Garry

ZB: Well, I know nothing about this world at all, so I really yielded to them and they are wonderfully collaborative. One thing is that you do it every possible way and if the line is, "Here we go", you are going to say "Here we go" 100 times. When they get in the editing room, they've got every possible way you can say that line.


Did you ever think that when you started that corky medical show, ŒScrubs", you would be a movie star and a cartoon voice?

ZB: No. When I started that corky medical show, I had just quit being a waiter so I was just happy that the money from the pilot meant I wasn't going to have to wait tables for at least a couple of months.


How did the director approach you in terms of being a 10 year Chicken Little?

ZB: I don't know if we ever discussed his age. I think he's in junior high so I would say he's probably before his bar mitzvah. (Laughs).


Had you done this sort of voice work before? How did you come into this film?

ZB: No, I auditioned. People have asked me that before, and I would say, "Let's see, I was walking around town and Dreamworks, Disney?" I had put it out there that I wanted to do this and this was such a big project for Disney that people auditioned and I was someone who auditioned and campaigned to get it.


Looking at the poster, do you see yourself? They said that they used your eyebrows?

ZB: Yeah, in gesture. They videotape you when you are doing the voices, so they are certain gestures and facial expressions in certain scenes that I can see are mine.


Did you always want to do this?

ZB: I think it's an honor. This is Disney and 70 years of animation. I recently told a reporter that as an American we grew up on this and she, being a foreigner, corrected me and said no, "The world has grown up on these."; and that's true. I thought it was something unique and special to be a part of the tradition of being a Disney character. I didn't imagine that I would get the name and title character in one. I thought I would just be "What's up, Chicken Little. See you at the game."


I heard that you had met Garry Marshall a long time ago at one of his lectures?

ZB: I had went to Northwestern and studied in the Garry Marshall sound stage. He says, (mimicking Garry's voice) "Don't tell them that, they are going to want more money. Everybody doesn't need to know that I gave that much money." Yeah, he's been very generous to Northwestern and the film school in particular. He came in spoke a couple of times and I would go and see him speak cause he's wonderfully generous with his time and with sharing anecdotes from all his experiences with young filmmakers.


Had you a voice where you talk to Chicken Little full screen?

ZB: I've done a bunch of them. I've done the video games of me. I've had a plush toy of me. I've been doing them all, almost of them.


Is that you singing at the end with the credits? Did everyone do it in the same room?

ZB: Yeah, and Garry too. Pretty much, Garry and I did all of our stuff together because we did it once and it worked so well, any scene that we had, we asked for us to be together cause it worked so much better for us.


Did they tell you to just sing like a little kid?

ZB: When I sing, "We are the Champion", they told me that it needs to be so bad that it sets car alarms off. The director said to be as bad as I can be. I'm not a great singer but I can carry a tune and it was hard for me to be that bad. People are going to think that I have the worst voice.


What is it about "Scrubs" that gets people's attention? I'm a fan of the show and my friends don't get it.

ZB: It's funny that you should say that because it has found such a really core loyal audience. You have to like comedy that moves fast. A lot of people understandably get home from hard day's work and they want to just watch a dumb sitcom where they don't have to think. The jokes are there and if you don't know you're supposed to laugh, the audience laughs for you. "Scrubs" moves so fast, it requires you to think a little bit. It's a little bit of a puzzle and it's very fast and we like to think smart and I love it. It makes me laughs. I think it's like a "Simpsons" audience because it feels like a live action Simpsons.


Has a decision been made regarding the show's airing?

ZB: They want to air them. They want a full season.


Have you started shooting?

ZB: Yeah, we were six episodes in. I think what happened was NBC wanted to launch their new comedies and they wanted to put them in juicy time slots; so as some of them do well and some of them don't, when the ones that don't go away, I think we will come in as a replacement. We are definitely not being treated like the favorite child.


Will you direct any episodes?

ZB: I directed 2 last year and will direct 3 this year.


What other films do you have coming up?

ZB: Next year, I have "The Last Kiss", which is an adaptation of an Italian film called "Multiple Box Show" and that's a big ensemble with myself, Casey Affleck, Rachel Bilson, Jucinda Barrett, Blythe Danner, Tom Wilkinson, and then I did an office space type of movie called "Fast Track" with Jason Bateman as my nemesis and Charles Grodin and Mia Farrow.


You lured Charles Grodin?

ZB: Yes we did, and man did he not want to do it but we talked him into it.


Was this done during your hiatus?

ZB: Yes, I was able to squeeze 2 films.


Will you write anything again that you want to direct?

ZB: I am and I'm not. I have the ideas in my head, but I've just been too busy; to give you for example, I shoot 14 hours a day on "Scrubs" and on the weekend I come and talk about this film, so I'm not exactly chilling by my lap top with a cup of coffee writing. On that front, I don't want to be one of those directors who directs because he can or someone will let him. There have been a lot of opportunities that I have passed on because I want my next film to be as important to me as "Garden State" was.


Is it easier to secure financing now than it was for "Garden State"?

ZB: Yeah, easier is not saying much because I couldn't find anyone to give me 50 bucks for "Garden State" but now there are plenty of people that are interested in doing it.


 

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