Zach Braff's new movie, Wish I Was Here, is the definition of a passion project: it came to fruition with the help of fans and supporters via Kickstarter campaign, and from the very beginning, it's seemed as though Braff — who wrote, directed, and stars in the film — made it his personal mission to deliver a product that could live up to the hype. Not only did he have the 46,520 crowdfunders to please, but he also faced pressure to create something as impactful as his 2004 hit, Garden State.
While Wish I Was Here is in no way a sequel to Garden State, there are some similarities; the film follows Braff's character, struggling actor Aidan Bloom, and his family as they each strive to figure out their own idea of happiness and find the ability to live in the moment. And like Braff's debut, it does succeed in capturing the same wistful feeling and emotional gravitas (it also has one hell of a soundtrack). We, along with a group of fellow reporters, sat down with Zach Braff to talk about his triumphant return to filmmaking and what it was like to reunite with a few of his former Scrubs castmates. He also revealed a few secrets about working with Kate Hudson and told us why his onscreen daughter Joey King makes him want to "adopt a kid."
Source: Getty / Frederic J. Brown
What lessons have you learned while making this movie?
Zach Braff: Well, the good news is that I learned to never give up on something, and not listen to naysayers. Everyone told me it wouldn't work, and that it would be humiliating, and that it's never worked with a new title, and it's never worked on this level. It had worked for Veronica Mars because they were building off a brand. When it funded in 48 hours and the Internet went crazy opining for or against, it was really exciting, because a lot of the things I've accomplished in my life that I'm also really proud were preceded by people saying, "That will never work." Everyone passed on Garden State, and everyone passed on this. Of course, I didn't anticipate that there'd be so much vitriol from people about it, because I naively didn't understand that not everyone — though it sounds idiotic to say now — understands the intricacies of film financing. But now that that's all quieted down, here we are. I've been traveling the country going to these early screenings to fulfill my commitment to the backers.
Religion obviously plays a huge role in this film — did you draw on any real-life experiences?
ZB: We grew up very religious. My parents sent my brother [Adam Braff] and me to an Orthodox Jewish school, and then by the time I was growing up, they put us in public school, but we were still conservative Jews: kosher, separate dishes, the whole thing. The story I tell [in the movie] about my bar mitzvah and blowing my dad's mind when I said, "Well if I'm a man, I want a cheeseburger!" is totally true. I identified as Jewish, but my brother and I both felt like so many people we know relate to the customs and traditions of religion, but they don't relate to the doctrine. Those people now have children or are dealing with death or are looking for some spirituality and some sort of "What the f*ck are we doing here on earth?" That's what we wanted to write about. Now I have no relationship [to Judaism], other than my father who is still religious. I go home for the holidays and watch Woody Allen movies and I'm in a Woody Allen musical [Bullets Over Broadway], and that's about it.
It was very cool seeing people who had been on Scrubs, like Michael Weston, Alexander Chaplin, and of course Donald Faison. How important was it to you to cast people that you've worked with before?
ZB: It's very important. We made this movie in 26 days; I only had Mandy Patinkin for four. You have to move so fast, so I can't roll the dice on someone who's not going to deliver. You need someone who's going to come like a sniper and just nail it, and I know all those guys will crush it. [Scrubs creator] Bill Lawrence used to call them his comedy assassins. Joey King and I worked together on Oz: The Great and Powerful, and Kate [Hudson] and I are friends — it's always hard in a movie, because it's like, "OK, pretend you're lovers! Pretend you have 20 years of history!" So it does help on this crazy schedule to know the people you're working with.
Source: Getty / Bruce Glikas
Joey King recently told us that she donated to the Kickstarter campaign to support you, not knowing that she would end up getting a role in the movie, which is adorable.
ZB: We spent so much time together on Oz, and I fell in love with her. Not only is she a good actress, but her parents have done such a good job raising her. She's just so cool! Forget being 14; she's like my buddy! She makes me want to adopt a kid; I don't want to deal with a baby – I want to adopt a 14-year-old Joey.
What was it like being friends with Kate for so long and finally getting to work with her?
ZB: When I saw Almost Famous, I was like, "Holy sh*t! What has Cameron Crowe just discovered?" Obviously she does a lot of those big romantic comedies because she's beautiful and funny, but I thought, "I want to find that Almost Famous Kate." I said: "Forget all the bullsh*t. Forget the glam squad; no makeup, your [curly] hair. Share a trailer with me. Come and just be you and be great." As you can see, she showed up and did it. That scene with her and Mandy Patinkin . . . I will give you a secret: that scene — which is a lot of people's favorite scene in the movie — the entirety of Kate's performance was taken from a single take where she just f*cking crushed it.
How much pressure did you feel to create a soundtrack that was as impactful as Garden State?
ZB: Tons! But in 10 years, iTunes has happened. And in 10 years, no one buys albums anymore, and record stores are gone, and so much has changed. It's hard to try and compete with something from a different era. I remember when the Garden State soundtrack was in the Virgin America store — tear-shed — in NYC, and it was selling so much that they put up a sign in the soundtrack section that said, "We do not have the Garden State soundtrack," because no one ordered it! No one knew. They were so annoyed by people, because it was right next to a movie theater that people would just go right after. So for this movie, we tried to make a unique by having original stuff; Coldplay and Cat Power wrote a song, and Bon Iver and The Shins wrote songs. There's an Imogen Heap song that Allie Moss plays on the ukulele, and there's an unreleased Weepies track. I just tried to curate a lot of stuff that people wouldn't find elsewhere so that it would feel special.
Is there one question about the movie you wish would go away?
ZB: No, I've been talking to a lot of smart people! What I usually get all the time — and it's going away — is "You did Scrubs for nine years. Did you learn anything about being a real doctor or perform any surgical things?" And I'd be like, "Really . . . that's the question?" That one has slowly gone away. I've been blessed to have lots of intelligent conversations.
Source: Getty / Alberto E. Rodriguez
On that note, what do you miss most from Scrubs?
ZB: Laughing my ass off every day. The hours were crazy, and they owned the hell out of you — you couldn't really travel, you couldn't really go anywhere, and they got mad at me if I rode my motorcycle. After nine years, I felt like, "All right, I need some freedom." But what I miss the most about the job was to go to work with your best friends and try and crack each other up. In addition to all the people you saw on the screen, you had a whole room of hilarious writers. What I love more than anything in life is laughing, and so I miss that: going to work and riffing with Neil Flynn, with Donald Faison, having Bill Lawrence pitch jokes. There was such a camaraderie, and I miss that.
Who would you have cast to play Aidan if you hadn't played him?
ZB: That's such a great question. If I could cast anyone, I guess it would be Joaquin Phoenix. He's pretty amazing.
Wish I Was Here hits theaters July 18, and you can watch the full trailer here.