Last time most of us saw Zach Braff, he was fighting off 'The Ex' and zipping through his final days as a wacky doctor on 'Scrubs.' But now, the actor/filmmaker is getting serious as the lead in Canadian filmmaker Deborah Chow's award-winning debut feature, 'The High Cost of Living.'
Braff plays Henry Welles, an American expat in Montreal who spends his time partying and dealing prescription drugs. One night, he accidentally hits a pregnant woman with his car, panics and drives away. Wracked with guilt, he ends up befriending his victim, though she doesn't know who he is.
The film is gearing up for release in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal this Friday (and available Stateside via Video-On-Demand) and Braff sat down with Moviefone.ca to talk about his experiences on the film, why he hasn't made another feature yet and why he loves 'American Beauty' and 'Real Genius.'
How would you describe your character in the film?
Zach Braff: He's a horrible person... That's not true. He's a guy who has sort of painted himself into a corner. He's tangled and he needs to hit rock bottom in order to realize it's time to change.
He quickly morphs from a pretty careless man into someone with heart. Do you think he lost his way and refound himself or is this a new side of him?
When he finds out what happened, he bottoms-out so there's nowhere else to go but up. The movie's about him choosing a new course of life. Even if it hurts him, he's going to do the right thing. It's about how it's never too late to make amends.
His drug dealing seems to focus on trying to help those in need with pharmaceuticals, like he's trying to be a good drug dealer.
I think he's a good guy. I don't think he's a bad person; he's just in a bad spot. He can rationalize, "Alright, I'm selling prescription meds, I'm not selling crack." Maybe that makes him feel better. He's like, "Alright, well I'm not just selling prescription drugs, I'm helping people. I'm helping people with methadone, who need to get off heroin."
A lot of that stuff, I think, is bullshit. It's just his way of rationalizing, of making himself feel better about what he does. But it does show the audience that, buried a little bit, is a good guy. There's a good person who's trying to get out.
So it's a juxtaposition between him thinking he's doing good and actually doing good and changing?
Yeah. That's a good way to put it. *Laughs* I couldn't have said it better myself!
Many of your characters suffer numbness -- in 'Garden State,' for example, and in the play 'Trust' your character actually talks about feeling numb. What is it that draws you to these type of roles?
I don't know, maybe it's me! I like them because they're varying degrees of that, but if there was a theme, it would be people waking up. In my own life, I feel that I get numb to a lot of things and then a new life experience wakes me up. Sometimes it's a person; sometimes it's an epiphany. It helps me start new chapters.
'Garden State' won you a Grammy for your song choices. If you were compiling a mix to help people understand your character in this film, what sort of music would be on it?
That's a tough question. We had some good music at the festival, but a lot of it got cut because we couldn't afford it. I don't know if people know that, but you can get festival rights to music, which is a lot cheaper, because it's only going to be at the festival. When you go to distribute your movie, they want so much money, so a lot of good music gets cut. But I don't know... I'll have to think about that. Something sorrowful.
Is there any role you wish you could dig into again? A character whose story feels unfinished?
I don't love remakes. I say that and I optioned one, a Danish film I love that I'd like to remake one day.
Is there a dream role that's been out of your reach, so far, that you'd like to tackle?
I want to do a big action movie, one that has me repelling down a mountain or shooting an uzi. I'm kind of kidding, but I'm kind of not. I would love to do something smart. You know, a thriller or action film, like 'Inception,' or 'Adjustment Bureau,' which I really liked. I want to do something that isn't just pure action, but something that has a smart adrenaline to it. It's not the first thing people think of me for, but I'd love to do it.
You've written for the screen and stage, acted, done voice work and directed. Do you find these skill sets transferable, or is each a uniquely separate experience?
You learn something from every one. Ideally, you take what you learn and go on to the next thing.The play I wrote, which is now going into production, has many parts of my experiences -- screenwriting, music supervisor, actor, photographer -- it calls upon all different aspects of experience. It's a hokey analogy, but it's pretty accurate: I would say it's like being a conductor of an orchestra. You get to bring all of these amazingly talented people together and then bring their best out of them.
Do you ever find it difficult to then go back and be just an actor?
Sometimes. You can ask Deborah Chow. On this film, I was pretty good at keeping my mouth shut, although occasionally I would whisper in her ear. I really noticed it on 'Scrubs.' I would direct an episode, and directing and starring in an episode was a colossal amount of work, and then, the next week, I would just be acting and feel bored. If you can handle the amount of stress and amount of information that needs to be in your brain, then it's kind of addictive.
Your play is coming out this summer. Is there anything else your fans can look forward to if they can't get to New York City?
I'm trying. I was very close to making another film. A lot of people who like my work have been asking me on Twitter and Facebook when my next movie is coming out, and some of them are indignant. They're like, "What's wrong with you? Get off Twitter and make a movie!" But I'm trying. I was very close to making another.
'Swingles' was about to happen, and then we had some casting issues. It's more challenging than ever to get movies made, so I'm thinking about going the Tyler Perry route soon and just making something super-low budget myself.
Finally, if you had to share one film you think is the pinnacle of filmmaking, that you aspire to, and one absolute guilty pleasure, what would they be?
That's a great question. I think if there's a movie that was super-inspirational to me at a time when I was studying film... I could say a classic, but that would be a boring answer, so I'll pick something at least relatively recent, 'American Beauty.' I think I watched that at the right time in my education. I thought the tone, style and talent showed the kind of film I wanted to make. It's funny and beautiful to look at, but, at the same time, it's also social commentary while being a love story. Obviously, it's a hard act to follow, but I thought Sam Mendes' work on that movie was pretty damn amazing. That's the first thing that came to mind that was something inspirational.
Something that's cheesy and awful, but I love?
God, there's so many. First one that comes to mind is probably 'Real Genius.' Val Kilmer's finest work. I met him once and I told him that. I don't know if he was too thrilled when I said, "Oh my God, you were in one of my favourite movies of all time!" I'm sure he thought I was going to say something like 'The Doors,' but I said 'Real Genius!' I love that movie; I grew up on that movie. I think it's really funny.
Also check out our interview with director Deborah Chow, and the first five minutes of the film.