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Actor, director Zach Braff discusses new film, ‘Wish I Was Here’

Colette Greenstein | 7/30/2014, 1:33 p.m.
Zach Braff, who cut his acting teeth in the ‘Scrubs’ series, discusses his directorial career, new film.
Zach Braff

“It’s all on my shoulders for better or for worse” said Zach Braff during an interview with the Banner to promote his new film, Wish I Was Here.

It’s been ten years between directing films for Zach Braff. His directorial debut Garden State, which was shot in his home state of New Jersey, became an indie breakout hit in 2004. Co-written by Zach and his brother, Adam and starring Natalie Portman, it was produced for $2.5 million and made over $35 million at the box office. The film was praised by critics and fans alike. When asked about what he’s learned between films, Braff said “I like to think I became a better filmmaker. I like to think I’ve gotten smarter and better and grown-up. I think it’s a more mature movie.”

Best known for his character Dr. John ‘J.D.’ Dorian on the long-running NBC sitcom Scrubs, Zach announced in April 2013, that he was launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to shoot his second film, Wish I Was Here. Braff said that his producer Stacey Sher “really encouraged me to go for it because the Veronica Mars thing just happened. We thought ‘well, what do we have to lose?’ If it doesn’t work, it would be humbling but I can handle that.”

There were naysayers who didn’t think it would work “because it was a new title.” But it did. Within 48 hours the film quickly raised the funds it needed through the online campaign to the “sound of a million jaws hitting the floor” said Braff.

“It felt incredibly wonderful,” he added. “It made me instantly spend a year, what will eventually be two years working on this art project for them [fans]. I hope that they love it.”

When asked about funding future films through Kickstarter he said that for this film, “It was always meant to be an experiment. It was meant to ask the question “what if we did it this way?” Well, the experiment worked.

Set in Los Angeles and shot in 26 days, Wish I Was Here tells the very funny and heartwarming story of the Bloom family who are each facing major crises in their lives. Aidan (Zach Braff) is a struggling actor who goes on auditions and escapes into childhood fantasies about being a futuristic space knight, while wife Sarah (Academy Award nominee Kate Hudson), shoulders the responsibility of being the family’s sole breadwinner working a dead-end job.

Aidan’s widowed father, Gabe (played by Mandy Patinkin of Homeland), announces to Aidan that he’s battling cancer and can no longer pay for the private school education of his grandchildren. This revelation throws Aidan for a loop and forces Aidan to home-school daughter Grace (Joey King of Fargo) and son Tucker (Pierce Gagnon of Looper), while confronting issues of faith, family and his career.

Despite the upheaval in Aidan and Sarah’s lives, there are moments of tenderness, affection, and laughter between the two. In real-life, the two actors have been friends for years. With the funding through Kickstarter, Braff was able to retain casting control over the project which was important to him because “so much of what makes a movie good is finding the perfect person for that role,” says Zach.

“For a myriad of reasons, the director is often force-fed a cast that he or she didn’t really want. Those people can be fine actors. They’re just aren’t right for the role. Once I had control, complete control, I could pick exactly the people that were perfect.”

And that included Hudson.

Of their chemistry and ease in the film Braff said “I just think she’s a phenomenal actress”. He talked about certain scenes in the drama-comedy “where we’re sorting of riffing and being silly like the Game of Thrones thing in bed. That was just us joking around and I put it in the movie. It was real and silly. I was genuinely making her laugh. And, so you get those little moments. With a stranger it’s harder to get those little moments.”

Wish I Was Here contains a lot of those ‘little moments’ and is worth seeing.

Focus Features’ Wish I Was Here is now playing in theaters nationwide.