Zach Braff, best known for the hit show Scrubs, is truly hysterical. You might know this if you follow him on Twitter or watched his hit show, but you don’t know how funny he is until you are sitting there in front of him.
Zach entered the room just as we had decided #FlyingMonkey would be the Twitter hashtag we would use during the interview. We wanted to make it trend (a BIG deal), so we were all tapping away on our phones, iPads, and laptops.
Yeah Zach. We know. Which is why a majority of us had been following him long before this adventure to Oz.
Like I said, you don’t know how funny he is until you have his attention. He’s a storyteller, but not the typical quips or “when I was your age” tales, he was an animated conversationalist. He talks with exaggerated gestures, a boom in his voice, and a genuine excitement, like he really enjoys what he does – not just acting, but engaging. Making his audience laugh, commanding the attention in an utterly charming way, that you can’t help get wrapped up in the conversation and leave with that exhilaration he has given you. Plus, he’s not bad to look at.
So, as you read this interview, think about how the room was in stitches, how Zach pantomimed through the 15 minutes we had with him, and how positively electric the whole experience was.
During the production you’re in this little tiny black booth?
ZACH: Yeah, that’s one of the ways we did it. By the end we had three pretty solid ways that we did it. Sometimes I was like just scrunched down like in this blue screen onesie – which is really adorable – and for six months no matter how many times I put it on, everyone pointed and laughed at me, and so I sat on my butt and kinda hunched over, I was thirty-six inches tall. And so I’d do that, Sam wanted me to. He wanted to capture everything – gestures and my facial expressions.
So we’d do it that way. Other times there was a puppet that I would kind of operate, when he needed to be like flying and stuff. And then there’s times when I couldn’t be there at all, and I’d be in this booth with cameras all around me. And then James would be looking at a monitor that was kind of on a pole. And then he’d get the tiny ear piece in his ear, and so that’s how we could do it, because Sam- Sam’s biggest thing was, I don’t want you in a sound booth at the end of the shoot. I want you there, I want you and James improving, I want it to be two buddies on a road trip. I think that made such a difference. Because it wasn’t just this character that got phoned in at the end, it really was this- this important relationship.
What was one of your most memorable moments during filming?
ZACH: I love the moment when we find China Girl and James is putting her back together. Because it genuinely was so moving. I mean, even on set, it was so moving. And we were on all these giant sets and for the first time we were literally sitting and it was so surreal. We were literally sitting in a tea kettle and it was James and, and Joey King and the puppeteer. They had this beautiful marionette puppet, because she was small enough that she could actually have a marionette puppet.
It was just so sweet and beautiful. And I actually had my eyes well (with tears), that’s when I discovered that I wanted the monkey to almost be like an easy crier. I- because my eyes really genuinely welled and I was like, Sam, well let’s have him like covertly- he doesn’t want Oz to see that he’s crying, so let’s have him covertly swipe the tear. And then they kept in the movie, it was really sweet.
Aw. What was the most challenging part?
ZACH: I think, I was nervous the whole time, like I’m here for so long and working so hard. Are they going to capture all that I’m doing, you know. As an actor you go, okay, it’s my face, so they can’t get around that, but when all that you’re doing is really reference for an animator… yeah I was nervous. Like are they going to capture the subtleties in this. I’m nervous to put my name it if it’s not going to capture all the little things I’m trying to do.
I’ve only seen like rough, you know, incarnations of it, because it takes so long to get it that photo-real, the way you guys saw it in the movie. And then at the premier I finally saw, and for the first time, fully photo-real and realized, and it was so exciting for me. Because it really did, little subtle face ticks, and things I never would have thought they would have picked up in the eyes, they did. And I, that made me really happy that they got it all.
You were the comedy, and that’s what kids really respond to, what’s your feeling about doing this for kids?
ZACH: Well I did do Chicken Little.I did before. I have nieces and nephews, I don’t have any of my own yet, but I love kids and the idea- I’ve already scored that stuffed animal and, uh, it’s really cute, you’ll love it!
I slept with it.
ZACH:: So did my nephew! I have a twelve-year-old nephew right and – I swear you guys will love this story as moms. I have a twelve-year-old nephew and his sister couldn’t come out from Florida for the premiere, but he did. And I said I want you to give this (Finley toy) – his sister is eight. I said, I want you to give this to Ella because she didn’t get to come out. And he goes, yeah-yeah-yeah I’ll give it to her, and he’s sleeping on my couch. I walk in to come here this morning, and he’s totally spooning it [LAUGHTER] and I’m like, there’s no way Ella is getting that stuffed animal. Actually it was funny I had said I want you to give this to Ella, he goes, yeah-yeah-yeah we’ll share it, and I was like, no-no-no it’s for Ella. [LAUGHTER] So I told, I told my publicist, I need like a box of those things – one is not going to do.
What was it like going from Scrubs to playing Finley?
ZACH: Well it helped [LAUGHTER] I had a wide range, the physical comedy from Scrubs helps, and also the improvisational stuff, because on Scrubs, the rule was, hey, do one. Once we have one as written, you guys can play around and come up with stuff. And that really a lot of the stuff people loved, came out of us improving on Scrubs. And on this movie it was so big, I was like, they’re not going to have time for any of that. But Sam really wanted that, he’s like, I want you and James to riff, I want you to find those new jokes – and so I was really glad that Scrubs was kind of great training ground to be able to do this.
How do you prepare for a role like a monkey?
ZACH: I did actually go to the Detroit Zoo. [LAUGHTER] Um, and I stumbled across two monkeys, um, let’s just say in intimate embrace [LAUGHTER] None of that proved useful [LAUGHS] maybe for the sequel I don’t know if the monkey gets a girlfriend or not. But, it worked creating a creature from scratch, I mean, yeah, he looks like a monkey but he flies and he talks like a human. So it really wasn’t too much monkey research to be done.
So there wasn’t a lot of monkey business?
ZACH: You have me on record saying there was little monkey business!
How do you feel about flying monkey trending on Twitter?
ZACH: Is it? No it’s not! Because of you guys? You guys are such scary power! Wow, you guys- you guys can band together for good. That’s really cool. That’s a lot of power. I’m going to get on there and re-tweet it!
“OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”
Ph: Merie Weismiller Wallace, SMPSP
©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
What was the audition process?
ZACH: Sam asked me to come in, and I didn’t know that I would have read, because I would have auditioned. But he didn’t even want me to audition. He just kinda wanted to talk, and I went in his room and he had a really- a really rough animatic, like the- this pre-visualization stuff, uh, you guys are savvy, you know that. So, um, that’s what it was, it was that sequence where we’re running off the cliff and right before we go into the bubbles, where I jump off. And the monkey didn’t have any lines.
And he said, so here’s an example. We have this scene, but, we want someone who can kinda come to the set and figure out who this guy is with me and James. And he showed me the animation and I was watching it, and I saw him jump off and Oz says, what are you doing, you’re jumping off?! And I just went, I have wings! And Sam just started dying laughing and I was like, I guess that’s a good sign. [LAUGHTER] And to me- and so that’s how it started. And I, I, I found out when I got home I got the gig, because I made the director laugh.
And that’s what he wanted, he wanted someone that could sit there and go, “oh what if I said this”. And I said, Sam, I promise you this, I’m going to drive you crazy, I’m going to pitch a thousand ideas, but just take what you like and leave the rest. No hard feelings. And there’d be plenty of times where I, we’d be on set and I’d be like, oh what if this da-da-da-da-da-da all excited and he’d be like, “that’s hysterical, but it’s not called The Monkey. Maybe when we make the movie, The Monkey, we can do that elaborate scene you just pitched”. So maybe, who knows, the sequel.
Garden State (Zach wrote, directed, and starred) compared to Oz?
ZACH: Well, um, the budget of Garden State was the chewing gum budget of this movie [LAUGHTER] Imagine going from a kayak to a cruise ship. But, most of my work has been smaller films and, and the TV show. So for me this was thrilling just to even be on set, I love movies so much, and just to be there on this, what I think is a pretty historic experience. Just to be on set was, was a dream.