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The Last Kiss - Zach Braff interview

The Last Kiss

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ZACH Braff talks about contributing to the script of his latest movie, The Last Kiss, the future of medical drama Scrubs and his hopes and ambitions as a filmmaker…

Please note: This interview does contain plot spoilers…

Q. Is it true that you contributed a lot to the actual script of The Last Kiss?
A. A little bit. Paul Haggis wrote the script, so it’s not like his screenwriting needs any improvement. But I felt that because I was 30 at the time and had a bunch of friends that were in this situation, I could just relate to it for once and there were things I could bring to the table. I also like to write dialogue a lot and I feel that I write for myself well. So they allowed me to do a little maintenance and playing.

Q. Is it true that the porch sequence was yours?
A. The whole sequence of staying on the porch was Paul’s but what happened was, there used to be an epilogue on the film. But [director] Tony Goldwyn and I felt there was a missing scene towards the end, so I wrote the short scene in the rain, where they’re on either side of the door. We then lopped off the epilogue, so now the scene I wrote is the last scene in the movie and I told Tony that I wish I’d known because I would have extended it a bit.

Q. That whole idea, you can’t fail if you don’t stop trying, is quite profound really. Is that something you agree with?
A. I think it’s a very romantic idea. I think in real life, at some point, you’re going to get a restraining order put on you. But I like the idea that if you know and if you’re positive that she’s the one, to not give up.

Q. Are you finding that The Last Kiss has drawn a lot of comparisons to Garden State?
A. I am but unfortunately I think it’s misleading to the audience. There’s a lot of talk about it in the States and I think it hurt the movie because people shouldn’t go into this expecting Garden State. It’s a much darker movie, it doesn’t have nearly as much light-heartedness – not that Garden State didn’t have its own sombre moments, but for the most part it was pretty funny in a lot of areas.

But people shouldn’t go into this looking for a light romantic comedy. This is a dark, gritty realistic movie about the tough side of commitment and relationships. It does have me in it, it does have a killer soundtrack with some cool British bands and it does have some introspection but I don’t think there’s that much more in common.

Q. Did you see this role as stepping outside of a comfort zone for you? It’s more dramatic…
A. Well, it’s not really new for me. I started doing Shakespeare. My first job was doing Shakespeare in New York. We are trained to do stuff like that, so I really enjoy doing dramatic acting as well. I just don’t get the chance to do it that much on Scrubs.

Q. Was there any pressure from the studio to make it any more upbeat?
A. I was shocked that an American studio was going to release this movie. When I read the script and saw the Italian movie, it’s pretty courageous in where it goes and how it follows through – like the fact that he actually sleeps with the girl, I couldn’t believe that Dreamworks was going to release a movie like that. At least in the States, it’s pretty taboo for the protagonist to do something horrible. So I was concerned. But when I met with them I made them promise me that they weren’t going to wimp out and change it or I wasn’t going to do it.

Q. Was that a big part of the appeal of the movie for you, in that the guy isn’t 100% likeable?
A. That’s what’s interesting to me. When you read scripts, so many of them are like: “This is Die Hard but now it’s in a boat!” Or: “This is Harry Met Sally but now it’s in the 50s and they’re younger!” Everything is something else. So to read something and go “wow, that’s pretty ballsy”, to have that happen – a protagonist that doesn’t make all the right decisions… a chunk of the audience will hate that, so there were lots of refreshing things about it.

Q. Was it a fine line to walk to keep him likeable enough?
A. If audience members are honest with themselves, they might get mad at me but then when they sit back a little bit and say: “Ok, I’ve been there.” Maybe they haven’t gone as far as this character has gone, but there’s someone in the movie you can identify with as being like you – men and women.

I’ve actually had many women say to me after they’ve seen the film: “I hated it so much, it made me so angry but then when I was honest with myself, it made me realise that I’d been that character in my life.”

It upsets people a lot, but in a good way because it starts a conversation – and that’s my favourite kind of movie.

Q. If you’d been your wife in the movie, would you take Michael back?
A. It’s a good question and the reason it’s hard to answer is because I don’t think Michael has ever cheated before and I don’t think Michael is ever going to cheat again. But I think he needed to do this to sort of get this last puzzle piece; in order to go: “Now I’m ready, now I see that that was shallow and meant nothing. It was 10 minutes of pleasure for nothing and it could ruin my life. I could lose the love of my life over it.”

But you know what? If he didn’t do it, he would have done it later. He had to have that life experience in order to grow up. I’d like to think that there’s a scenario where she would get that. Obviously, she’s not going to trust him right off the bat again. But I like to think they’re going to try. The romantic in me would love to imagine that she would be able to see that this was out of fear and immaturity that he did it. It’s not like he’s a cad or a playboy. That’s a different story.

Q. How does the American version differ from the Italian?
A. We changed some things. For example, he never comes clean in the end and tells her the truth that he slept with the girl. We felt we were being gutsy enough. To do that for an American audience, it would just have been me and my parents in the cinema – no one would have gone to see that. We liked the idea of buying the character’s integrity back by the end of the movie. Yes, he’s done an awful thing but he salvages some of his self-respect and pride by at least coming clean and being honest.

The Italian movie also has an epilogue where it’s a year later, and they’re happy, married and everything’s working out. We shot an epilogue but I was sitting next to Tony in the editing room watching the movie and we said to each other with a smile: “Wouldn’t it be great if the movie just ended here? The studio will never go for it but wouldn’t it be awesome?” To our surprise, they said ok.

Q. Was the epilogue the same sort of one year on scenario?
A. Yeah, one year later, we’re with the kid and there’s a voiceover where I say everything worked out. We actually checked in with the guys down in South America and they had a bar that they owned in Argentina….

Q. What was it like working with another actor turned director?
A. It was ideal for me because he really understood how actors love to be collaborators. Some directors are more dictators than others and an actor-director is more likely to be interested in collaborating and really be interested in what people have to say. Tony was the ultimate collaborator. There’s no ego at all in the guy. If he liked your idea better, he’d do it. He was just such a great leader but also really generous with being interested in other people’s opinions.

Q. Having been a director yourself, does it change the way you are directed?
A. It makes it very hard to go back to the scenario where you don’t have any input. Once you’ve done it, inherent with being a film director is having strong opinions about things. I’ve also since had the experience where I didn’t feel like I was being collaborated with and I hated it. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m directed by one of my heroes like Scorsese or Woody Allen, I would shut the hell up and not say a word. But when I’m working with my peers, or people I consider my peers, it feels pretty hard to go back and not feel like you’re contributing.

Q. You always seem to choose the music in your films. Which band would you recommend at the moment? You’ve helped a lot of careers with your choices…
A. Well, with my website and with MySpace, I love sharing music. I don’t really know too much about music. I don’t know any more than the average person but I know what I like. I love talking about music and saying check this band out.

It’s funny, with the two soundtracks that have come out and sold well, people now know what sort of music I like and it sort of snowballs on itself. People say: “I know what you love, so you’ll love this.” Very often I like that band too. I have a bunch of friends that are musicians and they’re always recommending music. I would recommend Regina Spector. She’s my new favourite.

Q. How easy is it to put together a soundtrack that works so well in tandem with the film, so that it doesn’t become intrusive?
A. It’s pretty easy. The exact science is this. I make mix CDs. I made about six different mix CDs for Tony filled with music that I liked and was listening to. I just sort of amassed the talent for him. Then, as he started cutting he was trying them out in different places.

The trick is to find songs that are not only really emotional but don’t upstage the dialogue or the actors. Your favourite song in the world might not work in a movie at all because it’s just too powerful and pulls focus from the movie itself. So, the art is – just like a giant puzzle – to say: “Let’s try this here… oh, it doesn’t work so what if we changed it a little bit and find that now it works? Or let’s try something else.” It’s like doing this massive puzzle and wittling it down. It’s a fun, giant exercise.

In terms of picking the songs, I don’t really have any science to it other than the songs that I really like and feel they’re cinematic and emotional and would go well with the images.

Q. Is it true that you’re leaving Scrubs at the end of season six?
A. No, that’s a rumour. What I said was: “It’s up in the air and I don’t know.” But instantly I got so much shit for saying that because I don’t know and I won’t decide until March or so.

Q. Will it come down to you?
A. They’ve made it very clear to me that the show will go on with or without me, so I just have to decide whether I’m going to come back.

Q. Do you know how your character might go? Would he be killed off?
A. Being killed off would be cool but I don’t think they’d go for that because it is, at heart, a comedy. I would hope it’s something interesting.

Q. Do you still consider it to be one of the best day jobs?
A. It’s awesome! Going to work and acting like a goofball with all your friends and still getting paid for it is the best job ever. It’s a lot of work. The hours are crazy and really for seven months of the year you don’t have much of a life other than the show but it is a lot of fun.

Q. But will it come to affect the time you have to pursue big screen work?
A. Yeah but I’ve got a whole lifetime to do that. One of the pros of staying on Scrubs would be that I have plenty of time to… being on a series that lasts six or seven years is such a once in a lifetime kind of thing that there’s an argument to be said for continuing on.

Q. Are you writing a screenplay with your brother?
A. The story with my brother is that we optioned a children’s book called Andrew Henry’s Meadow, which is a favourite kids book of ours. He wrote the screenplay and we wanted to do a big, fun movie like The Goonies for kids. That’s what it is but we also love really surreal production design, so we’ve pitched it as if Terry Gilliam had directed The Goonies! And they bought it so we set it up at Fox and we’re hoping to be in production next year. I’m not going to direct it but I’m going to produce it.

*Q. Can you also tell us a little bit more about your next directorial job, the remake of the Danish Dogme film Open Hearts?
A. I was interested in finding a remake because when I wrote Garden State I had six months to sit down at my table and write. I don’t have that right now. But when the dust settles and I am more free, post-Scrubs I’ll obviously do that again.

But for now I was looking for something to direct and I didn’t really like many of the screenplays that I was reading that were finished, so I began looking for a foreign film to remake because Americans don’t really watch dubbed or foreign movies. I also wanted to do something dramatic and I saw this movie and it was very moving to me.

Q. It’s very dark, isn’t it?
A. Yes, it’s very dark. On the websites, when The Last Kiss came out, people said they liked it but it wasn’t what they were expecting because it was also pretty dark. My response was: “Well, if you think this is dark, Open Hearts is going to make The Last Kiss look like Naked Gun.” But I like that.

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