In New Film, Zach Braff Asks: How Long Can You Pursue Your Dreams?

Jul 18, 2014
Originally published on July 18, 2014 5:54 pm

Zach Braff is currently performing on Broadway, and for a time he starred in the TV comedy Scrubs. But he's also known for directing and starring in the 2004 film Garden State, a model of 20-something angst.

Braff also directs and stars in his latest film, Wish I Was Here, which he co-wrote with his older brother, Adam. The collaboration yielded a coming-of-age story of sorts. It's about a guy who hasn't quite earned the title of adult, even though he's already a family man with kids. Braff's character, Aidan Bloom, struggles when his father is diagnosed with cancer and his wife, the family breadwinner, starts to rethink her role.

Braff talks to NPR's Audie Cornish about what inspired him and his brother to write the story and the similarities between the female protagonists in Garden State and Wish I Was Here.


Interview Highlights

On what inspired Braff and his brother to write this story

My brother is in one of those situations — his wife is the primary wage earner and he is home more often with the kids as he writes and pursues his artistic endeavors. And we started seeing that in lots of different aspects of our lives, both with people in the arts and people who weren't.

And so another thing we wanted to talk about was how that affected masculinity — this societal agreement we have had for years that the man is the primary breadwinner and the man takes care of his family — and how that change might be affecting masculinity and child-rearing and all of those things that come along with it. It was something that we found really interesting but didn't really see anyone writing about.

On Aidan's insistence on pursuing his dream

He's pursuing an entertainment dream, but we really wanted it to be a metaphor for anyone pursuing their dream in any way, whether that be, you know, finding true love or starting their business or whatever it is — insert your dream here.

The question for us was ... if this is it, how do I make the most of my life? How do I make the most of my time here? And how long am I allowed to pursue all the things I thought I was going to do when I was a kid and when I was in college and when I was wide-eyed and I was in my 20s? And now I have a family, now I have bills, now I have so many responsibilities.

On how Aidan's pursuit of his dream affects his relationship with his wife, played by Kate Hudson

I think there [are] a lot of relationships out there — it's not always the woman, sometimes it's the man — where one person has really dedicated their lives to helping the other person pursue their dream. And they love them and they believe in them and they root for them, but at a certain point they're saying, "I can't do anymore. I need help." And that's what Kate's character is saying in this film, is "I do love you, and I do support you. But, you know, I can't be the only one on this treadmill doing this job I don't like to feed our kids. I need help." ...

One of the things that Aidan learns is that he has to show up for his family. He has to rally; he has to find a way to continue to pursue his goals but not be so checked-out, not to have disappeared from his family. I mean, I think if he finds any spirituality in the film, that's what he finds.

On the similarities between the female protagonists in Garden State, played by Natalie Portman, and Wish I Was Here

I've always had this fantasy of being saved by a great woman, a powerful woman. I mean, yes, Natalia's character was quirky and silly, or maybe that's just the type of woman I'm attracted to so I sort of wrote my dream girl. But I've always loved this fantasy that I would be rescued and saved by a great, strong woman. And I think in both films there are very strong women who are helping men come into maturity. I mean, they say that women and girls mature faster than men and I think in this film Kate's character is a very, very strong woman who's doing her best to hold an entire family together. The men are running around thinking like they're in control when really, behind the scenes, it's a strong woman that is, you know, keeping this family together.

On what he learned from making the film

It definitely taught me I want to have kids. I can't wait to have children one day. I'm a really good uncle and I love my nieces and nephews, and I really love this young actress, Joey King, who played my daughter. She's just so special. And, you know, just that relationship of when your child is, you know, old enough to just teach you so much, and just the idea of a young child bringing you back to possibility and hope through their young wide eyes is something that's very intoxicating to me.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We've been talking this summer about men, what they're lives are like and a new film and its director grabbed our attention.

ZACH BRAFF: Testing 1,2,3. This is Zach Braff live on NPR. Coming up next on NPR, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. With your new host.

CORNISH: That's actor and director Zach Braff joking around during a sound check just before our interview. Braff is currently performing on Broadway and starred on the TV comedy "Scrubs." But he's best known for directing and starring in the 2004 film "Garden State" and model of twenty-something angst. Braff co-wrote his latest film titled, "Wish I Was Here" with his oldest brother Adam. In it Braff's character, Aidan Bloom, struggles when his father is diagnosed with cancer and his wife, played by Kate Hudson, starts to rethink her role as the family breadwinner.

BRAFF: My brother is in one of those situations. His wife is the primary wage earner and he is home more often with the kids as he writes and pursues his artistic endeavors. And I - We started seeing that in lots of different aspects of our lives - both with people in the arts and people who weren't. And so another thing we wanted to talk about was how that affected masculinity. This societal agreement we have had for years that a man takes care of his family and how that change might be affecting masculinity and child rearing and all of those things that come along with it. And it was something that we found really interesting but didn't really see anybody writing about.

CORNISH: Your character reaches out to many people for advice and does reach out to the Rabbis at his kids school, occasionally. But I noticed one idea that Aidan repeats again and again, almost like a mantra is, I thought you were supporting my dream.

BRAFF: Yeah.

CORNISH: And I'm sure obviously for actors at any level, this is a pretty common refrain. But what about the way he uses it isn't quite right?

BRAFF: Well, and again I want to clarify for your audience, that of course in this example of the film, he's pursuing an entertainment dream. But we really wanted it to be a metaphor for anyone pursuing their dream in anyway. The question for us was, if you do believe this is a finite experience, that we are animals and when we pass on we go in the ground like every other animal, how do I make the most of my life and how long am I allowed to pursue all the things I thought I was going to do? And now I have a family, now I have little mouths to feed.

CORNISH: Right, I want to play a clip from the Rabbi and his reply, at one point in this.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WISH I WAS HERE")

BRAFF: (as Aidan Bloom) But what about my dream? I mean doesn't God believe in my pursuit of happiness?

ALLAN RICH: (as Rabbi Twersky) No. That's the Declaration of Independence.

CORNISH: I don't know why that line made me laugh.

BRAFF: Yeah, he goes on to say, he goes on to say, Thomas Jefferson believed in your happiness. God wants you to provide for your family Mr. Bloom.

CORNISH: And it's a tough moment. I mean, you know, later on his wife essentially is shown having conflicted feelings about her own work and her own struggles about her role in helping her husband.

BRAFF: Yeah, because I think there's a lot of relationships out there, it's not always the woman and sometimes it's the man, were one person has really dedicated their lives to helping the other person pursue their dream. And they love them and they believe in them and they root for them. But at a certain point they're saying, I can't do it anymore, I need help.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WISH I WAS HERE")

KATE HUDSON: (as Sarah Bloom) I input data into a spreadsheet. Literally a scanner should be doing my job. And there's just too much bureaucracy for anyone to even notice.

BRAFF: (as Aidan Bloom) Then what do you want to do? I don't even know.

HUDSON: (as Sarah Bloom) I don't know and you know what? I don't have a second to figure it out because I'm on a [bleep] treadmill. And if I stop our kids don't eat. And it's all on me.

BRAFF: And, you know, one of the things that Aidan learns is that he has to show up for his family. He has to find a way to continue to pursue his goals but not be so checked out, not to have disappeared from his family.

CORNISH: Her character also feels very different from the love interest played by Natalie Portman in your first directed movie "Garden State," I think that was back in 2004.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GARDEN STATE")

NATALIE PORTMAN: (as Sam) You know what I do when I feel completely unoriginal? (Singing) Lalalablablalaba. I make a noise or I do something that no one has ever done before and I can feel unique again and even if it's only for like a second.

CORNISH: And that's a character that one reviewer labeled, the manic pixie dream girl, like she's quirky and pretty and she exists to spur the hero on to maturity. But in this movie, Aidan looks to his children and his father and his family basically to spur on change. Did this kind of reflect a change in your thinking about what romantic relationships can do for a man?

BRAFF: Well, I've always had this fantasy of being saved by a great woman, a powerful woman. I mean, yes, Natalie's character was quirky and silly. Maybe that's just the type of woman I'm attracted to, so I sort of wrote my dream girl. But I, you know, I have always loved this fantasy that I would be rescued and saved by a great woman. And I thinking in both films there are very strong women who are helping men come into maturity. I mean, they say that women and girls mature faster than men and I think in this film Kate's character is a very, very strong woman who's doing her best to hold an entire family together. The men are running around thinking like they're in control, when really behind the scenes it's a strong woman that is, you know, keeping this family together.

CORNISH: You know you wrote this with your older brother and so much of the film is about the relationships between fathers and sons and family. You know, what did this experience teach you?

BRAFF: It definitely taught me I want to have kids. I can't wait to have children one day. I'm a really good uncle and I love my nieces and nephews. And. you know, just that relationship of when your child is old enough to teach you so much and just the idea of a young child bringing you back to possibility and to hope through their young wide eyes is something that's very intoxicating to me.

CORNISH: Zach Braff, his latest film is called "Wish I Was Here." He's also starring in the Broadway musical "Bullets Over Broadway." Thank you so much for talking with us.

BRAFF: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.