The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Zach Braff on fatherhood and spirituality in his new movie 'Wish I Was Here'

  • Print

TORONTO - Zach Braff says he's fascinated by life's "chapter changes."

While 2004's "Garden State" was a coming-of-age tale for adrift 20-somethings, his new drama "Wish I Was Here" tells the story of a 35-year-old struggling actor who must face his responsibilities as a parent when his father is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

"'Garden State' was about one's first romantic love. It's kind of about a guy, who, in feeling this true love for the first time, kind of comes into his own and realizes this exists on Earth: 'Oh wow, I didn't know that was possible, feeling this way for another human being,'" Braff said in a recent interview.

"This is about familial love… We can all go on our individual quests for all our dreams to come true, but ultimately the most fulfilling thing this man finds is the love of his family."

Braff, 39, stars as Aidan, a pot-smoking slacker whose wife (Kate Hudson) supports their two children with a humiliating office job. Aidan's father Saul (Mandy Patinkin) pays the tuition at the kids' Orthodox Jewish school, until he reveals he is suffering from terminal cancer and can no longer foot the bill.

Aidan begins home-schooling his kids as he faces Saul's impending death. The journey leads him to confront his own beliefs and decisions as a father — he has long been pursuing his dream of becoming an actor, but his last major role was the "before" guy in a dandruff shampoo commercial.

"The idea of a dad who wasn't really showing up for his kids being called upon to first try and home-school them, unsuccessfully, and then try and figure out a way that he could teach them something — I just thought that was really interesting," said Braff. "I thought... a father trying to figure out how to be a good dad was a movie I wanted to see."

Braff was just shy of 30 when he wrote and directed 2004's "Garden State," which drew praise for its quirky visual style and strong performances from Braff, Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard. Made for just $2.5 million, the film earned $26 million in North America alone.

The actor was still starring in hospital comedy "Scrubs" at the time and struggled to find film projects that would work with his rigorous TV schedule. When the series wrapped after nine years in 2010, Braff said he needed to "exhale" before embarking on new projects.

But inspiration struck for "Wish I Was Here," which he wrote with his brother Adam J. Braff, when both began to confront their spirituality. They were raised in a religious home but didn't feel a strong connection to Judaism as adults, said Braff.

"In both of our friend groups, we had a lot of people who realized the organized religion of their parents didn't really work for them. And so all of a sudden, (Adam) has two young kids, and he's like, 'I have to teach my kids something and I don't really know what I believe,'" he said.

Braff also admitted he's a "sucker for father-son stories," with both "Garden State" and "Wish I Was Here" exploring troubled paternal relationships.

"I love my dad a lot. My dad's the reason I became an actor. He's 79 and the idea of him not being around is just unfathomable to me, so I think that's a good place to write from," said Braff.

"Write from what you're scared of. Write from what causes your heart to hurt. I think interesting stories come out of the extremes: what makes you laugh hardest and what makes you cry."

Braff said he cast Hudson as his wife Sarah because he's admired her dramatic chops and beauty since 2000's "Almost Famous." Sarah is a strong, practical woman growing into her role as the family matriarch — in many ways a counterpoint to her aimless husband.

"I think I have this fantasy of the strong woman coming to rescue me," said Braff. "'Garden State' is sort of a fantasy about a really funny girl who is smart and silly and saves this troubled guy. In this more mature story, (there is) this idea of a very strong woman who is holding the whole family together."

Hudson's performance is already attracting critical attention, especially for a stirring scene with Patinkin.

"She's sort of fighting the old guard of the old weathered patriarch who's still clutching to his ways. She's the new guard. She's the new person in charge of this family," said Braff. "I think that's very relevant today. A lot of gender roles are flipped. The women are in charge, the women are the breadwinners and the women are running the show."

Braff famously raised $3 million on Kickstarter to help fund "Wish I Was Here." The campaign sparked controversy, with critics charging that a successful actor with access to Hollywood resources shouldn't be turning to crowdfunding.

But Braff said had he relied only on traditional financing, he would have had to make too many sacrifices and compromises.

"It (would have meant) casting actors who have large, international box office, who may be good actors but weren't right for my film, or cutting elements of the script that might seem bizarre on the page but I think are integral and crucial to the movie I wanted to tell," he said.

"Most importantly, (it meant) trying to tell a pretty personal story whilst handing over final editing of the film and approval of that to someone who is essentially a banker. So I would have just not made the film."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Bowman pledges to find efficiencies at City Hall

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • June 25, 2013 - 130625  -  A storm lit up Winnipeg Tuesday, June 25, 2013. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press - lightning

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think e-cigarettes should be banned by the school division?

View Results

Ads by Google