Zach Braff, who plays Dr. John ‘J.D.’ Dorian on the sitcom “Scrubs,” is not just another TV actor trying to make the leap to the big screen. In fact, television is likely just a pit stop on his way to a goal that he’s had since childhood: to direct movies. A film school graduate, Braff wrote the screenplay for his debut feature film “Garden State” long before being cast on “Scrubs,” and was shopping it around Hollywood with little success — partly because he was a relative unknown who was insisting on directing. In true Hollywood form, that all changed when his newfound fame as a TV star suddenly created a bidding war around the project. (The film was Sundance 2004’s biggest buzz project, attracting an unusual joint acquisition from Miramax and Fox Searchlight.)
Any concerns about whether the 29-year-old Braff could pull off writing, directing, and starring in his first feature appear to have been unfounded, as he’s deftly delivered a dark comedy of real substance and heart. In “Garden State,” Braff plays Andrew Largeman, a struggling TV actor living in Los Angeles who returns home to New Jersey (after a lengthy absence) for his mother’s funeral. To his surprise, “Large” runs into all kinds of old friends who never left, like Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), begrudgingly working as a gravedigger.
As the story unfolds, the saga of Large’s complicated and painful family life is incrementally revealed to the audience, including the discovery that his controlling psychiatrist father (Sir Ian Holm) has kept him on heavy doses of Lithium since he was a child. When Large meets the quirky and colorful Sam (Natalie Portman) in a neurologist’s waiting room, they eventually become friends, and embark on a series of random adventures that bring them closer together. As Sam’s radiance begins to break through the fog of Large’s otherwise mundane existence, a romance develops, and he gradually begins to embrace life’s “infinite abyss” in all its beauty and pain.
Recently, indieWIRE sat down to talk with Braff about his lust for learning, his worship of Woody Allen, and his next film project, based on a children’s book. “Garden State” opens in New York and Los Angeles tomorrow, and goes wide in August.Go To indieWire.com