Zach Braff Interview

The actor turns in his 'Scrubs' for the animated Disney film, Chicken Little

The sky is falling, the sky is falling!

It's a new look for Disney - computer animation (and no help from Pixar). They shut down their hand-drawn animation department to open up their new computer department. They've taken the children's story of Chicken Little and put it on the big screen.

When Chicken Little gets hit with a piece of the sky, he alerts the town. But he can't prove it, until the whole town is attacked by the sky - well, not quite, but I don't want to give the movie away.

Zach Braff, from Scrubs, lends his vocal talents to the title character. He talked about voicing the kid chick, working with his dad, played by Gary Marshall, and the return of his NBC comedy.

Check out what he had to say:

Were you surprised you were asked to do something like this?

Zach Braff: Well, it wasn't offered, I auditioned; I put it out to the world that I was interested in doing an animated movie. When this one came up, it was a pretty big one, so a lot of people auditioned, but it was something I campaigned for; I wanted to.

How did you decide the voice?

Zach Braff: It really came down to I didn't want to do my voice, I wanted to do something charactery; they showed me a sketch of him and I just thought about doing a little boy voice. We tried ten different styles and versions and the director eventually chose this one.

What was the process like being in the booth?

Zach Braff: There's good things about it and there's bad things about it; the one thing about being in a booth alone, just you and the microphone, there's a certain freedom to do whatever comes to your head. No matter how free you are as an actor, if you're on a stage or on a show, there's something you say to yourself like ‘I don't want to look stupid, is that a good decision?' But in a booth alone, you can do anything; it's like being in the shower singing. So I think there were some good things that came out of me just being silly and funny in the booth. And Gary and I did all of our stuff together; they set up two booths separated by plexiglass so we could see each other through there. That was wonderful, cause we got to improv and make stuff up.

Did it remind you of just having the freedom of why you became an actor?

Zach Braff: That's the most fun, and that's why I love doing Scrubs; it's just playing around and being a real contributor to the show, instead of just being someone that someone writes lines for you, being able to feel like you're playing a collaborative role in it.

Why did you want to be involved in doing something like this?

Zach Braff: I thought it would be a fun thing to try; I grew up watching these movies, the animation, and I thought it would be really cool to be part of the 70 years of the Disney lineage, just to be one of their characters. I didn't imagine that I'd get to be the title role of the movie; I thought I would be one of the guys who's like ‘See you at the big game, Chicken Little.' This was much bigger than I imagined it would be.

I read one time that in the line ‘That's my boy' your dad used to say that. Did you add that in?

Zach Braff: No, I don't think so. Gary is just the most wonderful guy in the world. I went to Northwestern, I studied in the Gary Marshall Theater there. But he's like (in his best Gary voice) ‘Don't tell people that, they're gonna want more money from me.' (lots of laughs) ‘They'll want a building in this one, they'll want a building in that one.' But he's been very generous to the students of Northwestern; I would see him speak, people would come back to hear him. He's been a great sounding board for me to bounce off of.

Why do a kids voice?

Zach Braff: Well, at the beginning, I think they were considering that I just do my normal voice, which I thought would just be weird for a guy ‘this big' so I definitely wanted to pitch it a different way, so that's how I thought of it.

So what's going on with Scrubs this year?

Zach Braff: No one really knows; Scrubs, they benched it to make room to try out their new comedies. The plan is the ones that do well will stay on and the ones that don't do well will go away and we'll take one of their spots.

Do you find that rather frustrating?

Zach Braff: You can't imagine; we've never been treated like some of the other –

It's the best comedy.

Zach Braff: The funny thing is the biggest fans of the show have been reviewers and it's the best reviewed comedy ever, and we've had a really good core group of fans, but the network has never really been behind us. I think the unfortunate thing is, for those of you who sit out to make a television show, you don't want to make a show produced by one network and air on another network. Whenever you can, make sure you have the network own the show.

Are you in production now?

Zach Braff: Yeah, they're going to air them, we're shooting the whole season. And we're about to shoot our 100th.

So will you get money for re-runs?

Zach Braff: The show's been syndicated.

Why don't you think the network has been behind it?

Zach Braff: Because it's a numbers game, in fairness to them – let me play Devil's advocate – they've got stockholders, it's a corporation. The number has never done tremendous numbers, great numbers after Friends, but it never did gargantuan numbers. And if a show doesn't get gargantuan numbers, the network says ‘Ok, what can we do with this show and what can we replace it with?' But it's a ‘chicken or the egg' kind of thing – no pun intended – cause they moved it around so much and they could never build a loyal fan base, because they've moved it around – we've been on every night of the week.

What about your directing career?

Zach Braff: I've had some offers, but I'm not in a rush to do anything right now; I want to direct movies more than anything, but I don't want to just direct now cause they'll let me. I want to do something – I want to wait till I have a project that I write or something that means as much to me as that script was. Cause if your heart is in it, and it takes up all your life, I just don't want to do something because they're going to let me direct a $30 million movie. I don't want to do it; that wouldn't be right for me.

Are you writing something?

Zach Braff: I have a few ideas, but I work 14 hours a day on Scrubs and on the weekends, I come to talk about Chicken Little; I don't have much time.

Did you have to come back to re-record?

Zach Braff: Yeah, they video tape you while you're recording and doing the voices, which is cool because they put some of your gestures and your hand motions in. They might storyboard it out, but they don't animate it like this until they record your voices. That's one of the cool things about these animators, they put some of your personalities into the character.

Like what?

Zach Braff: Well, like I was saying, you're in the booth alone, so when you're swinging the bat. One of the things I love about the way they did this movie was – all these animated movies, they keep the dialogue so clean, like one person has a line, the other person has a line, it's just very stark. But one of the things I loved about these guys was they kept in all the ‘um's and the ‘uh's and the slurs and the stuttering. Especially in the scenes with me and Gary where we're overlapping each other like two normal human beings talk, they left all that in. So Chicken Little – I'd be saying a line and I'd forget it and I'd be like ‘bu, sp, bu, uh,' like you'd forget what you were going to say and then I'd go into it; they left all that in. And they animated it with my lips going ‘a, bla, bla, bla, bu, sp, bu.'

Have you seen the film?

Zach Braff: Yeah, it's amazing!

Were you surprised at how it looked and how you looked?

Zach Braff: I was surprised at – my jaw was wide open when I saw it, and I had seen all the animation, I'm sure you saw it digitally projected, but it reminded me of the first time I saw a high definition television, when you went ‘oh my gosh, that is amazing, how could we ever go back?' And when I saw this movie digitally projected, it looked like you could go up and grab the feathers; the detail of the animation was like nothing I had ever seen.

Do you think after seeing this, it's the end of 2-D animation?

Zach Braff: I have to say, I'm sure there's a bunch of purists and crazy animation buffs who will; I think it's like when sound came into movies. People didn't want to see silent movies once the talkie had been invented, I think that's what happened to technology in this. People went ‘Wow, we saw 3-D,' you don't want to watch the silent anymore, you kind of want to see what the next stage of technology will bring. And you know this is in 3-D, and that's the next stage. Once kids start getting their hand on 3-D movies, imagine when that, and it's not happening yet, but imagine when that 3-D technology can be seen through the DVD – those kids aren't going to go back to regular technology ever. I think technology is moving so fast that it's just exciting to be a part of animation.

Can you relate to being the lonely kid like Chicken Little is and talking to your parents?

Zach Braff: I can relate to that, my mother's a psychologist and my step father is a psychologist, my step mother is a therapist, and my dad is a lawyer, so communication was not a problem (laughs). If anything, over-communication is a problem. But obviously, I can relate to that, with parents and kids; I think that's the cool thing about the movie, when kids get to be 10, 11, 12, they get to think about not being able to share everything with their parents. I think that would be a great message to parents.

But what about being popular?

Zach Braff: I was not popular; I did not like sports and if you go to a public school system and you do not like sports, you're in trouble. You better figure something else out; I liked theater, from a very young age, I liked the arts and so I had to find a different way to make friends; I felt a little Chicken Little-esque. You know, I always love when you see this amazingly hot actress say ‘I was a loser,' you're like ‘Shut up.' (lots of laughs)

Did you do theater in school?

Zach Braff: I did community theater; my dad, was a lawyer, but was very into community theater and I went to theater camp. And living in New Jersey, by the time I was 13, I was traveling into the city for auditions.

Was there a competitive factor with your brothers?

Zach Braff: Well, it was and it wasn't; I was the youngest by far, as my mom says ‘a surprise, not an accident.' My brother was quite a bit older than me, so I was just a little runt. They weren't so competitive with me.

Was there anything, as a kid, that you had a misconception about?

Zach Braff: It's funny, speaking of animation, I thought they were real, watching cartoons. My brother was an artist, he loved animation; he brought me a flip book, and it was the first time I realized what this was. I remember that first time of him flipping the book and the eureka moment of ‘they're not real.'

How much improv was there in the entire script?

Zach Braff: There was a lot for me and Gary, especially. When the scene was over, we would just keep going, sometimes for a couple minutes. We would veer off path, and move out of ‘G' and get into ‘PG' and ‘PG-13,'then we'd circle back to ‘G.'

What about to 'R?'

Zach Braff: Never got to ‘R;' Gary's a good wholesome man, if it were someone else, I would have taken it straight to ‘R.' They were very open to me and Gary just vanting, some of it ended up in there, and hopefully some of it will end up on the DVD somewhere. But that was one of the most fun parts of doing this, just playing around with him. And we would do a bunch of takes like that and then Mark would say ‘Ok, do whatever you guys want to,' and then we'd do what was written.

What are you looking for as far as acting?

Zach Braff: I've got two movies next year, one's called Fast Track and the other's called The Last Kiss, that I did in this last hiatus. Now I'm doing Scrubs till April, so my schedule is – my summer project, I don't know what's going on yet.

What's The Last Kiss?

Zach Braff: It's an adaptation of an Italian film, L'Ultimo bacio, an ensemble film like Diner. I did it Casey Affleck and Rachel Bilson, Jacinda Barret and Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson. Fast Track is a comedy I did with Charles Grodin and Jason Bateman and Amanda Peet and Mia Farrow.

That must have been cool to work with Mia Farrow.

Zach Braff: Yeah, and Charles Grodin, very cool! So they will both be out next year, and after that, I'll sleep.

What's your favorite CD this year?

Zach Braff: I really like this guy Ray LaMontagne; I just think he's fantastic. As for movies, I saw The Squid and the Whale last night, that's fantastic, it is a wonderful movie. I highly recommend it.

Since you like music, is that why you sung in this movie?

Zach Braff: I wish; a lot of people don't know that I'm known as the Jewish Julio Iglesias, (laughs) and it was a shame that I didn't.

What is your singing name?

Zach Braff: Jew-lio Iglesias.

Chicken Little is rated 'G' and lands into theaters November 4th. It also stars Steve Zaun and Joan Cusack.