Zach Braff: The ESQ&A

The comedy actor and director takes on our quick-fire interview

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We came to know him as the hapless Doctor John Dorian in hit American sitcom, Scrubs, but the New Jersey-born Braff is more than just that TV guy, having produced, directed and starred in dark comedy and pet project Garden State and now, with his second film as director, Wish I Was Here, hitting cinemas this week.

Co-written with his brother, Wish I Was Here tells the story of a luckless actor (Braff) who is forced to reassess his life, and family, when his dad goes into hospital.

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We got him to take our quick-fire interview.


1 | Have you ever cheated death? 

Oh yeah, lots of times. I have my pilot’s licence so I’ve cheated death often. And I ride a motorcycle in Los Angeles, which is cheating death the second you start the engine. I think all that stuff – flying an airplane, riding a motorcycle, driving fast – is about risk management. They say every choice you make will increase or decrease your odds of getting hurt. So if you ride even after one drink, you’ve increased; if you ride at night, you’ve increased. It’s about choosing your risks and hopefully not accumulating too many at the same time; not being a c*nt. (See, in my country you can’t even say that but here you guys throw it around).

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2 | What’s the best advice you've ever been given?

My father told me a story, and I have no idea if it’s true or not, but he said that the Queen of England came to New York and, while she was there doing political and tourist things, went to Bloomingdale’s. They got an insane amount of press so people said, “How the hell did you get her to go to Bloomingdale’s? That’s like the best press you could have gotten. How the hell did you do it?” And they said, “We asked her.”

This was a story that he would always tell. It’s kind of irrelevant whether it’s true or not – the point is that if you ask insane requests of people, you’ll very often get a ‘yes,’ and I think I’ve learned that that’s the case. It isn’t always the first answer, but it’s about not giving up and having the courage to ask requests of people that seem crazy. And even a ‘no’ is a no only for now. I’ve been saying as a mantra: ‘No is just a comma on the way to yes.’ That’s a good T-shirt.

3 | What moment in your career are you most proud of?

Winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. It’s kind of the coolest award that a new filmmaker can get (obviously, other than an Oscar), and I won it on my first film. I was really, really proud of that because everybody passed on Garden State – no one wanted to make it, no one thought I could do it – and so not only did I do it but I won that really amazing award. That was cool. My parents were there, it was a big deal.

4 | Where is your favourite place in the world to eat, and what’s your order?

I’m one of the owners of a restaurant in Manhattan. It’s called the Mermaid Oyster Bar at 79 MacDougal and I am biased but I love it. It’s great seafood at a really fair price, and my favourite order is a Lobster roll with Old Bay-seasoned French fries. With a dozen oysters beforehand.

5 | What’s the best age to be?

I am 39 now and I feel happy to be 39.

6 | What’s your hidden talent?

I can balance a broomstick for a very long time on one finger. No one cares and it’s not impressive enough to be a party trick. I was just fucking around one day and I did it, and I was like, “Wow, I can do this for a very long time!” You do nothing with it but entertain yourself when you’re alone.

7 | Who’s been the closest you’ve had to a mentor?

Bill Lawrence, who invented Scrubs, has been a very good mentor to me and taught me a great deal about the TV business. He’s the ultimate example of someone who’s a wonderful creative talent but also a genius at navigating the political waters of creativity like 'the suits'. Also, recently, I learned a lot from Sam Raimi when I was in Oz The Great and Powerful.  He was very good at letting me sit beside him as he directed this giant, $200 million movie, and experience that next to him.

8 | Do you have a desert island film?

Probably porn. I’m alone on a desert island… Porn Hub.

9 | What about books?

It would be compilation of Esquire magazines, with the section of the girls telling a joke in risqué outfit. I love it – it’s a great thing.

10 | And an album?

'Thriller'. Just so I could have enough time to work out the whole dance routine by myself on the island, while watching porn.

11 | What’s the best night out you’ve ever had?

An all-nighter in Vegas with a good posse of friends.

12 | What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

“Work hard so you can have fun.” Everyone else who is doing what you want to do, whatever that is, is going to be working hard. So if you’re not working your hardest at it, you’re not going to succeed. And I see a lot of young people who are kind of lazy, and apathetic, and I want to shake some sense into them. Life is so short; find something you love and work passionately at it. 

I worked my fucking ass off – too much. I would say to my 20-year old self: “Also find time for fun.”

Wish I Was Here is released on 19 September


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