- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

Zach Braff is only 31 years old, but he already has a string of accomplishments almost anyone in Hollywood might envy. He’s a fan favorite as the star of the NBC medical sitcom “Scrubs.” He’s the critically acclaimed director and star of the 2004 film “Garden State.” And in between the brutal schedule of a television series and the odd movie role, he manages to find time to direct music videos.

Mr. Braff is back on the big screen today as the star of the relationship drama “The Last Kiss.” His career suggests he’s more serious than most actors of his generation. That seems confirmed by his latest role. “The Last Kiss,” directed by Tony Goldwyn, is a remake of the 2001 Italian film “L’ultimo bacio.”

“I couldn’t believe an American studio was going to release it,” Mr. Braff recalls of first seeing the script. “It just seemed like a European film. It’s so honest and so real and such a unique take on the subject matter, which we’ve seen in glossy Hollywood style a million times.” He only took the part when the filmmakers promised they wouldn’t change the ending.

Mr. Braff plays Michael, whose seemingly settled life with pregnant girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) is thrown into jeopardy when gorgeous young college student Kim (Rachel Bilson) throws herself into his path.

The film explores the time-honored theme of the boy who simply isn’t quite ready to grow up. These days, that boy is quickly becoming a man.

“I think 30 is the new 20,” Mr. Braff muses. “The 20s are still for playing. By the time you turn 30 or 31, you can’t turn around anymore, you’re an actual adult. People get married later and later. But you can’t push it off much later. Women have that internal clock.”

Mr. Braff enjoyed playing what he sees as a very human character. “If people hate him, that’s good. They had a reaction. It’s a human role,” he says. “I’m really sick of protagonists, that the only negative thing they do is have outside negative forces acting on them. We humans make stupid decisions and do dumb things and go down the fork in the road.”

Mr. Braff, like the rest of us, may have made bad decisions. But he’s also made plenty of wise ones. He’s particularly good at selecting songs for soundtracks. He won a Grammy for his work as producer of the “Garden State” soundtrack, a collection of alternative rock songs that introduced such bands as the Shins to a wider audience. He was also involved in the song selection for “The Last Kiss,” whose soundtrack includes Rufus Wainwright, Coldplay and Remy Zero.

“I have no fancy style. I don’t know more about music than anybody else,” Mr. Braff claims. “I listen to songs and see visuals. The way I thought of it is, this is the kind of music these people are listening to.”

Mr. Braff directed the video for one of those songs, “Ride” by Cary Brothers, a little-known singer-songwriter — until now. The director has been friends with the musician for years. “People think I’m a gatekeeper in music,” Mr. Braff says. “I just lucked into some talented friends, and I’m in a position to tell the world about them.”

Video directing is an artistic outlet he can fit into his busy filming schedule. “I’ve been doing it for fun,” Mr. Braff says. “You can dive into it and be creative and play around with new ideas, and it’s over in two days.”

Mr. Braff’s next big directing project is “Open Hearts,” a remake of a 2002 film by Danish director Susanne Bier. “American audiences don’t go to see foreign films. They don’t like to read subtitles,” he notes. “A lot of these stories are stories that wouldn’t get seen by the American public otherwise.

Noting that the original “Open Hearts” was made “with shaky cameras” in the style of the avant-garde Danish film movement Dogma, he says, “I can make this movie and Americanize it, put my own twist on it, use phenomenal actors, and put the camera on a tripod, and make a movie accessible to an American audience.”

Mr. Braff is also accessible to his own audience. He keeps in touch with fans through his MySpace page on the Internet. Fellow filmmaker Kevin Smith got him hooked. “I think it’s the coolest thing ever,” he says. “It’s a revolutionary thing for a filmmaker to have a dialogue with fans and get feedback from them. We don’t just talk about movies, but music and life.”

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