Here’s How Zach Braff Persuaded Morgan Freeman To Star In Low Budget Indie ‘A Good Person’
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Zach Braff’s latest project, A Good Person, was a form of therapy for the writer-director, but it wasn’t easy. However, he always intended to share the very personal results with the world.
“I find writing screenplays very hard,” he admitted. “Staying committed and in the zone of one is quite challenging. It was therapeutic, but I find writing too hard not to be at least aiming towards the goal of making it.”
He wrote the feature for Florence Pugh, the film’s lead, who he was dating at the time. “Because of that, I knew the voice that it would have. We were partners, so we could banter and brainstorm about it together and have a conversation.”
Braff also “ran out of reasons to procrastinate” during the pandemic.
“Everyone else was learning how to make sourdough when I was like, ‘I don’t want to make sourdough; I should f**king write and get my ass in the chair.’ It definitely forced me to stare at the blinking cursor, and this is what came up for me,” the filmmaker recalled. “I’ve experienced a lot of loss in the last four years, and I wanted to write about what that feels like.”
A big coup for the writer-director was getting Morgan Freeman, a longtime friend and previous collaborator, to play the male lead in an independent film, something the legendary Oscar-winning actor usually doesn’t do.
“On top of not doing small indies, he doesn’t do films that aren’t set up yet. This had no home at the time that I was approaching him. It was just me, Florence, and a script,” he laughed. “I just didn’t think there was any chance he was going to say yes, but my father always used to say, ‘You have to try, and there’s no harm in asking,’ so I did.”
The filmmaker continued, “In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, it’s going to be like three weeks until he even responds,’ but he called me on my cell one day. Florence was in my living room, she held up the iPhone, and it said Morgan Freeman across it. I just thought, ‘He’s given me a courtesy call.’ I picked it up, and he didn’t even say hello. He just said, ‘I see myself on every page of the script.’ I said, ‘Does that mean yes?’ and he said, ‘Yes, that means yes.’ That was thrilling, but then we had to figure out how to make it in Covid times in New Jersey.”
Braff laughed, “On top of that, how were we going to afford to put Morgan Freeman up? Florence and I can bum it in a cheap condo, but where would we house Morgan Freeman in Jersey? All of these logistics came to light, but we made it happen.”
Was Braff worried Hollywood might not want to fund a drama about grief and addiction after the pandemic?
“It’s never easy to get anything made, and that’s from living in Hollywood for 27 years. I don’t care if you wrote the most happy-go-lucky story post-pandemic; it’s still tough,” he explained. “I wanted to write something authentic, and I think of what I have to say and want to see.”
“When I’ve done that before, and it has worked, of course, it hasn’t always worked, but when it has, that’s what people respond to. You want to create something that they can see themselves in. But it has a great specificity to the storyteller who’s telling it, but they can see themselves in that specific story,” Braff continued.
His collaboration with Pugh was planned; however, Braff didn’t anticipate the level of engagement she would adopt.
“I was surprised by her good sense of storytelling from the acting point of view, which is just another astonishing thing about her at a young age,” he admitted. “She would say, ‘I don’t think X should happen because that’s too soon in her journey,’ and I go, ‘You’re right.’ I made her a producer on the film because she was contributing so much to the development of this.”
Pugh suggested her character spontaneously and messily hacking at her hair as part of her role. Braff recalled, “Florence said, ‘I used to do that. I would change my appearance drastically when I was going through something.’ Her character is regressing to a form of her teenage self in the care of her mother, and I said, ‘Florence, that’s logistically impossible but it’s a great idea.’ She said, ‘You’ll figure it out,’ and went ahead and did it. Eventually, we did figure out how to do it. She helped me get rid of things that were false.”
Something that the filmmaker and Freeman bonded over was a model train set that plays a key role in A Good Person‘s narrative. It was an inspiration that Braff pulled from his childhood.
“I had a model train set as a child, and I was an anxious kid,” he mused. “I look back now as an adult, and I understand that one of the reasons I must have been drawn to it is that it’s very meditative; it needs you to be meticulous and focused, everything is so small, and it quiets your mind. I thought that would be a really good hobby for a man who has very little control in his life.’
Braff concluded, “His character is battling alcoholism, and he was a cop in Newark, which we can assume was a very tough job. He says to Florence’s character that down there in his basement, he gets to control things and can create little scenarios and have them play out in a way that he never could control in his own life. I think he uses it as this meditative process.”
“It’s powerful and really beautiful.”