Zach Braff, former star of the long-running early 2000s sitcom Scrubs, opened up to People about what his latest project, the film A Good Person in which he directed and wrote the screenplay for, meant to him and the ways it connected to his personal life.
Braff began writing the screenplay for his film in 2020, two years after his sister Shoshana had suddenly died from complications caused by a brain aneurysm at the age of 46. Months after her death, Zach lost his father to cancer at 84.
“I knew I wanted to write about grief,” Braff explained, “then the pandemic hit.”
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic affected so many people around the globe who lost loved ones to the virus. Braff was no exception to these tragedies.
In July of 2020, Zach’s longtime friend and Broadway co-star, Nick Cordero, lost a four month battle with COVID-19 and died from complications related to the virus. He left behind his wife Amanda Kloots and their newborn son Elvis.
“I was watching his wife, with her brand-new baby, deal with this tragedy and deal with him eventually dying. I was like, ‘God, how does she start over?’” he recounted. “This is what came out of me.”
A Good Person, which Braff calls “such an American story”, stars Braff’s ex Florence Pugh alongside Morgan Freeman who deal with the aftermath of a fatal car accident in which Pugh’s character, Allison, was driving but survived. Among those who died in the accident was her soon-to-be sister in law, portrayed by Nichelle Hines, who is also daughter to Freeman’s character, Daniel.
After the accident, Allison becomes addicted to painkillers and eventually seeks help by attending group meetings where she runs into Daniel, a recovering alcoholic. The rest of the film sees their two characters relying on each other to overcome their grief.
While dealing with an extremely serious situation, it incorporates humor as well, very much how real life tends to inevitably do.
But more than that, Braff wanted to use humor because it’s a crucial aspect in his own philosophy on how to overcome grief.
“What I try to say [in this film] is, ‘There’s still humor in everyday life. And that’s what keeps a lot of us afloat,’” Braff explained.
Molly Shannon, who also stars in the movie, praises Braff’s ability to “strike the balance” between seriousness and comedic relief.
“Zach knows that addiction is a heavy subject,” she said, “but he also knows when it’s time to give the audience some relief and make them laugh.”
Talking about his own experience where humor was able to relieve tragic circumstances, Braff shared his and his family’s experience in the hospital when his sister was in critical condition.
“I remember being in the ICU waiting room for my sister, and everything was touch and go, and my whole family’s packed into this room with a half-full fish tank and bad art and a puzzle with 20 missing pieces,” Zach recalled. “And someone in my family says something a little bit funny, and then we all just guffaw, because we so needed a release.”
The tone of his new film strikes very similarly to his 2004 directorial debut for the film Garden State. He’s been very open about his own battle with depression, even as his acting career was beginning to blow up.
In a recent interview with NME, he confessed that Coldplay’s debut album, Parachutes, really helped him get through his mental health struggles in his early acting career.
“Just because you’re successful, it doesn’t mean you’re not depressed,” he stated. “I was going through a rough time and was thrilled to have success but I was still a young man struggling with his own mental health problems and that album just really spoke to me.
“It really was a very important album for me,” he continued. “So when I got Garden State made I said, ‘Well, I don’t know if we’ll be able to afford it but man, it would be cool if this movie opened with ‘Don’t Panic’ [the intro track for Parachutes],’” which it did.
A Good Person is currently in theaters nationwide.