Zach Braff On Why Theatre Is True Art, And Carrying The Hopes Of 'Scrubs' Fans On Stage
"Adorable but miserable" is how one critic described the lead character Charlie in All New People, London's latest West End offering starring US star Zach Braff, who also wrote the script. Is this how he sees himself in the role?
"I think they were describing the actor who played it in New York, so I don't know about the adorable part, but I will try my best," he says.
For Braff, best known for his long stint in offbeat medical TV comedy Scrubs, but also with a respectable film catalogue to his name (Garden State, Chicken Little, The Last Kiss), putting a play on the London stage is the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition:
"I initially wrote the role for myself, and wisely got talked out of playing it for the first time in New York, as a new play needs rewriting and shaping. So we did that in New York, and the actor there did a wonderful job.
"But I really wanted to take a shot at it myself, so when we got the invite to come here, I felt ready, and it's always been a dream of mine to do theatre here, so it felt like it fell in my lap."
Braff, whose childhood watching his father work in community theatre was what sent him into the entertainment business in the first place, feels like he has come full circle, and can wax lyrical on both the challenges of creating a theatre piece - "you have to work it all out in front of the first two audiences, kind of figure it all out in public, no mistakes on the cutting room floor" - but also the rewards in comparison with putting something on film:
"For me, there’s no higher prize than watching a genius perform live on stage. It doesn't happen that often, only every now and then. When I saw Mark Rylance in Jerusalem, it happened, you feel like you're in the presence of greatness, and that's a wonderful thing to be part of, an experience that a cinema-going audience might not necessarily get to share."
And for himself as the creator, true success is "the audience reaction, hearing them coming out the theatre talking about it, sparking discourse and conversation".
Despite all the years of fame and riches that came with his lead role in Scrubs, one of Braff's strongest memories reinforces this:
"One time, we did a Q&A, and showed an episode to a big audience. The cast was blown away - we had been doing it for so long, but we'd never heard the audience laugh before because we weren't sitting in their living rooms."
Does he mind being forever associated with the offbeat character of J.D.? It seems not: "The show played for eight and a half years, and I love the show. I'm very proud and grateful when they love it, I'm not the kind of person who would ever have enough of that, I'm just grateful."
And will Scrubs fans be able to see anything of their hero in his character of Charlie on stage? Braff may be artistically driven, but it seems he's not completely uncanny when it comes to giving his fans something they'll enjoy:
"People who were fans of Scrubs will find it continues in line with my sensibility," he reports.
“It's fun and comedy with a lot of laughs, but it's not just empty calories, there's some meaning behind it that they'll hopefully take away. While they were laughing, I snuck a little gravitas in there."
All New People is now playing at London’s Duke of York Theatre until May. Watch Zach Braff in action below: