The King of Cult Following: Zach Braff

Throw him a question and he’ll spill his soul.  On Thursday, October 2, Zach Braff gave a lecture at TCNJ that provided students with insights about career choices, passion and the meaning of life.   

Calling Braff’s visit to TCNJ a lecture isn’t entirely accurate.  Braff hosted a conversation, allowing students to interact with him and ask questions for the majority of the evening.  Braff gave every question a thorough and meaningful response.

The Jersey native has obtained a cult following for his film, Garden State, which he wrote, directed and starred in.  Braff drew inspiration for the film from his New Jersey upbringing.  The film explores the concept of being present in the moment.  Braff carried this theme into his latest film, Wish I Was Here, starring Braff and Kate Hudson.  He received funding for this film using the global crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter.

Inspiration for Garden State came from Braff’s own life.  Before landing a role on Scrubs, Braff was a waiter at a French-Vietnamese restaurant in L.A. and continually looked for ways to break into the acting world.  No matter what he went through, he never gave up on his dream of becoming an actor.

“My career has been dozens or hundreds of people saying no and it’s about finding ways to make it work,” said Braff.

Braff encouraged students to pursue all sorts of things.  He also stressed the importance of being realistic.  He advised students to choose jobs that correspond to the industry of your dream career.  “If it doesn’t work out, your ultimate dream, get a very rounded education when you have access to it,” he said.

In 2005, Braff won a Grammy for the Garden State soundtrack, which he compiled himself.  The album includes tracks by The Shins, Coldplay, Iron & Wine and Simon & Garfunkel.  “I really like The Shins.  “New Slang”* was a turning point for me.  It is a tricky thing to find a song the widest group of people have a response to.”  Braff shared more about his connection with music.  “The first Coldplay album – I was really going through the period I wrote about in Garden State.  It scored a period in my life that I was really raw,” said Braff.

Braff took to a different method for compiling the soundtrack for his latest film, Wish I Was Here.  Braff asked many of his favorite artists and groups, like Coldplay, to watch the film and write music in response to it.   In just 26 days, the film was shot and then screened at a film festival.  Braff detailed what the moments before a premier are like.  “Right before people judge it, there’s this beautiful moment where it’s pure.”

When asked what he enjoyed most about growing up in New Jersey, Braff shared that he loved being close to New York City.  Braff’s hometown of South Orange, New Jersey is about 30 minutes from New York.  Living so close to New York and being exposed to the energy and the opportunity made him feel as though he wanted to end up there one day.  Proximity to New York is not all that he loves about this state.  Braff also exclaimed his appreciation for the natural beauty of New Jersey.

In addition to staring in the successful television series, Scrubs, directing two films and winning a Grammy award, Braff also has a fascinating hidden talent.  Braff has his pilot’s license and admitted to flying out of Morristown, New Jersey, where he used to take lessons. 

As he said himself, Braff is proof that you can make it out of New Jersey.  But we were so glad to have him back.

*”New Slang” is a song by The Shins