“Wish I Was Here” (directed, co-written and starring Zach Braff) is a comedy telling the story of a man in his 30s who finds himself at major crossroads, which forces him to examine his life, his career, and his family. In the movie, Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor who is married to Sarah Bloom (played by Kate Hudson), with whom he is raising their two kids Grace (played by Joey King) and Tucker (played by Pierce Gagnon). While Aidan is starting to feel guilt over his slacker lifestyle, he attempts to be a more responsible parent by bonding more with his kids. Meanwhile, Aidan has issues with his own father, Gabe (played by Mandy Patinkin), a widower who is facing a serious illness and has to drastically reduce financial help that Gabe was giving the Aidan’s family.
Before the release of “Wish I Was Here,” Braff got a lot of publicity (and considerable backlash) for his Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for the movies. Many of Braff’s critics thought that he was wealthy enough to fund the movie himself and didn’t need to ask the public for money. (Braff is one of several producers of “Wish I Was Here.”) The release of “Wish I Was Here” comes 10 years after 2004’s “Garden State,” which was Braff’s first feature film as a writer and director. With the Kickstarter controversy behind him, Braff and his “Wish I Was Here” co-star sat down together for this interview at the Los Angeles press junket for “Wish I Was Here.”
“Wish I Was Here” is obviously going to get some comparisons to “Garden State,” since in both movies, Zach plays a struggling actor whose mother is dead and he tries to reconnect with his family. Can you talk about the biggest differences in these two movies?
Braff: Getting rescued by love is another theme. In this case, it was more marital, true love. And that was someone discovering romantic love for the first time. In this case, it’s the love of a family and the love of a couple coming together.
The “Garden State” soundtrack was very popular and critically acclaimed. Can you talk about how you choose the music for the movies you direct?
Braff: I just love music. I grew up loving musical theater. I’m now doing a musical on Broadway. I think because that’s how I started, maybe that informed the importance of a well-placed song.
I think so many movies place score non-stop that it ruins the listener, the viewer, because they’re desensitizing you to it. There’s so much score and so much blasting you with music that if you strip all that down, it’s way more powerful. And that’s something really, really love doing.
What can you say about the Bloom family in “Wish I Was Here” and how you cast the young actors who play the Bloom kids?
Hudson: We’re married in this film and [our characters] have two children, which we had quite young.
Braff: Yes. We had them young …
Hudson: Because he couldn’t his hands off of me.
Braff: Who could? Joey King is my daughter [Grace Bloom] and Pierce Gagnon is my son [Tucker Bloom]. Mandy Pantinkin plays my father [Gabe Bloom].
Hudson: His mother in the film has passed away. Josh Gad plays my brother [Noah Bloom]. And Ashley Greene plays a young, sexy woman [Janine] who lives in his trailer park, who he befriends … I feel like we’re a fun family — a fun family with some issues.
Braff: It’s always fun family time at Kate’s house. There’s always mayhem and kids running around. I wrote the film with my brother, and he’s always got fun family mayhem. And the kids [in “Wish I Was Here”] are inspired a little bit by his kids.
Hudson: Kids always make for good comedy, period — in real life, in movie life. Although I have to say, to capture that is one of those things that is really difficult. To capture what it really feels like as a parent and the humor that kids bring into your life and the nostalgic moments of having children, moments when things hit you when it’s just wistful. And I think it’s a challenging thing to do on screen, which I think is acted really well in this [movie]. The kids are so real and honest.
Braff: And they’re so talented. By the way, Pierce I saw in “Looper.” When my brother and I wrote this, we were terrified: “How are we going to find a boy who can handle this part?” I just pictured myself in a mall, reading kids [for auditions] in Minnesota.
And I saw “Looper,” and I was just so floored, I didn’t read another boy. He lives in Atlanta. His mom filmed him on an iPhone, reading the scenes. I cast him on the spot. And Joey, I was in “Oz [the Great and Powerful]” with.
Hudson: I’d wake up in the morning, and there’d be flowers in my trailer from my “secret admirer.” I knew it was Pierce because of his writing. He’s just an angel.
How would you describe Aidan Bloom as a father?
Braff: My character doesn’t know how to teach his kids. He’s not an academic. His daughter knows more about geometry than he does. So he tries to take them on adventures. He wants to get to know them better.
What Kate’s character says is, “You have to figure this out in some way. Whatever it is, you have to step up.” And so, in so many words, he says, “All right. I’ll take them on adventures. Maybe we’ll bond that way.” So he takes them to Joshua Tree, where he once had an epiphany, probably on drugs. And they end up talking around the campfire about spirituality.
And then, the little boy is obsessed with this Aston Martin car. And he [Aidan Bloom] was like, “All right, I’m an actor. Let me talk my way into driving an Aston Martin.” So he takes them on an adventure in an expensive car they could never afford. So he takes on getting to know his kids better in the way that he can do it, because it isn’t going to be through trying to teach them academics.
For more info: “Wish I Was Here” website