It’s not every day you get to sit down and talk to a flying monkey, or in this case, the voice of one. But we recently had the honor to chat with Zach Braff, the voice of Finley in Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful. Although it was hard not to think of him with wings and a bell hop uniform or in his role as John “J.D.” Dorian in Scrubs, he is not a monkey nor a doctor, he is just a hilarious, down-to-earth actor who steals every scene he’s in in Oz the Great and Powerful as Finley. Check out our interview here:
During the production you’re in this little tiny black booth…
Yeah, that’s one of the ways we did it. By the end we had three pretty solid ways that we did it. Sometimes I was like just scrunched down like in this blue screen Onesie which is really adorable and for six months no matter how many times I put it on, everyone pointed and laughed at me and I sat on my butt and kinda hunched over, I was thirty-six inches tall. Sam wanted to capture everything, you know, my gestures and my facial expressions.
Other times there was a puppet that I would kind of operate and when he needed to be like flying and stuff. And then there’s times when I couldn’t be there at all, and I’d be in this booth with cameras all around me. And then James would be looking at a monitor that was kind of on a pole. And then he’d get the tiny ear piece in his ear. Sam’s biggest thing was, “I don’t want you in a sound booth at the end of the shoot. I want you there, I want you and James improving, I want it to be two buddies on a road trip.”
And I think that made such a difference. Because it wasn’t just this character that got phoned in at the end, it really was this important relationship.
What was one of your most memorable moments during filming?
I love the moment when we find China Girl and James is putting her back together. Because it genuinely was so moving. I mean, even on set, it was so moving. We were on all these giant sets and it was so surreal. We were literally sitting in a tea kettle and it was James, Joey King (who plays China Girl) and the puppeteer.
They had this beautiful marionette puppet, because she was small enough that she could actually have a marionette puppet. It was just so sweet and beautiful. And I actually had my eyes well, that’s when I discovered that I wanted the monkey to almost be like an easy crier. ‘Cause my eyes really genuinely welled and I was like, “Sam, let’s have him like covertly- he doesn’t want Oz to see that he’s crying – so let’s have him covertly swipe the tear.” And then they kept in the movie, it was really sweet.
What was the most challenging part?
I think, I was nervous the whole time, like I’m here for so long and working so hard. Are they going to capture all that I’m doing? As an actor you go, “okay, it’s my face, so they can’t get around that.” When all that you’re doing is really being reference for an animator… I was nervous. Like are they going to capture the subtleties? And then at the premier I finally saw, and for the first time, fully realized, and it was so exciting for me. Because it really did, little subtle face ticks and things I never would have thought they would have picked up in the eyes. That made me really happy, that they got it all.
You were the comedy, and that’s what kids really respond to, what’s your feeling about doing this for kids?
Well I did do Chicken Little. So, I did a family film before. I have nieces and nephews, I don’t have any of my own yet, but I love kids.
Do you have the Finley stuffed animal?
I have a twelve-year-old nephew, his sister couldn’t come out from Florida for the premier, but he did. I said, I want you to give this (the Finely doll) Ella because she didn’t get to come out. And he goes, “yeah-yeah-yeah I’ll give it to her”, and he’s sleeping on my couch. I walk in to come here this morning, and he’s totally spooning it and I’m like, there’s no way Ella is getting that stuffed animal. Actually it was funny, I said, “I want you to give this to Ella”, he goes, “yeah-yeah-yeah we’ll share it,” and I was like, “no-no-no it’s for Ella.” So I told, I told my publicist, “I need like a box of those things”. One is not going to do.
What was it like going from Scrubs to playing Finley?
Well it helped. I had a wide range, it helped, you know, the physical comedy from Scrubs helps and also the improvisational stuff, ’cause on Scrubs what we would do is. Once we have one as written, (we got) to play around and come up with stuff, a lot of the stuff people loved, came out of us improving on Scrubs. And on this movie it was so big, I was like, they’re not going to have time for any of that. But Sam really wanted that, he’s like, “I want you and James to riff. I want you to find those new jokes.” It was a great training ground, to be able to do this.
How do you prepare for a role like a monkey?
I did actually go to the Detroit Zoo. I stumbled across two monkeys, let’s just say in intimate embrace, none of that proved useful, maybe for the sequel ,I don’t know if the monkey gets a girlfriend or not. Yeah, he looks like a monkey but he flies and he talks like a human. So it really wasn’t too much monkey research to be done.
So there wasn’t a lot of monkey business?
You have me on record saying there was little monkey business.
Garden State compared to Oz?
The budget of Garden State was the chewing gum budget of this movie. I’ve only made one movie and people asked about what the experience was like. I said, imagine going from a kayak to a cruise ship. Most of my work has been smaller films and the TV show. So for me this was thrilling just to even be on set, I love movies so much, and just to be there for what I think is a pretty historic experience. Just to be on set was, was a dream.