For someone who is now a multimillion-dollar celebrity, actor Zach Braff is a pretty normal dude from New Jersey who grew up with big-city dreams.
Dressed in khakis, a button-up/sweater and black leather jacket, Braff greeted a concert hall full of students with a friendly smile and wave.
“I’m proof that you can make it out of New Jersey,” Braff shouted, which elicited bombastic applause from the packed audience.
A native of South Orange, New Jersey, Braff made a return to his home-state on October 2nd to give a lecture to the students at The College of New Jersey in Ewing.
During his presentation, Braff discussed his difficulties finding success in the ever-changing world of entertainment. In 2001, the actor and writer burst onto the Hollywood scene with the critically acclaimed sitcom “Scrubs” and made his directorial debut with “Garden State” in 2004.
“I spent years with people telling me it wouldn’t happen,” Braff said, touching upon his desires to be a filmmaker and actor.
After graduating from Northwestern University, Braff moved to California and worked as a production assistant on music videos and spent his days doing grunt work. While on set, he would always ask everyone he saw what they were working on.
“I always had my eyes on the prize. I was so hungry to learn,” Braff explained.
Despite this mentality, Braff continued to struggle to find success. After multiple failed pilot seasons as an actor, he returned to New York to audition for a play. While it seemed like a sure thing, Braff did not land the role.
A distressed phone call was made to his agent, who in turn convinced him to return to California for another pilot season in 2004.
It was that year that he landed “Scrubs” and quickly shot to stardom, finding success behind the camera and on the Broadway stage as well.
In a personal interview before the show, Braff discussed his recent Broadway debut in “Bullets Over Broadway.” An avid music lover, he took a break from musical theater after high school.
“Then we did the ‘Scrubs’ musical episode and it was so fun. I sort of said to my agent in passing that when the right one comes, I would love to do a musical,” Braff said. Fastforward a few years, and he received a surprise phone call.
“I didn’t know the right one would be Woody Allen’s first musical, who is my hero, but also a musical about a neurotic, Jewish playwright, struggling and fighting against compromise for his art,” Braff explained. “It couldn’t be more comparable to my life this year with the whole Kickstarter campaign. It was just the perfect thing.”
The point of Braff’s lecture was to inspire the college audience to never sacrifice our dreams because someone tells them “no.”
“No one gave a fuck who I was — everyone passed on ‘Garden State,’” Braff stated while explaining the difficulties finding a studio to produce his first feature-length film in 2006. Instead, he had to go to an independent producer who wanted him to make the film for half the cost (3 million instead of 6). In turn, Braff had to make severe cuts to the production schedule and refocus his vision. Still, he never gave up.
“How many ‘no’s’ are you willing to receive?” Braff asked the audience, pausing a moment to let his next words really sink into the crowd of wide-eyed collegiates.
“If you work your ass off, and don’t take no for an answer, you can accomplish anything.”