By Jonathan Edmondson & Peter Fiorilla
Arts & Entertainment Editor & News Editor
For someone who is now a multimillion-dollar celebrity, Zach Braff is a pretty normal guy from New Jersey who grew up with big-city dreams.
Dressed in khakis, a button-up and sweater combination and a black leather jacket — which he later removed to catcalls and applause — the man best known as J.D. from “Scrubs” greeted a concert hall full of students with a friendly smile and wave on Thursday, Oct. 2, delivering CUB’s Fall Lecture.
“I’m proof that you can make it out of New Jersey,” Braff shouted, which elicited a round of bombastic applause from the packed audience.
During his presentation, Braff discussed his difficulties finding success in the ever-changing world of entertainment, both as a young actor and, more recently, as a director.
“I spent years with people telling me it wouldn’t happen,” Braff said, touching upon his desires to be a filmmaker as well as an actor.
After graduating from Northwestern University, Braff moved to California and worked as a production assistant on music videos, spending long 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 said.
Despite this mentality, Braff continued to struggle to find success. After multiple failed pilot attempts and a day-job taking orders at a French-Vietnamese restaurant in Los Angeles, Braff returned to New York to audition for a play.
“It was a terrible play,” Braff said, which would’ve required him to receive “fake fellatio” while completely nude on stage. When he couldn’t land the role, Braff’s agent had to convince him to return to California for one last pilot season.
It was that year that Braff landed the part which would make him famous — a leading role in “Scrubs” as quirky medical intern J.D. “Scrubs” quickly shot Braff to stardom, finding success behind the camera and on the Broadway stage as well.
In an interview with The Signal before the show, Braff discussed his recent Broadway debut in “Bullets Over Broadway.” An avid musical lover, he took a break from 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.
Fast forward 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 said, disccusing his luck in finding “Bullets.” “It couldn’t be more comparable to my life this year with the whole Kickstarter campaign. It was just the perfect thing.”
The lasting message of Braff’s lecture was to inspire all of his listeners never to sacrifice their dreams because someone else tells them “no.”
“No one gave a fuck who I was — everyone passed on ‘Garden State,’” Braff said while explaining the difficulties finding a studio to produce his first feature-length film. Instead, he had to find an alternative way to attempt to get the movie funded.
Even after the financial success of “Scrubs” and “Garden State,” Braff had to resort to Kickstarter to back his latest film project — “Wish I Were Here.” It’s a film he wrote with his brother, and it’s a story he holds dear to his heart.
This proves, however, that even someone as popular as Braff has struggled to find success.
“How many ‘no’s’ are you willing to receive?” Braff asked the audience, pausing a moment to let his next words resonate with the crowd of wide-eyed collegiates: “If you work your ass off and don’t take no for an answer, you can accomplish anything.”