Intelligence and sweetness is the combination actors Zach Braff and Rachel Bilson bring to The Last Kiss. Braff plays Michael, a man approaching his 30th birthday who is apprehensive about settling down with longtime girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), believing that in doing so his life will have “no surprises.” Along comes Kim (Bilson), who is a few years younger than Michael. The two soon begin a passionate affair – and Michael then realizes he has a lot of decisions to make. Braff and Bilson recently talked to a number of reporters from college newspapers across the country, discussing their new movie, which Braff said touches on “this romanticized concept of staying together for your entire life.”
The Oracle: In what ways does The Last Kiss compare to Garden State for you, or does it not compare at all?
ZB: I think people will always be looking for the comparison, but I think they’re pretty different movies. This is a darker movie. I don’t want people to be surprised and think they’re going into a light-hearted romantic comedy, not that Garden State was that at all. I do think that this goes to a pretty dark place in terms of talking really openly about relationships, commitment and lust, and all those things that get us in trouble in life. So I think it’s more of a drama, I would say. That’s the biggest difference.
University of California-Davis: There’s a rumor that you read the script for The Last Kiss and tweaked the dialogue a little bit. Is this true, and do you feel that as an actor when you take on a role you need to mold it in a certain way to give it your own stamp?
ZB: First of all, Paul Haggis wrote the script, so the script by no means needed anything. I mean, he’s Paul Haggis for God’s sake. But I do feel that I was in a unique position, because I am a writer and I feel I almost can tweak things that tailor-make them for me. I think I write pretty good dialogue, and I also knew these guys. I’m 31 years old, and I have a group of friends that are just like these guys. I just felt like I could contribute something to it, so I did do a little tinkering with some of the dialogue – but not ’cause it needed it, just because I wanted to urinate on it like a dog on a fire hydrant and make it my own.
FSU: It seems right now that you have a really good balance going on between writing, acting and directing. Do you see the balance shifting for you anytime soon? What of the three are you most passionate about?
ZB: I think if I had to choose, I would choose directing just because it asks everything. You have to be a little bit of a writer, a little bit of a photographer, a little bit of an actor, and it’s just a giant puzzle. I enjoy the challenge of juggling all those balls. But I get pleasure out of doing them all, so I don’t really want to give up doing any one. There’ll be times when I just act, and then there’ll be times when I just direct. But for now, it’s kind of fun to be taking on them all.
Texas Tech: Your character in Garden State and your character in The Last Kiss seem a little bit alike in the sense that they’re both kind of looking for something. Are you attracted to roles like that?
ZB: I don’t know, maybe at this point in my life. People are always like, “That was a movie about being lost in your 20s, is this a movie about being lost in your early 30s?” I’m like, “I don’t know, I’m lost at every age I am.” I always feel like I’m lost. Maybe that’s the kind of story I’m interested in telling right now. I don’t know. I just know that I liked the movie. I read it, and it felt like a movie I would want to go see, a movie that was speaking to me and my friends and sort of what we were going through. I just thought it was accurate.
University of North Texas: Would this movie make 30-somethings question their lives? Is this bringing the mid-life crisis closer to our 20s?
ZB: I don’t really think it’s a mid-life crisis. I think it’s just about being freaked out about getting married. I don’t know about your parents, you guys are a little younger than me, but all my friend’s parents got divorced, including mine. There’s a line in the movie where the character says, “I told you I’d marry you when you could name three couples you know personally that have lasted more than five years,” and she can’t. I think it’s a movie about just examining this concept of marriage and what it means in today’s world, where people don’t stay married very long and this romanticized concept of staying together for your entire life. I got a buddy that says when someone gets married, like if her name’s like Jenny or something, he’s like, ‘Aw, did you hear Jenny got married? I’ll have to wait two years to date her.’ I think it’s funny and sad, but it’s kind of accurate.
The Oracle: How did you feel about sort of being “the other woman” in this movie? Did you think your character was caught up in the moment, or what do you think it was?
RB: It’s hard to say “the other woman” – I would never want to be that in real life. I think it was just exciting and alluring for her to have an older man who was a little bit unavailable and a little mysterious in what his situation was. She was interested in exploring it and going after him, and it was just a fun little hurdle.
The Oracle: I read the profile they did about you in Self magazine a couple of months ago, and you seem to have a really positive self-image, really comfortable in your own skin. How do you maintain that in image-obsessed Hollywood?
RB: It is hard, but I had a really good upbringing and a really strong parental unit, and my mom is my guru in that way. It’s so important to be happy with yourself and just always know that and try not to get caught up with all the stuff that’s external and surrounding you.
Rutgers University: How do you prepare for a role like this? When you get the script, is there any kind of research you did?
RB: For me, I read the script, and for some reason I felt very close to her in a way, not that she’s like me, but it sort of naturally came out. My first intuition was to play her the way I did, and I think it just worked alongside Zach, and I think (director) Tony (Goldwyn) was happy with it, so I kind of just went with my instincts.
Michigan State University: Kim faces her first big heartbreak in the film. What did you call upon to make that part of your performance as realistic?
RB: The emotional scene in the movie was really hard for me, but Tony really helped me. He let me take time with it to get there. Zach actually helped me a lot on his side of the camera. He was saying really mean things to help me get upset. So it was kind of a team effort. But thanks to them, I got to where I wanted to be.
University of Alabama: Have you seen the original film?
UA: Did that influence you wanting to get involved with this one?
RB: Well, I knew Zach was attached, and I was a fan of his from Garden State, and then I saw the original and thought it was such a beautiful movie and that Gabriel Macchino was such a beautiful filmmaker. To be able to get the chance to recreate something and do it any justice was truly an honor.
Columbia University: If somebody (was) in the same situation your character was in for the film, what would you tell the person to do differently or the same?
RB: Me personally, I would never pursue someone in that way and get that crazy and be that aggressive. I would say trust your instincts and maybe don’t overstep your boundaries. I think it was a harder situation because she didn’t know all the facts going on from the other side, so she kind of just went for it. I would say, well, don’t be so impulsive.
University of Georgia: What do you think makes the love story in The Last Kiss so real?
RB: I think all the situations – I think there’s a few love stories in it. Everything that they are going through is so realistic that these situations really happen, and it’s not your fantasy romance where everything’s perfect and everything’s easy. It shows all the speed bumps. I admire the movie for that, for being so truthful.
TT: Judging from Garden State, music played a major role. How does music play in this movie?
RB: I feel it’s just as apparent. (Zach) did an amazing job with this one as well. The music is so perfect for every scene, and it’s one of those soundtracks you can just play through like Garden State and every song’s amazing.
UA: In the original film, your character comes off as very stalker-ish. Did you carry any of that over to this remake?
RB: I think there is a little bit of that – she is a little obsessed and does show up unannounced. I don’t think it was to the same extent as the character in the original film.
CU: When you read the script, what about the character really drew you in?
RB: I loved that it was a strong female character that, given the amount of screen time she had, she really showed so many colors and had such a transition throughout the film. I really got to play a few notes, which was nice for a change, especially for a woman.