— by Shawn Adler, with reporting by Larry Carroll
LOS ANGELES — It seems like Shakespeare said pretty much all that needed to be said about love more than 400 years ago. All the important stuff, anyway, about destiny, betrayal, sex and love so pure it hurts.
But that's looking back — Zach Braff wants us to look forward.
"Anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship can relate to [the overwhelming question]," Braff said. " 'I really love this person, but is this the one? Am I ready to settle down? Is this the last person that I'm ever going to kiss?' "
Written by Academy Award winner Paul Haggis and directed by Tony Goldwyn, "The Last Kiss" is about that moment in any relationship when a couple have to decide whether they should continue on to the next step.
According to Braff, that moment can come just as often when things are at their best as it can when couples are experiencing problems.
"Everything in your life is going good, but maybe it's going a little too good," he said. "You're like, 'Am I going to stop taking risks? Am I playing life too safe? Am I just going through emotions now?' I think we all face that."
That moment for Braff's character, Michael, comes when he meets Kim, a twentysomething seductress played by Rachel Bilson. Instantly attracted to her youthful exuberance, Michael must decide whether he wants to pursue Kim or stay with Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), with whom he is having a child.
With such weighty material, Braff was adamant that the film be appropriately dramatic. He warned that audiences expecting a return to the zaniness of "Garden State" are in for a surprise.
"I think people can't help but being misled and say, 'Oh cool, we're going to go and see a fun, fluffy comedy.' It's not that," the "Scrubs" star cautioned. "There are a lot of funny parts to it, but it also has a lot of balls. I think the movie is really courageous; there has not been a film that talks about these issues in a really courageous way."
Part of showing that courage, Braff noted, was pulling no punches during his torrid love scene with Bilson. For Bilson, it was an opportunity to completely let go and act in the moment.
"Well, I wouldn't get naked, but there were no limitations," described "The O.C." star. "I wanted it to be as real as possible, and we said, 'OK, here's a love scene and let's just do it and you can't think about it. Whatever happens, happens.' "
Bilson's "whatever happens" attitude must have been contagious on set. Although co-star Casey Affleck joked that he was "blackmailed" into appearing in the film with the "hack" Zach Braff, he admitted that, despite the film's sometimes morose subject matter, the vibe behind the scenes was "light and fun."
Barrett insisted that vibe started at the top, with a director who allowed for frequent spontaneity.
"I think we had a lot of fun. Everybody did," Barrett said. "Tony Goldwyn encouraged everybody to be free and to take risks and to feel really comfortable."
If taking risks was in the water, it's no wonder that it spread to Braff himself. The "Garden State" scribe was given the opportunity to rewrite some of Haggis' scenes, and all Haggis has done is author two movies that went on to win back-to-back Best Picture Oscars ("Million Dollar Baby" and "Crash").
"I did a little play with the script here and there," Braff said, quick to add, "Paul obviously did a phenomenal job. He's Paul Haggis, for God's sake!
"They were open though, letting me tweak some dialogue a little bit," Braff continued. "I felt like this was my group of friends, so there were things I could bring to it in terms of our banter and our dialogue that would make it even more realistic. I wanted the movie to be as real as possible. I wanted guys and girls my age to turn to each other and go, 'Wow, this could be our group of friends. This is how we talk.' So I did do a little play with the script."
The script wasn't the only cookie jar Braff had his fingers in while filming. After winning a Grammy for compiling the soundtrack to "Garden State," Braff was asked to help with the music for "The Last Kiss." For Braff, it was an opportunity to once again introduce a whole new set of musicians.
"The lesson with the 'Garden State' soundtrack was, 'Wow, there's a huge audience for this type of music, and I've been put in a place where I can help new bands get discovered,' " he enthused. "I love that. I love sharing music and I love people that are incredibly talented, getting exposure to an audience they wouldn't normally get exposed to. Anything I can do."
|The stars of "The Last Kiss" got their big breaks on the small screen before making the transition to film. Here's where they made their mark:
- Zach Braff has played Dr. John "J.D." Dorian, a goofy resident-turned-M.D., on NBC's "Scrubs" since 2001.
- Rachel Bilson has called "The O.C." home since 2003, playing bratty-but-lovable Summer Roberts.
- Jacinda Barrett started out as an aspiring model on 1995's "The Real World: London" before crossing over from reality TV to mainstream success.
Ultimately, Affleck thinks the message of "The Last Kiss" is a hopeful one.
"All these relationships are in a different state of despair, they're kind of falling apart," he said. "The thing that resonated with me was that everyone wanted to work at that. That most of these people wanted to be in love, be in a relationship, care about the person that they're with, do the right thing. Everyone makes mistakes, but it's the mistakes you make and how you deal with them afterwards [that counts]."
Added Braff: "I think my character had to go through this experience in order to end up where he wanted to be, which was with the girl he wants to spend the rest of his life with."
And that's as good a lesson as any for those of us who can't help but look back.