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It's an odd route from prime-time TV star to indie-flick darling, but Zach Braff has managed to make the trip look positively breezy. The "Scrubs" star enthralled audiences at this year's Sundance Film Festival with "Garden State," his personal, poignant and often hilarious directorial debut.

Braff cast himself as Andrew Largeman, a struggling actor who returns to his New Jersey home for his mother's funeral, and spends the rest of the weekend realizing he has no idea what he's doing with his life. Largeman navigates this emotional minefield while also dealing with his emotionally distant father, and falling in love with Sam (Natalie Portman), a pathological liar with a charm all her own.

"Garden State" Photos

Zach, who wrote and directed the film, tapped into several of his own experiences growing up in New Jersey to create the intensely personal story, an approach that helped to snare Portman, who was looking to balance out her blockbuster "Star Wars" work with smaller fare.

MTV News' Vanessa White Wolf sat down with Zach and Natalie to talk about the "quarter-life crisis," how a mix CD helped the movie get made and how Natalie made Method Man nervous.


MTV: I heard that you made a mix CD that you sent out with the script.

Zach Braff: Yeah, I was trying to get the screenplay made, and it was all my favorite music ... the songs that were scoring my life at the time. Even people that would pass on the script would be like, "By the way, I love that mix!" I still run into executives after I've sold the movie that are like, "That mix you gave me is still in my car," which was great for me, because I got to see that there are other people out there that really love this kind of music.

"Garden State" trailer

MTV: This really is the perfect college, post-college movie, because it really captures that weirdness of going home, and that weirdness of spending the weekend at home.

Braff: Yeah, when you get out of college. My whole adolescence was geared up to turning 21, being able to drink legally. And you're like, "Yay! But now what?" You get out of college and you have all these ideas, aspirations, and it's really intimidating. You don't know what you're going to do, and that caused me a lot of anxiety and a feeling of lostness, and not knowing where home was anymore. It's a movie about what they're calling the quarter-life crisis.

Natalie Portman: I shot this film during my senior spring at college, so I was in that transition where I thought, "Oh, I'm a grown-up, what am I going to do, what's my meaning, what's my personality?" I've spent the past 20 years trying to be like everyone else and all of a sudden I don't want to be like everyone else. I want to know why I'm different than everyone else, and what sets me apart and what my purpose for being here and being on Earth.

It's overwhelming sometimes, all the choices we have. We live in the most affluent country in the world, and not everyone shares in it obviously, but a lot of young people are pretty comfortable and it's hard to know what you need to do when you can do a lot of things. And you sort of see that emptiness with all these characters in the movie, all the people he meets at home who are prescription-drug addicts or super-rich kids who sit in their pool all day and chase girls.

MTV: We actually did an interview just a couple months ago with Method Man, and he was talking about his experience working on the movie, and he was like "I had to talk about girls' boobs! With Natalie Portman! And it was so fun!"

 "[Method Man] had to use some naughty words around [Natalie]. I think he was a little bashful, but she was laughing..."

Braff: I guess he is a big "Star Wars" fan. I'm not sure. It was funny seeing one of the most famous rappers in the world being a little bit shy around Natalie. He had to use some naughty words around her. I think he was a little bashful, but she was cool; she was laughing.

Portman: I was so excited to work with Method Man. I was like expecting there to be a cloud of smoke outside his trailer. Unfortunately, he was so professional and cool, and came so prepared ... I thought I'd leave with all these funny stories, but he was there, and he's so funny in the movie, he's so great. I bet I was more nervous to work with him than he was to work with me.

MTV: So some people have looked at Natalie in this movie and said, "Oh, it's Marty from 'Beautiful Girls,' only 10 years older."

Braff: Yeah, I think what people are relating to is the way Natalie was so uninhibited when she was a kid, and this is really the first adult role she's had where she's back to being so free. I think she had just graduated school, and was just ready to try something new. And thank God she was willing to do a movie this small. There's no action figures for her, but she just came to play.

Portman: I think they’re pretty different characters, actually, because Marty seems like the perfect woman already, and she’s 13 or whatever, and Sam is like the imperfect perfect woman.

 "When guys write things, they write their dream girl, [but] Zach wrote a girl who’s really bizarre and sort of crazy..."

I always made fun of Zach, because I think that when guys write things, they write their dream girl. They do things because that’s what the dream girl would do, not because that’s what the character would do. But Zach was wonderful, because most guys would write their dream girls as the blond chick in her underwear who loves sports, and can eat fries and stay 10 pounds and all these ridiculous guy things. And he wrote a girl who’s really bizarre and sort of crazy, and has her own really weird things. And she’s like a big liar and all this weird stuff, but yet she’s a really wonderful person.



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