Actor channels his inner monkey
Oz the Great and Powerful marks Zach Braff’s leap into the world of super big-budget Hollywood movies, a drastic departure from his work on TV with Scrubs and his focus on smaller indie films such as Garden State.
He actually has two parts in the new movie, which is a prequel to the classic Wizard of Oz, starting with a brief appearance as a magician’s assistant in the opening minutes of the new Disney film.
But the comedic actor was really recruited for the other role, as Finley, a wise-cracking animated flying monkey.
And he relished the opportunity to channel his inner monkey, even if it meant spending the majority of his time on set in an unflattering blue leotard. He couldn’t turn down the chance to update the beloved story and work with Sam Raimi, director of the Spider-Man films, on a high-tech, effects-laden production.
“I grew up on the Wizard of Oz like most people and the idea they were going to tell an original story, a prequel, revisit the (L. Frank Baum) books and tell a new story I thought was great,” says Braff.
“I think it would be almost sacrilege if you tried to remake the Wizard of Oz but . . . to go back to the world with the effects and 3D of today, a script by a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright — when you’re Sam Raimi and Disney every single person working on this is the best at what they do, the best makeup guy, the best effects guy — I just wanted to be involved.”
Finley is the constant companion to Oscar Diggs, played by James Franco, a travelling magician who eventually becomes the Wizard of Oz. Other members of the star-studded cast include Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch and Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis as sister witches Evanora and Theodora.
“Sam Raimi asked me to come to his office, so I was already thrilled about that, and he said, ‘Look, we have this monkey character in this movie and we don’t know what he is yet, we know we want him to be Oz’s conscience but we want to hire an actor that we can kind of develop it with and help us figure out who he is,’ which to me is the coolest assignment ever,” Braff says.
“I just started making up jokes off the top of my head and he was belly-laughing and I was like, ‘I think that’s probably a good sign.’ And when I walked out of the room he gave me the part.
“I became their monkey.”
Look closely and you might recognize Braff in Finley’s facial features and movements; the actor was wired up and shot by a number of cameras so animators could translate his performance into the animated character.
Braff says shooting the Oz The Great and Powerful was probably the most physical performance he’s delivered to date.
He stands six-feet tall, and acting out the movements for puny three-foot Finley wasn’t easy.
For scenes that were physically impossible for him to do — like when the monkey took flight — Braff had a Finley puppet to perform with.
Braff isn’t surprised that Disney committed a very big budget for the new Oz film — it cost a reported $200 million to make, which is in the Hobbit, Spider-Man, Transformers stratosphere — just as a number of other fairy tales have recently been given splashy remakes.
“We grew up on these movies and we have such a fondness for them,” Braff says.
“And I think people want to share certain worlds with their children.”