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Following the world premiere of the Kickstarter-funded Wish I Was Here at the Mark Theater, director and star Zach Braff paid tribute to the late Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star James Avery, who appears very briefly in Braff’s emotional, meditative film.
“He was a great man and I’m glad the last thing he did on film gets a giant laugh,” Braff told the audience.
Co-stars in attendance included Kate Hudson, who plays the strong, supportive wife to Braff as a sweet but impractical and spiritually searching husband, whose dream of being an actor is fading. Also present was Josh Gad, who plays a far more dramatic role than fans have seen from him as Braff’s brilliant but reclusive brother. Mandy Patinkin, who plays their difficult, ailing father, appeared briefly before the film screened but had to leave because he was expected in Los Angeles later in the day for the SAG awards.
Braff wrote the script, which explores — among other issues — the impact of a religious Jewish upbringing, with his brother Adam. “It was kind of a combination of both of our lives,” he said. “We did have a very strong conservative/Orthodox upbringing. … Themes are in there around our shared experiences but it’s mostly fiction.”
Hudson said Braff’s script “hit me like a Mack truck. The themes of the film are all things I can relate to — being a mom of two kids, fearing all these moments in your life when people have to go and the importance of connection.” Having wanted to work with Braff for some time, she said “the intimacy and closeness we felt in the scenes [between husband and wife] felt very easy, comfortable.”
Gad said he took the role in part because Braff’s first film, Garden State, “was one of the movies that spoke to my generation,” and because he also grew up “in a very Jewish household.” He added, “I know it doesn’t look that way.”
Like Garden State, which had a Grammy-winning soundtrack, the film features music prominently, including an original written for the project by The Shins frontman James Mercer and potentially another from a big-name act that Braff hopes to add before the film’s theatrical release. The premiere was well-attended by potential buyers from Fox Searchlight, Focus, CBS Films, The Weinstein Co. and others.
Following a standing ovation from the audience, Braff also expressed gratitude to producer Stacey Sher, who had encouraged him to make the attempt to fund the film in part through Kickstarter. “When it came time to make this film, we were presented with all these obstacles: ‘You’re going to have to cut all this, you’re going to have to shoot in Vancouver — cut, cut, cut,’ ” Braff said. “And my brave producer Stacey said, ‘You have this amazing fan base.’ “
Braff said Sher warned him that “some people will go apeshit” and indeed, Braff faced backlash from critics who argued he was rich and famous enough to get a film financed without seeking money from the public that might otherwise have gone to struggling indie filmmakers. But Braff said, “I thank Stacey to the day I die because she was the one who talked me into it.”
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