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When T-Mobile approached Zach Braff and Donald Faison to play next-door neighbors in a musical spoof on West Side Story for the telecom giant’s Super Bowl ad touting new 5G home internet, there wasn’t a lot of begging involved.
“I really wish we lived next door to each other and we could sit on our front porches and talk. It was the perfect concept for us,” Braff told The Hollywood Reporter this week of why the pair said yes. “We love to sing. We love to be silly. We love to spoof things. They couldn’t have designed a better ad for us.”
They also love spending time together and they’ve done a lot of it after nine years together on beloved sitcom Scrubs and opposite one another on the more recent joint podcast, Fake Doctors, Real Friends with Zach and Donald. The T-Mobile spot finds the best friends singing a parody version of West Side Story’s “I Feel Pretty” as Braff gripes about overpaying for the internet, while Faison brags of his affordable deal. “Internet without BS!” they sing to close out the spot.
“I find myself singing the lyrics, it’s such a catchy song,” added Faison of the track that T-Mobile secured from the estate of the musical’s lyricist Stephen Sondheim and composer Leonard Bernstein. “I can’t get the song out of my head.”
Viewers seem to be into it as well: The T-Mobile spot ranks as the second most-watched Super Bowl ad on YouTube, behind Amazon’s “Mind Reader” spot starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Braff and Faison on a joint phone call to talk all things Super Bowl, singing on-set and, yes, that long-rumored Scrubs reunion.
Braff: Hi, Donald.
Faison: Hi, handsome. How are you?
Braff: I feel so happy that the response to the ad has been so overwhelmingly amazing. We need T-Mobile to release the minute-long version! There’s a minute-long version that the interweb needs to know about.
Faison: Release the tape!
Congrats on the ad. Where were you during the game and how did you catch your spot?
Faison: My phone blew up so much — from family members to people who I haven’t spoken to in ages; ex-girlfriends, friends from high school, junior high school, friends from when I first moved out to Los Angeles.
Braff: I was at my house with some friends. I didn’t allow Donald, because his kids are too loud. So my non-kid friends — some of them are pregnant. Pregnant’s fine.
Faison: You had a baby up in that place, but not my children.
Braff: A very quiet baby. Donald’s kids would’ve been cannonballing and I needed to focus. I was just surrounded by friends and everybody was really excited. I actually watched the game. I’m not a huge sports guy, but because it was L.A. and because I was so invested in the commercials, I actually watched the whole game and it was great. Someone was telling me, “Your commercial’s not until the third quarter, so you really want a close game.” Then my friend, Josh Radin, leaned over and said, “You need to now root for Cincinnati to score, so we get a close game.” It was very complex that I had to root against L.A., just so we would have a close game and maximum eyeballs on our commercial.
It seems like the perfect opportunity — a Super Bowl spot alongside your best friend in a concept that features you living side-by-side. How did this come together?
Braff: They presented the idea to us. It’s so funny because when there was downtime and they were setting up the cameras, [Donald and I] were both sitting on the front porches, checking our phones, as though we really lived there. I turned to him and I go, “Dude, this is seriously how I wished we lived. I really wish we lived next door to each other and we could sit on our front porches and talk.”
Faison: That’d be so nice.
Braff: Donald and I both love comedy, we love musicals and we love West Side Story. It was the perfect concept for us. We love to sing. We love to be silly. We love to spoof things. They couldn’t have designed a better ad for us.
Faison: It’s the way T-Mobile put it all together. I find myself singing the lyrics, it’s such a catchy song. I can’t get the song out of my head.
You have worked so well together and continue to do so on projects like your podcast. What is a day like on set with you two?
Braff: We just crack each other up.
Faison: But it’s very easy to focus. We’re both professional.
Braff: We cannot have ever fathomed what the podcast has become. Not just in the United States, but globally. The iHeart numbers are insane. [On the podcast], we rewatch [Scrubs] and we talk about the show, but I think what a lot of people respond to is that we created this little community. It’s me and Donald, our producer Joelle [Monique] and our engineer Danl [Goodman]. We talk and we go off on long tangents. It’s like a friend group with inside jokes and obviously a shared love of Scrubs. I don’t think I could have ever imagined it would be as successful as it’s been.
Faison: I was very excited to be able to talk to Zach every day, especially during the pandemic. [With Zoom], the fact that I can see his face and he can see my face. It genuinely feels like we’re hanging out. That really does transcend over the air into what the people are listening to. It really is us having a great time talking about something we did so long ago.
It’s a musical commercial, very reminiscent of some of the hilarious, sing-song moments on Scrubs. Was that exciting or scary to sing on-screen again?
Faison: I was not nervous. I sing around my kids, but I actually started practicing singing again. I hadn’t done that in a really long time. Once I found out about the T-Mobile commercial, I was like, “I wanna make sure I’m able to hit the notes, and that I’m not flat when I go into the studio.”
Braff: Donald has a ridiculous voice. I have an OK voice, but once I had the safety net of knowing we were having a pre-record, then it was relaxed on set. It reminded us of making that Scrubs musical. I think I can speak for Donald and say that was one of the best times of our whole lives. It was a dream come true. We were both raised on musicals. Our parents are both very into the theater. My dad was a lawyer, but he was in the local community theater musicals. I would go and I couldn’t believe that it could be a job. I had such a love of it, and Bill Lawrence, who created Scrubs, did too. Even before the musical, Donald and I were always singing and making up jingles and songs. We both make each other laugh with music, you know?
Speaking of Super Bowl commercials, did you have any favorites?
Faison: I really liked the T-Mobile ones.
Braff: I like the T-Mobile one where Miley Cyrus is singing that song. “Let’s do it for the phones.” Our friend, Cary Brothers, wrote that song and it is the most hooky song. I swear to God, if Miley Cyrus released that as a single, it would chart. I loved the Google [Pixel 6] one — the photography ad about skin tones. I thought that was really moving and cool. Did you see that one, Donald?
Faison: Yes, it was great.
I hope we get the full version of your T-Mobile song.
Braff: They won’t listen to us. T-Mobile will listen to The Hollywood Reporter.
What’s the next pairing? Any Scrubs reunions or new projects on the horizon?
Faison: I have Alabama Jackson coming out tomorrow. It’s a fast-paced, stop-motion, animated television series on YouTube that I partnered with Adult Swim on. It’s about a man named Alabama Jackson who is saving Black history with Harriet Tubman through time travel. It’s with the great Wanda Sykes as Harriet Tubman. Their nemesis is Woodrow Wilson played by the hilarious Seth Green. I’ve been a huge fan of stop-motion animation for pretty much my whole life. My buddy has one of those shows that is made of set art form, and I pitched the idea to him and Adult Swim and they agreed to make it. The first episode of Alabama Jackson will air on Feb. 15 on Adult Swim’s YouTube channel. I’m really excited about it.
And is there any possibility of a Scrubs reunion in the near future?
Braff: Every time we speak to a reporter, we get this question. There are no plans. We all want to do it in some capacity, whether it’s a movie or a limited series or something. It’s just that we can’t do it without the king of all things Scrubs, Bill Lawrence. He just signed the biggest deal of all time and he is a bit busy. When Bill’s available, so sometime in 3004. But in all seriousness, if the thing was right, I’m sure there’s not a single cast member that wouldn’t love to come back together and do it in some form.
In the meantime, you guys have got the podcast, as well…
Braff: We have the podcast and I have a film that I’ve made with Morgan Freeman and Florence Pugh called A Good Person that is going to be coming out in the fall. I should also say I’m in Cheaper by the Dozen — I’m being a bad publicist for myself — which is the Disney+ remake with Gabrielle Union coming out March 18.
Faison: I’ve seen the first cut of Zach’s movie — it’s amazing.
Braff: Thank you.
Faison: You sent us over a sneak peek of Cheaper By The Dozen, just the trailer, and I’m going to tell you something right now. My kids laughed at the trailer, so that right there is saying something.
Braff: Donald’s family is the ultimate focus group. They’re the target demo, and it was a big hit with the focus group.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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