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Zach Braff talks new movie 'A Good Person'

PIEN HUANG, HOST:

In the new movie "A Good Person," we meet Allison, played by Florence Pugh. She's a young woman about to get married and start her life. And then, in an instant, that changes when a car that she's driving is in a fatal accident. Allison walks away alive, but her passengers in the car, including the woman who would have been her sister-in-law, die in the crash. When we see Allison again a year later, she's a different person. She's depressed, addicted to pain medication and living at home with her mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A GOOD PERSON")

FLORENCE PUGH: (As Allison) Hey, Mama, can you tell me where my pills are?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Which ones? We said we were going to wean off of them, remember?

PUGH: (As Allison) Did we?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Yes.

PUGH: (As Allison) Because we are in pain, and we need more.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) They're not going to give you more, Alli (ph).

HUANG: But a run-in with Daniel, who would have been Allison's father-in-law had her life gone as planned, starts an unexpected friendship and forces Allison to face the past. Daniel is played by Morgan Freeman. It's a story about grief and forgiveness with moments of dark humor sprinkled in. Zach Braff, best known for his role in "Scrubs" and the movie "Garden State," wrote and directed the film, and he joins us now. Welcome, Zach.

ZACH BRAFF: Thank you so much for having me.

HUANG: Yeah. To start us off, I think it's fair to say that you're known for comedy. And there are some really funny moments in the film, but this movie is primarily about some really heavy stuff. And I'm wondering, what led you to write this movie?

BRAFF: It's really came out of my own grief and loss. In 2016, my sister had an aneurysm, and she survived for about two years after that as a fraction of her incredible personality. And then she passed. And my father didn't last much longer after her passing. And then I went into lockdown. And one of my best friends who was staying with me with his wife and young child got COVID and ended up dying from COVID at 41 years old. So all of this was happening around me. And in lockdown, when I sat down to finally express myself and write something, this is what came out. I wanted to write something authentic about this pain, this anguish that we human beings sometimes experience, and how we stand back up after that.

HUANG: For me, when I was watching the movie, it felt like one of the big themes is about forgiveness, you know, forgiving someone else, but also forgiving yourself. And I wonder if you see it that way, too. And what made you want to sort of explore that theme?

BRAFF: I think one of the things I wanted to explore was the idea that taking responsibility and really being 1,000% honest with ourselves is a first major step before we can move forward. And that's a real struggle for Allison in this situation, because one of the things that's kept her sane, if you can call it that, is being in denial about the truth of what happened. Daniel is in the AA program, and he believes in service and wanting to help her, but he too is just holding down such resentment and rage towards her. But he holds it down as long as he can until she gives him reason not to be able to hold it anymore.

HUANG: I mean, that also speaks to the theme of accountability, which I think was another major theme in the film. And I wanted to play a clip from a scene here. To set the stage, Allison has gone to a party with Danielle's granddaughter, and things get a little out of hand. And it leads to a major confrontation between Allison and Daniel, played by Morgan Freeman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A GOOD PERSON")

PUGH: (As Allison) You drank?

MORGAN FREEMAN: (As Daniel) You turned your map app back on at 17:36:22. Impact was at 17:36:24. Skid marks show you lost 30 feet before you swerved. You didn't have time to stop because you were looking at your [inaudible] phone, Allison. Stop blaming Alvarez (ph). They're dead because of you.

HUANG: I found that scene to be really powerful. And while what Daniel is saying is really hard to hear, it's also true. And, you know, throughout the film, Allison really struggles to admit to her role in the accident. So can you talk a little bit more about why it was important for Allison to really face that?

BRAFF: She's not doing anything egregious. She's using her maps app. It's not like she's texting or on social media. I wanted the audience to see themselves in it and see how they, too, might wrestle with taking responsibility. Because the idea that it's truly her fault is something that she is in denial about. And it takes a very long journey and sobriety for her to get clarity on something that she's incapable of being honest with herself about.

HUANG: And why was that an important step for her, I guess, you know, in terms of taking accountability? Why was that really - like, in your view of things, is that kind of what it takes to kind of really start to heal and move on?

BRAFF: Yeah, I believe that. I think that she gets clear on something that she's been in complete denial about in seeing her own responsibility. And only from then can she move forward. You kind of have to - I believe you kind of have to go to zero and start with a clean slate of pure, unadulterated honesty. And then you can build back up. And I guess that's what I was infusing into the screenplay.

HUANG: I'm sure you've thought about this a lot, you know, but I wanted to sort of say or ask you, where have you landed on? What is your definition of a good person?

BRAFF: I don't want to - I feel silly answering that because, first of all, it's, who am I to say? And, B, I hope that people see the movie and it inspires a conversation about why that's the title. And they're all good people in this story. This is about a story - about good people who have fallen down. And they're not perfect, as no one is. But it's a story about them trying to stand back up again.

HUANG: That was writer and director Zach Braff. His new film is "A Good Person," and you can see it in theaters starting March 24. Zach, thanks so much for being with us.

BRAFF: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.