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Zach Braff on The High Cost of Living

The comedian shows his darker, reflective side in the independent drama The High Cost of Living, oepning at Tribeca Cinemas on Friday, 9/9.

Note: This interview originally ran in March 2011.


The High Cost of Living will screen daily at 3:30 pm at Tribeca Cinemas from September 9-15. Tickets go on sale August 30.


The High Cost Of Living


The High Cost of Living is a dark romantic drama set in Montreal; directed by first-time filmmaker Deborah Chow, it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. At the center of the film is an unlikely relationship between Nathalie (Isabelle Blais), a French-Canadian woman expecting her first child, and Henry (Zach Braff), a drug dealer at the end of his rope. Their fates intertwine at the scene of a tragic event that changes both their lives forever.


While The High Cost of Living will not screen as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, the film is part of the Tribeca Film slate appearing on VOD on April 20, 2011, along with Last Night, The Bang Bang Club, The Bleeding House, NEDS, and Brother’s Justice. The High Cost of Living will also have a limited theatrical release this year. Tribeca Film is supported by founding partner American Express®.


In Los Angeles earlier this month, we had a few minutes to sit down with the entertaining Zach Braff to discuss his latest movie. We asked him to reflect on this role, which is a striking departure from his comedic form.


The High Cost Of Living


Tribeca: How do you describe The High Cost of Living in your own words?


Zach Braff: The High Cost of Living is a movie about a man and a woman who strike up a romance after the most bizarre of circumstances—a major car accident. They are two people who are worlds apart in terms of who they are, and would never have become friendly if it weren’t for this tragic accident. So this horrific experience brings two people who really needed each other together. It’s about how the oddest things can happen in life, and people can be brought together who would have never been brought together, and in doing so, they heal each other a small amount from their pain.


Tribeca: It’s a darker story. What attracted you to Henry? Were you consciously looking for something more dramatic?


Zach Braff: Yeah, I’m looking for things that obviously show I can do other things besides comedy. This was a role I was dying to play, so I was very flattered that they wanted me to do it. I thought the writing was spectacular, and I thought it really gave me an opportunity to hopefully show that I have a wider range than just being a comedian.


Tribeca: Did you learn anything from Henry and what he goes through in the story? Something you carried back into your own life?


Zach Braff: I guess what I learned is that there it’s never too late for redemption. Henry thinks his life is pretty far gone into a pit of horribleness, and he’s almost on the verge of giving up—not that he’s suicidal, but he’s apathetic, and beaten up. I think that as screwed up as his life is, and he’s hit rock bottom, that he still finds redemption in his feelings for this woman. So maybe that’s a powerful message that I took from the movie, and from Deborah’s writing: You can’t ever give up, because you don’t know what’s around the corner.


Tribeca: What’s the craziest thing (or lightning strikes moment) that happened during production?


Zach Braff: We had a scene that was supposed to take place on a roof, and it started snowing. We had to shoot, because we didn’t have the kind of budget where you can do anything else but shoot all the time. And if the snow had stopped, it would have really messed up the continuity of the scene—all the different angles, and everything—and it just evenly snowed the entire night. It made for a really, really pretty scene, that in any other movie would have been created with fake snow. But it was real snow, on a freezing cold rooftop—I get the chills even just thinking about it—but it was a really nice moment. We were on a really low budget, and the crew were working their asses off, and there we were. I think we got a really pretty scene out of it.


Tribeca: How did you and Isabelle develop your relationship together, as Henry and Nathalie?


Zach Braff: I think it was best that we were strangers, since we were in the movie. Sometimes if you are starting a movie, and you have to pretend you’re best friends or you’re lovers, it’s kind of good to hang out and bond—like we did on Last Kiss, for example; we were [supposed to be] a group of friends, so we all hung out and got to know each other. But with this movie, it benefitted us to not really know each other. We met and everything, but we just jumped into it pretty estranged.


The High Cost of Living
Tribeca: When the script was originally written, was Henry always an American living in Montreal? Or was he a Canadian and they made that shift for you?


Zach Braff: No, he was always an American. It was part of the set-up of why he was there, why he couldn’t work legally… and there were always these subtle digs at Americans that some French-Canadians feel.


Tribeca: As a director yourself, do you think that you now look at movie sets differently? Do you watch the director differently, process things differently?


Zach Braff: Yeah, I think so. I like to learn a lot. Every director, you can learn something from. I always thought the benefit of being an actor, when I first started out, was I got to be on these cool sets and watch great directors work. Even on the TV show, we had a different director ever week, so for me, it was like grad school. I got to see so many different directors work, and I take what I liked and leave behind what I didn’t. So I learn from everyone—even Deborah, even though this was her first film, there were things I learned from her, that I thought that were good.


Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?


Zach Braff: I think right now, I would have to say David Fincher. I’m a really big fan of Fincher—I’ve loved pretty much every movie he’s made, and I think he’s a visionary. The other person I would have said is Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but I got to meet him already. [smiles] I’m a big fan of his, but I’ve met him, so I’ll disqualify him for now.



Tribeca: What piece of art (book/film/music/tv show/what-have-you) are you currently recommending to your friends most often?


Zach Braff: Angry Birds.


Tribeca: [Not expecting this, I crack up.]


Zach Braff: [laughing] You know that there’s someone out there who has fucking optioned Angry Birds into a movie… I don’t know; I don’t have an answer other than Angry Birds.


Tribeca: What would your biopic be called?


Zach Braff: I don’t know. I’m so bad at this. It’s like being forced into being clever. The biopic would be called: I Am Bad at Being Forced Into Being Clever.


Tribeca: Fair enough. What makes The High Cost of Living a Tribeca Film must-see?


Zach Braff: I think that what Tribeca’s doing—and what other people who distribute indies and “art movies” are doing—is giving people an alternative to what’s at the mainstream box office. So if you are someone who appreciates art films and indie cinema—movies that are maybe more challenging than a popcorn movie—then this is for you. The fact that Tribeca bought this movie, and is distributing it, is a testament to Deborah’s work, and that it’s a well-made, moving piece of art.


I think if a movie like Once can have a large audience, then this movie can. It’s of a similar tone and scale. And I happen to love that movie, so…


Tribeca: We have a follow-up at Tribeca called The Swell Season—a documentary about Glen and Marketa, about their life and the arc of their relationship.


Zach Braff: And I heard they are making a Broadway musical about it too, which I think is a good idea.


The High Cost of Living
will screen daily at 3:30 pm at Tribeca Cinemas from September 9-15. Tickets go on sale August 30.


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