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Zach Braff Says Florence Pugh’s Acting in ‘A Good Person’ Reminds Him of Natalie Portman in ‘Garden State’

”I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest,“ Braff told TheWrap

It’s been nearly 20 years since Zach Braff worked with Natalie Portman on “Garden State,” but with his new film “A Good Person,” he was definitely reminded of her performance in his feature directorial debut. According to the writer and director, Florence Pugh has a similar “uncanny ability” as Portman.

“A Good Person,” out in theaters now, tells the story of Allison (Pugh), who survives a massive car accident that kills her sister- and brother-in-law to be. Unable to deal with the trauma and grief of it, she leaves her fiancé and eventually ends up addicted to opioids, struggling to pull herself together. Finally, she realizes she does need help and gets herself into an AA meeting — only to run straight into Daniel, her former almost-father-in-law (Morgan Freeman).

From there, the two develop an odd friendship, helping each other find their way through, while still silently resenting the other at times. It’s a heavy film, particularly for Pugh’s character, but according to Zach Braff, she was a champion at handling the emotional and mental demands of the character.

“Florence has just an uncanny ability, unlike anyone — I mean, Natalie Portman had this as well, I have to say — but just just an insane ability to just drop into a scene on action, and just be present,” Braff told TheWrap. “And then you call cut, and they almost need to break character, they almost need to joke around with the crew.”

He continued, “Some actors obviously, as we know, are complete opposite. They want to stay in the zone of the scene the whole day, and neither is right or wrong. But I would just say, as a testament to Florence, she just has a way, almost like jumping into a hypnotic state of going to such a dark, deep, authentic place, and then kind of popping out of it, and turning to the grips and asking, you know, ‘What was the score of the game?’ or something like that. She’s so — I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest.”

Braff also had the privilege of reuniting with Morgan Freeman on this movie, after they first collaborated on “Going in Style,” which Braff directed. But Braff was genuinely surprised that Freeman signed on when and how he did. In fact, it only took one day.

“Morgan doesn’t do a lot of indies. And we didn’t have financing even, at the time when I was approaching him,” Braff recalled. “So he certainly doesn’t attach himself to movies that aren’t financed. That’s not in his modus operandi. So I just didn’t really consider it a possibility. But we had worked together before, so I knew him.”

“And I sent him the script thinking, ‘Oh gosh, I’m gonna wait two weeks’ and the next day he called me, and Florence held up the phone because it just said Morgan Freeman across my iPhone,” he continued. “And I answered it, and he didn’t even say hello. He just said, ‘I see myself on every page of the script.’ And I was like, ‘Does that mean yes?!’ And he was like, ‘Yes, that means yes.'”

So, how does one go about directing a veritable Hollywood legend and one of the most popular and talented young actresses today?

“I’m an actor’s director. And for me, that means that everything’s a conversation,” Braff said. “I’m by no means a dictator. It’s a very collaborative art form. So, you know, I’m like a conductor of an orchestra and they’re like, the best violinist and cellist in the world, right? So I’m not ever saying like, ‘Play the violin better.’ I’m saying like, ‘Do you think maybe you should play louder here, for this reason?’ Because you know, I have to look at the whole movie.”

You can watch TheWrap’s full interview with Zach Braff in the video above.