Disney’s fantastical adventure Oz The Great And Powerful uncovers the origins of the beloved wizard character first brought to life in L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. As a cinematic prequel to the book, the eye-popping action follows the story of Oscar Diggs, a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics. When Diggs is hurled away to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot – until he meets three witches, who aren’t convinced he’s the great wizard everyone is expecting. Reluctantly drawn into epic problems facing Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it’s too late.
Sam Raimi is the acclaimed director behind the action-packed spectacle, which boasts a stellar cast including James Franco as Oscar Diggs, the predestined wizard; Mila Kunis as the tormented young witch Theodora; Rachel Weisz as Theodora’s older sister, Evanora, the witch who rules over the Emerald City; and Michelle Williams as Glinda, the good witch.
The talented cast also includes Zach Braff, who plays Franco’s circus assistant, while also lending his vocal talents to Finley, one of the CGI creatures in the story. Finley is a winged monkey who accompanies the magician on his journey through Oz, serving as his sounding board and the magician’s conscience. Teenage actress Joey King also plays two characters in the film. Firstly, she lends her voice to a CGI character named China Girl; the porcelain child who joins the future wizard on his fateful excursion through Oz. King also tackles the role of a nameless teenager in Kansas at the start of the movie.
With the Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD of Oz The Great And Powerful about to be released, we chat to Zach Braff to discover more about the project…
How did you become involved with Oz The Great And Powerful?
In the very beginning, [Oz The Great And Powerful director] Sam Raimi asked me to visit his office to discuss the project. We talked for a while and I guess I made him laugh, which helped. He showed me an animatic sequence where a couple of the movie’s characters run along a cliff. In the scene, they all jump off and Oscar screams: “What are you doing? Why are you jumping off the cliff?” At that stage, there was no line for the flying monkey, so I added a joke and Sam started dying with laughter. I thought to myself, ‘Great. I think I’ve got the part.’
What does the Blu-ray release mean to you?
I think the Blu-ray release is perfect for a movie like this because there are so many extras. They had video crews on the set of the movie every other day recording material for the Blu-ray. Some movies don’t lend themselves to anything more interesting than a commentary track, but this is going to have so much more. Plus, there’s so much state-of-the-art technology in this movie that movie buffs and people that love the world of Oz will really enjoy seeing it in such high definition.
Are you a fan of Blu-rays?
I love them, especially on extremely visual movies like this. You can really notice the difference with the quality when you play a Blu-ray on your television at home. Blu-rays are great.
What can you tell us about the Blu-ray extras that you’re involved with?
There’s a Second Screen bonus extra named Zach Braff Puppet Theater where we show how we created the movie’s flying monkey, Finley. The video shows how we brought Finley to life and the different ways that we captured the monkey’s performance.
Did you use motion capture technology for Finley?
We didn’t use motion capture because Sam Raimi wanted it to be more inspired by the way they used to do these things; with animators using real footage as opposed to interpreting what the dots of motion capture tell the computer. Most of the work involved me acting out the scenes in front of cameras. The animators animated everything using the video footage.
Did you record the video footage on the movie set or in an empty room?
We recorded the footage in lots of different ways, but the greatest percentage involved me on the set. Sometimes I’d wear a blue screen suit, but I’d usually just act out the scenes with video cameras all around me. It was great because I was able to interact with the other actors on set.
Were you always on set?
I spent some of the time in a video booth away from the set. When Finley isn’t stagnant in a scene, it’s hard for me to jump around, climb trees and fly like the character does. During those moments, I would go to a video booth but James Franco could see me because there’d be a small monitor – about the size of an iPad – on the end of a stick on set. James also had a tiny earpiece in his ear, so he was able to look at me, hear me and talk to me. That’s how we worked when Finley was flying around or when he climbs trees. And you’ll be able to see exactly how we did it on the Puppet Theater Blu-ray Second Screen extra.
Did you always follow the script on the movie set?
Sam wanted us to improvise and riff. He wanted to see the relationship between Finley and Oscar develop, so he didn’t want us to stick to the script. I think that’s one of the reasons he hired me because he wanted someone that could pitch jokes and riff around.
Can you give us any examples of improvisations that made it into the finished movie?
There are lots of improvised moments in the finished movie. One of them is the whole ‘sneezing the plan away’ line. And Finley’s mooing; that’s another. I thought it would be really funny if he mooed!
What went through your mind when you saw a finished version of Finley for the first time?
I couldn’t believe it. I saw pieces of Finley in EDR (enhanced data rate) but it wasn’t until the premiere that I saw him fully realized in 3D. I was so excited. He’s so much cooler than I could have imagined.
Can you see your facial expressions in Finley?
Some people say they can see my face in Finley’s, but I don’t really see it. If anything, I can see a little in his eyes – but that’s about it. I tried to do a lot with my eyes during the film shoot because I thought that would be the most human thing to come through a monkey’s face.
What do you think of Finley’s outfit?
Everyone keeps asking me about Finley’s outfit. I love it. Why is he in a bellhop uniform? Well, there used to be a line in the movie that explained how he was a valet for a wealthy munchkin. The munchkin’s mansion got destroyed, so Finley had no one to serve and that’s how he ended up in the forest. It’s a little like Downton Abbey. He’s a Downton Abbey monkey!
Where would you fly if you had wings like Finley?
I’d probably fly away to a tropical beach somewhere. Maybe Bora Bora? I keep seeing that on the cover of travel magazines and it looks beautiful. Why not?
What are your early memories of the 1939 movie, The Wizard Of Oz?
The thing I remember the most about The Wizard Of Oz is the physical comedy. I was really taken with physical comedy as a kid and I remember being taken with the way the characters of The Wizard Of Oz moved around. You’ve got the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, and I loved their body movements and the way they danced. Even as a young kid, I remember thinking that it was so funny. To be honest, I think it’s one of the reasons why I got into physical comedy later in life. It was definitely an inspiration.
Did you always want to be an actor?
Always. Ever since I was a little kid. I have always loved the theater and performing. It’s always been my dream to do this.
What advice would you give to youngsters who want to follow in your footsteps and become an actor?
My advice is simple: do it! Do it in school. Do it at home. Or join a community theater. Get involved, but make sure you like it because it’s a challenging career path if you’re going to dedicate your life to it.
Finley is a very loyal friend to Oz. Were you always a loyal friend as a child? And did you ever struggle to make friends?
I have always struggled to make friends. Believe it or not, I’m a very shy person – but I realized that when I made people laugh at school, they wanted to talk to me. I think that’s how I developed my sense of humor. I wasn’t into sports and stuff like that, so I started to become the class clown. I started to be goofy and then, all of a sudden, I made friends.
What advice would you give to youngsters who are struggling to make friends at school?
Just be a good person and be honest. Be a good friend to other people and don’t try to change for anyone. Be yourself. It’s as simple as that.