Zach Braff on Ex Florence Pugh and Writing a Film for Her: 'I'm Just in Awe of Her Talent' (Exclusive)

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After years of loss, Zach Braff channeled his grief into art. The filmmaker spoke with ET ahead of the premiere of his new film, A Good Person, and shared how his late family and relationship with his ex-girlfriend Florence Pugh inspired the star-studded drama.

"It's been about four years of a lot of loss," Braff told ET's Rachel Smith, musing on the deaths of his sister, father, and close friend, Nick Cordero during the COVID lockdown in California. "My best friend was staying in my guest house and he got Covid and eventually died at 41 years old leaving behind [his wife] Amanda Kloots and their young son... So when I sat down to write -- because I had to write, I had to express myself in some way, there was nothing else to do during the pandemic -- this is what came out of me." 

"I wanted to write about grief and the daunting task of trying to stand back up again after loss," he continued. 

Braff explained that Pugh is the inspiration for the story that would become A Good Person. "I'm just in awe of her talent and I said, 'I wanna write this for Florence. What I'm writing is really gonna be challenging and she's incredible,'" he recalled.

A Good Person follows Daniel (Morgan Freeman) and Allison (Florence Pugh), a once-thriving young woman who becomes addicted to opioids after being involved in an unimaginable tragedy that took Daniel's daughter's life. As a grief-stricken Daniel navigates raising his teenage granddaughter and Allison seeks redemption, they discover that friendship, forgiveness, and hope can flourish in unlikely places.

Braff explained that he wrote the role with Pugh in mind because "she's a next-level actress. I mean, she's just unbelievable and what I was writing was gonna be really challenging." Braff added, "It wasn't for your average actors -- I couldn't have written the part for myself. I wanted to write something for her and I had this image in my mind of that diner booth scene and I thought of Florence Pugh opposite some legend that everyone's talking about."

Although Braff didn't know at the time that Freeman would be that iconic actor sitting across from Pugh when he wrote the aforementioned diner booth scene, he doesn't look a gift horse in the mouth. 

"He doesn't usually do independent movies, he doesn't usually do movies that have no financing yet, [but] I sent it to him and I thought, 'Oh gosh that's gonna take two weeks to read and then we're gonna get a no,'" Braff shared. "[But] he called me the next day and he said he didn't even say hello! Florence held up the phone and it said Morgan Freeman on it. And he didn't even say hi, I picked it up and he goes, 'I see myself on every page of this script.' And I was like, 'Does that mean yes?' And then he was like, 'That means yes.'"

"So then that image of that diner booth became Florence Pugh sitting opposite Morgan Freeman, and I was like, 'I wanna see this movie,'" he added.

Praising his stars, Braff noted that "they both know when the cameras are on them, how little they can do and it will come across." He continued, "It's just fascinating. So many actors, including myself, think you have to do so much but you watch Florence and Morgan and they can just do a subtle turn of the head and it's brilliant."

The Garden State director told ET that he hopes audiences appreciate that he "tried to make a movie for adults" and created a film that "is the best shared in community." 

"Hopefully you go to the theater and can have a conversation with your friend after, cause there's a lot left up to interpretation. And, most importantly, I hope they see themselves there and I hope they feel less alone because I think when you're depressed and you're anxious and you're grieving or addicted, you can feel very lonesome. And so I had to write something that was saying, 'Hey, I feel this too. At least one person [is] not alone cause this is what I feel,'" he concluded.

A Good Person premieres in theaters on March 24.

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