oz finley

Sam Raimi’s ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ imagines the origins of L. Frank Baum’s beloved character, the Wizard of Oz. When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot – fame and fortune are his for the taking – that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity – and even a bit of wizardry – Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well.  ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ is pencilled in for a March 8th release. In the film Zach Baff plays Frank in Kansas, and the winged monkey Finley in the Land of Oz.

‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ is your first big budget studio film, how was that experience as both an actor and filmmaker? 

Zach Braff: It’s been very different, most of the things that I’ve done have been smaller. With ‘Scrubs’ there was a budget, but on movies its been mostly smaller indie films. When Sam asked me to do this movie I was thrilled because I wanted to work with him, but also because I hadn’t even visited a movie this big before, let alone been in it (laughs). As a filmmaker myself, to get a chance to sit next to Sam Raimi and learn from him, it was like Grad school. I loved it. If you look at the scale that this movie is being done on, it’s epic. It was not just being done grand for grand’s sake, it’s under the design of Sam, who’s just an amazing auteur filmmaker. When I first started I thought it was going to be one of those movies where you’ll just be in front of a blue-screen all day long and then they paint in everything later. But the sets… man, they were just magnificent. It was such a wonderful experience.

And how was it playing these two character, Frank and Finley? I really enjoyed how their relationship with James Franco’s character sort of carried through in the Land of Oz….

Zach Braff: Yeah. Just like in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ Dorothy gets transplanted to this land, but while she’s in Kansas some of the people around her – her family, some of the people she runs into – manifest into different incarnations in the cooky Land of Oz. So that happens in our film as well. In Kansas James Franco plays Oscar, he’s a magician in a travelling circus, and I’m his assistant, or even sidekick – but he really doesn’t treat me with much respect. He’s always speaking down to me and I so badly want to be his friend, but he doesn’t want any friends. When we get transplanted to the Land of Oz I manifest into this flying monkey bellhop, and we go on the journey together. And he continues on kind of working on the friendship, in a lot of ways the friendship that is unresolved in Kansas can find a way to work itself out in Oz, and they become friends – at first much against Oz’s will (laughs). But Finley grows on him because he’s a good little friendly flying monkey.

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I understand that while Finley is CGI, you were on set much of time interacting with the other actors….?

Zach Braff: The trick was that Sam Raimi really wanted me on set, interacting with the actors and capturing what I did. So I became the monkey, I channeled my inner monkey (laughs). And there was several different ways that I did it; sometimes I would be in a blue screen suit acting it out; other times I would operate a little puppet monkey we had; other times I’d be in this little video booth and James or whomever would be looking at a little monitor on a stick and he would have a little ear-piece in his ear so he could hear me. We had to come up with a lot of clever ways to have me as this animated character interacting with the live-action characters. Sam was really open to us doing improv and playing around. Not many people get to play a CG character with live-action people, often times when that’s been done in the past the voice actor will come in at the end and do the voice later, after the fact. But Sam really wanted me on set to figure out the character, he was so collaborative with that.

How was it working with James Franco on that dynamic?

Zach Braff: Thank God we clicked right off the bat, we really liked each other. We both went to film school, we both really love doing our own projects and taking on things outside of just being an actor, so we bonded over that. We both made each other laugh, Sam wanted us to improv as two buddies would, even though I’m a monkey and he’s a human. So it was cool, it really worked out great. Because of that improv and working on Finley on set, James and I were really able to find that friendship and develop it together. That really made a difference I think.

What was it like working on these fantastical sets Robert Stromberg and his team put together? I can imagine that really helps inform your performance….?

Zach Braff: Yeah, definitely  Sometimes when people do a green-screen or very effects based movie, you’re just standing there on a sound-stage in front of a green-screen and all of the sets are created in the computer. But Sam hired an amazing production designer, Robert Stromberg, who has back-to-back Oscars for  ‘Avatar’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ So there’s some beautiful CG work, but also these huge enormous football field-sized sets. You’d have the Yellow Brick Road, this giant courtyard, there was Glinda’s Castle… it was truly mesmerizing. They made it even more exciting going to set, they were beautiful.

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