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 sat down to chat with Zach Braff to discover more about the project!
How did you become involved with Oz The Great And Powerful?
Zach Braff: 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.’
Did you use motion capture technology for Finley?
Zach Braff: 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?
Zach Braff: 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.
How did you interact with Franco during scenes as Finley – or did you at all?
Zach Braff: 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.
What went through your mind when you saw a finished version of Finley for the first time?
Zach Braff: 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?
Zach Braff: 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 are your early memories of the 1939 movie, The Wizard Of Oz?
Zach Braff: 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.
Oz The Great And Powerful is available on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD on June 11th!