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Total Film
Total Film
Bradley Russell

A Good Person: Zach Braff and Florence Pugh on tragedy, working with Morgan Freeman, and writing original songs

A Good Person

Zach Braff doesn't make many movies. A Good Person, starring Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman, is only the filmmaker's fourth in almost 20 years. That speaks to an actor-turned-director who is always waiting for the right story to tell. Unfortunately for Braff, like so many others, the COVID pandemic brought about a wave of tragedy. It's something he used as fuel to mold into his new project.

"During the pandemic, I had the time and I had a lot of loss," Braff tells GamesRadar+ ahead of the Sky Original's release. "I lost some people who were very close to me, including one of my best friends to COVID. So what bubbled up was wanting to write about grief and standing back up after tragedy and loss. It just became very clear that it was the thing I wanted to write about."

That grief manifests as the story of Allison (Florence Pugh), the titular 'Good Person' whose life falls into a cycle of anger and opioid addiction after a tragic accident. While on the road to recovery, she encounters Daniel (Morgan Freeman), the man who would have been her father-in-law – if it wasn't for the aforementioned accident leading to the death of her fiancé Nathan's sister and the breakdown of her relationship. For Pugh, the tragic 'everyman' quality of the subject matter – opioid addiction and abuse affects two million Americans, recent US government figures suggest – was a fascinating in-road when playing the flawed character.

"The thing that intrigued me the most about it was when addict movies come where you get to play someone who is at rock bottom, you kind of assume the worst. Or you assume, because of XYZ, that's why they got there. The most important thing Zach tried to do with this script is try and prove it takes anyone," Pugh says. 

Pugh, who is currently at the peak of her powers with roles in Dune: Part Two and Thunderbolts to come, explains that despite people suffering from addiction being "lovable and likable", there is still a mixture of "lightness and darkness" to the movie. "Zach is very good at that, writing dialogue that winks at something absolutely heartbreaking and then finishes the scene with a laugh."

Braff adds: "It takes an actress like Florence Pugh for you to watch her see the mistakes she's making, but still root for her. That's part of the gift of a talented actor or actress: they're being very human and making very human mistakes and you kind of wish you could shake them and say 'stop doing that'. But you're also rooting for them because you believe in them."

"I write things"

(Image credit: Sky UK)

It was a meaty role that also allowed Pugh to embrace two exciting creative avenues: working with Morgan Freeman, plus writing and performing her own music for the film.

Pugh, who once ran her own YouTube channel covering songs under the name 'Flossie Rose', was inspired to pen her own songs after reading Braff's script – and it was influenced by her own day-to-day coping mechanisms.

"That's what I do in my life. Whenever I'm going through something, instead of my diary I write things, I write songs. I wrote it and I was checking in with Zach to check if that was the feeling of her. He loved it and said that he maybe wanted that at the end of the movie."

Pugh, however, is keen to point out her musical turn is not a "glossy" scene. "This isn't a moment where she suddenly sits down and into a beautiful, harmonious choir. It's actually her on a creaky piano in a rehab center feeling pretty rotten and creaky herself, and being brutally honest. It was really cool for me because then I got to perform it as Allison and write it for Allison, then I also got to perform and record it outside the movie."

As for working alongside Freeman? "He's so brilliant. Take after take, there's no fluff anywhere. He also knows every single one of his lines. When working with older actors, obviously memory [can be] a thing. It was as quick as anything. Every single line, every single scene, he could say backwards. It was absolutely mesmerizing. Then to actually play acting tennis with him was so easy. I guess that's the beautiful thing when you work with amazing actors. It's just easy."

That praise is echoed by Freeman's director. In he and Pugh, Braff has two generational talents, albeit from very different eras, at his disposal. The question persists: how do you direct them?

"They're both so extraordinary that you don't want to get in their way," Braff reveals. "The biggest thing as a director is letting them be. Then you have to steer the ship a little bit, because the main job of a director is looking at the whole piece… So, if anything, it's like a conductor of an orchestra. They're amazing, talented musicians and I'm saying: 'Maybe we do a little more of this or a little less of that because I'm looking at the whole piece. But I'm certainly not talking to either one of those genius people about acting."

The next step

(Image credit: Sky UK)

"I'm certainly not talking to either one of those genius people about acting."

Zach Braff

What next for the pair, then? Pugh is set to reprise her MCU role of Yelena in 2024's Thunderbolts. While understandably tight-lipped about what's to come – those Marvel snipers could be anywhere, after all – she is enthusiastic about the next leg of her comic book journey.

"I don't know how much I'm supposed to say actually! But I just want to say on this topic: I'm incredibly grateful to be moving forward with the MCU. I'm incredibly grateful to have had the original experience and to be able to step back into that world again in my old character," Pugh says. "I don't know much about what we're shooting or what the storyline is, but I am very lucky to be in this position. That family is a very supportive one. Whatever they give me, I'll act the hell out of it."

For Braff, he's currently writing a movie with Florence Pugh in mind – and one that's taking him a little out of his wheelhouse, far away from the ennui of Garden State and the hard-hitting subject matter of A Good Person.

"It's quite different. It's different for me," Braff teases. "The only thing I'm ready to say about it so far is that it's a bit of a thriller, something I've never even thought about writing before. Florence is quite popular with every major filmmaker in the world. If I can find time in her schedule, I would love to work with her again because she's absolutely brilliant."

If Pugh manages to squeeze time into her busy schedule, a fifth Braff movie could be on the way. For now, A Good Person – the music and the Morgan Freeman of it all – offers a glimpse into a sensitive subject matter that ravages millions of lives and takes thousands more.

A Good Person is available in cinemas March 24 and on Sky Cinema from April 28.

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