For those of us who grew up watching Scrubs, there’s something that will always be comforting about Zach Braff‘s voice. Each week, the star’s soothing tenor would neatly tie up the sitcom shenanigans with a heartwarming, and at times, profound voice-over narration. You’ll understand, then, why it was a thrill to hear Braff’s dulcet tones describe the makeup of the surprisingly larger Baker family in the opening scene of the newest Cheaper By the Dozen movie, which began streaming on Disney+ today.
This Cheaper By the Dozen is the third time Hollywood has told the story of the Bakers, inspired by the real-life Gilbreth family who published an autobiographical novel in 1948. But for most millennials, the story was memorialized by the hit 2003 comedy starring Steve Martin in the patriarchal role of Paul Baker—the father of 12 (or in this case, 10) children—that Braff takes on in the new film.
Braff was hyperaware that he was stepping into the shoes of a comic legend, and, in fact, deliberately avoided watching the 2003 film in order to calm his nerves. “I was worried I would get in my head and be neurotic that I’m not nearly as funny as Steve Martin, which is true,” Braff told Decider in a Zoom interview. But he was reassured by how different this new film—which was co-written by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and Grown-ish showrunner Jenifer Rice-Genzuk Henry—was from the Steve Martin version.
Braff spoke to Decider about working with his on-screen children, how the movie handles a mixed-race family, and what it meant to him to be one of the few Disney dads to rock tattoos. Plus, Braff reflected on the last two years of hosting a Scrubs rewatch podcast, expressed his hopes for a Scrubs movie, and teased his upcoming film as a writer/director.
Decider: Tell me about working with so many children on set—that hasn’t been something you’ve done a whole lot in your career before, right?
Zach Braff: I’ve worked with a few, but never ten in one room. I’m a director myself, but I’ve got to give Gail [Lerner], the director, credit. Her patience! We’d be in a room the size of a slightly large kitchen and there’d be ten children, two dogs, three adults, and then the crew. I would just feel for her. I said, “Gail, this is double-black-diamond directing here.” She has the patience of a saint. And you know, Gabby and I naturally fell into parental roles—because all the parents and guardians and babysitters, they all leave [when it’s time to shoot]. So we can’t help but be like, “Hey come back here! I told you not to hit him! Do not hit him one more time, you’re gonna have a time out!” You can’t help but fall into those roles because you have to, you have to help out.
That parental and romantic chemistry between you and Gabrielle Union comes through on-screen. What was it like working with her?
We just really bonded. She’s so cool, so down to earth. She’s the hardest working person I’ve ever met. She’s running all these companies, she’s got children of her own, and she and her husband are the most popular people—they have an amazing social life and they’re always traveling. I’m just so impressed by her, it’s amazing how much she does in a given day. I’d go back to my trailer and like, watch the news, and she would go back and run like, seven businesses. But we really just like each other, and we genuinely had great chemistry. We had a friendship, and we took on the task of pretending to be all those kids’ parents together.
The 2003 Cheaper By the Dozen—which is also a remake, as some people forget—is iconic, especially to people of my generation. Did Steve Martin’s performance of the character you play inspire you at all? Or did you shy away from it, in order to find your take?
I have to be honest, I was not at an age where I would’ve watched it when it came out. I was terrified—Steve Martin’s like my comic hero—so I was not going to go anywhere near watching it now right before I did it. I still haven’t seen it, because I was worried I would get in my head and be neurotic that I’m not nearly as funny as Steve Martin, which is true. But, also, I felt like Kenya’s script is such a departure [from the 2003 film]. I felt like we were taking the idea of trying to raise that many children, but even the tone is different—more heartwarming and less silly, perhaps.
Kenya Barris’ script definitely took on more serious issues, including how racism would affect a mixed family like this, and there’s a dramatic scene between you and Timon Durrett where that all comes to a head. Talk to me about filming that scene, and that aspect of the movie in general.
I was just so impressed that both Disney and Kenya were gonna put that in a Disney family movie. They had the courage to talk about real issues—they had the courage to talk about race and sexuality in a really honest way. And the scene you’re talking about, I think both men are coming from a good place and don’t want to hurt each other, but they don’t fully understand each other. That scene really helps them get closer. I think overall, the movie—again a testament to Kenya’s script—finds a way to tackle those issues, but you’re still laughing your butt off the whole time. Both for children and adults, that’s a real feat.
Absolutely. On another note, I love seeing your tattoos in this movie. You looked great! But you don’t usually see a lot of tattooed parents in Disney content.
What had happened was, I have tattoos all over my arms and then I said to Gail. the director, “What do you want to do about covering the tattoos up?” She said, “What if we don’t? Every single chef there is, is covered in tattoos. In fact, let’s add some! Let’s add a big-ass knife, because none of yours are related to chef things.” And we did! We wouldn’t even have room for it now, because I’ve had more tattoos added since I did the movie, but we added a big knife just to have something chef-related. I watch Top Chef—I don’t know if you do—but every single chef has like, sleeves. And Disney wanted it, too. They were like, “We’re trying to make a 2022 version of this. A chef dad would have lots of tats.” I was happy about that, because a lot of these tattoos are honoring people in my life that are passed. For me, it was really special that they got to be a part of the movie.
That’s really cool to hear. So, you and your Scrubs co-star Donald Faison have a Scrubs rewatch podcast together—what’s that been like for you to return to the show these last two years?
I love it. We started the day that Los Angeles closed down [for the pandemic]—that was the day we were supposed to begin. We had planned to do it in a studio. And then iHeart found a way to do it over Zoom, with professional mics and stuff. It became such a comfort, first and foremost, for us during the pandemic to have this outlet. And then we learned, through the number of people listening—because iHeart called us and said, “These download numbers are insane!”—that, globally. it became a comfort for other people, too. Hearing us tell stories about the old days, for a lot of people was comfort. And I think seeing the friendship is genuine and real—that Turk and JD are really inspired by me and Donald—I think people really love that.
And I love it, we do it once a week. It’s like therapy. I sit there with my best friend and we crack up. Now I’m only worried we’re going too fast. We gotta figure out what we’re gonna do next because we’re barreling through Season 6, and we’ve only got three more seasons. We have to figure out what we’re gonna do after. We keep joking about how we’re gonna follow it up, what show are we going to watch next.
That leads in to my next question—a lot of sitcom casts have been doing reunions or revivals. Any talk from NBC of an official Scrubs reunion or revival?
There’s talk all the time about it. We need [Scrubs creator] Bill Lawrence though, and he’s the hottest showrunner in town with Ted Lasso and now he’s down in Florida doing a new show with Vince Vaughn [Bad Monkey]. He’s just so on fire. But yeah, I think if Bill’s along for the ride, I think everyone would come and do something, whether it’s a limited series or a movie. I love what Psych does, how they do a movie every now and then. I would love to do something like that, I think that would be a blast.
I would love to see a Scrubs movie. Last question: I heard that you’re working on a new screenplay. Can you tell me a little bit about that, where you’re at?
We actually shot it! We’re in post now, we just locked picture. Not exactly sure when the release date is, but it’s called A Good Person. It’s a dramedy starring Florence Pugh, Morgan Freeman, Molly Shannon. It’s about so many things. I have to get better with my pitch, but it’s about standing up after a really hard time in your life and how strength and family and friendship help people stand back up after a big falling down.