‘Garden State’: Behind-the-Scenes Facts About the 2004 Zach Braff Movie

Zach Braff’s directorial debut, the movie that will turn 16 years old this summer, is the cult classic Garden State. A well-acted, perfectly-soundtracked comedy is well-worth a rewatch — especially if you’re a fan of Scrubs. Braff both directed and wrote Garden State, pulling from some of his own experiences to write the script. Here are some other fun facts about the 2004 movie and its cast.

How Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, and the rest of the cast of ‘Garden State’ prepared for their roles

Zach Braff, director of Garden State
Zach Braff, writer/director of Garden State | Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic

In Garden State, Zach Braff stars as the main character Andrew Largeman. He’s a New Jersey native who lives in Los Angeles, but returns to his family home after his mother passes away. While the subject matter is dark, the movie is alive with comedy and romance, and it was an early-2000s favorite in the film industry.

According to IMDb, there are several interesting behind-the-scenes pieces of trivia.

To develop the character of Largeman — as well as the protagonist’s parents — Braff was influenced by his parents. Braff’s mom and stepfather are both psychologists, and his stepmother is a therapist. All of this knowledge informed the scenes about the Garden State character’s psychological state.

In addition, while “Natalie Portman was writer and director Zach Braff’s first choice for the role of Sam … [Braff] never thought he would get her.” (It’s hard to imagine any other actress in the role, so we’re glad that worked out.)


The depiction of Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) working in a Vietnamese restaurant was from Braff’s own experience. He worked as a waiter in a French-Vietnamese restaurant when he auditioned for the leading part in the series Scrubs (2001).

On the Garden State DVD commentary, Portman also revealed that in fact, she had no experience with record players.

“She had to be taught how to start a vintage record player properly for the scene in her bedroom,” IMDb reported.

Peter Sarsgaard also had to learn a new skill for the movie. The actor didn’t know how to play guitar, so he had to learn it for Garden State.

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‘Garden State’, directed by Zach Braff, is known for its soundtrack

The Garden State soundtrack, which more than stands the test of time, was also a series of decisions Braff made from the beginning.

“When Zach Braff sent the script to people, he would also send them a copy of the songs which would eventually be the soundtrack (which he handpicked),” IMDb reported.

The music that plays during Andrew’s dream — the scene early in the movie in which the airplane is going down — comes from “a Ganesh alarm clock.”

“The words are a prayer song to the Hindu god,” the Trivia page explains.

New Jersey, the Garden State, and Los Angeles provided the settings for the 2004 movie

Also, Garden State originally had a different title. Per IMDb, “Zach Braff wrote the majority of the script while he was in college, and originally titled it Large’s Ark.” However, after testing the title, he found better results with Garden State.

Garden State cast
Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, and Peter Sarsgaard at the Garden State Los Angeles Premiere | Chris Weeks/WireImage

According to IMDb, getting the final shot in the airport was something of an obstacle.

Zach Braff had to give a testimonial to JFK International Airport in order to film there. His testimonial was about how much he liked Terminal 4, the terminal used to film the final scenes of the movie.

However, one of the early scenes in Garden State was filmed in LA. Out of character for the city, LA didn’t have enough traffic for Braff. According to IMDb:

Production had three cars slow down in each lane to ten miles per hour on I-405 to create the essence of Los Angeles traffic, because Zach Braff thought there wasn’t enough traffic for the shot.