Zach Braff broke onto the Hollywood scene in the early 2000s when he was cast as the lead actor in the hit medical comedy "Scrubs." In the show, Braff portrayed the hapless J.D., who became a fan favorite because of his humor and eccentric personality. During the show's lengthy run from 2001-2010, Braff was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 2005; and for three Golden Globe Awards from 2005 to 2007. Meanwhile, in 2004, Braff wrote the script for “Garden State” in just six months. This project would become Braff's directorial debut, as he shot the film in his home state of New Jersey for a budget of $2.5 million. The film made over $35 million at the box office and was praised by critics, leading to it gaining a cult following. A year later, his mix-tape for the movie’s soundtrack won a Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album. For Braff, this success was a long time coming, as he first began acting while studying at the Stagedoor Manor, a performing arts training center for actors between 10 and 18 years old. His fellow students included the likes of Natalie Portman, Mandy Moore, and Joshua Radin.

When Braff arrived at Northwestern University in 1993, he didn't realize that students had to choose whether they wanted to go into the theatre program or the film program. While he wanted to do both, he ultimately settled on a film curriculum because he already had some acting experience and wanted to learn the technical aspects of making a film. As a result, during his four years at Northwestern, he acted in only one play and a couple of student films. In addition to working on film sets and in the theatre, Braff was also part of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in film in 1997. Considering that Braff would later write, shoot, and star in a cult classic like "Garden State," it's clear that his time studying film was extremely beneficial and provided him with the tools he needed to succeed.

Become a Subscriber

Please purchase a subscription to continue reading this article.

Subscribe Now

In 2013, Braff returned to his alma mater, bringing with him some of that Hollywood shine that had accrued over years of being a successful actor and filmmaker in Tinseltown. The purpose of his visit was to teach a master class through Northwestern's School of Communication that was only available to a handful of junior and senior theatre majors. Most students watched the class while a select number of upperclassmen performed, workshopping scenes of Braff’s first play, “All New People.” For the special occasion, Braff was joined by David Downs, associate professor emeritus in Northwestern's theatre department (and one of Braff's former teachers), and Mary Poole, a longtime Northwestern senior lecturer in theatre. Christopher Borrelli, a reporter for Northwestern's newspaper, said that "the lobby outside the classroom, the Mussetter-Struble Theater on the Evanston campus, was an undergraduate mob scene" when Braff arrived to teach his acting class, which is certainly a testament to the indelible mark that the filmmaker has already made on the entertainment industry.