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How Cheaper By The Dozen’s Zach Braff Wanted His Character To Differ From Scrubs’ J.D.

Zach Braff has played a variety of roles over the course of his career, from a struggling actor processing the passing of his mother to an animated young fowl who claims the sky is falling. But in Disney+’s Cheaper by the Dozen adaptation, he takes on a different kind of part: a father to nearly a dozen rambunctious kids. The actor seemed more than game to take on the comedic part, though he’s also aware that in doing so, some may still tend to associate him with his fan-favorite role as J.D. on Scrubs. With this, the performer sought to differentiate his new character from his former one in a key way. 

In Cheaper by the Dozen, Zach Braff (who recently killed it on the red carpet during the film’s premiere) takes on the role of Paul, the kind, awkward, and well-meaning patriarch of the Baker family. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Braff about his work on the film and asked him about developing the character alongside screenwriters Kenya Barris and Jenifer Rice-Genzuk Henry. When the actor responded, he noted that one of his biggest goals was to play the role in a less silly manner compared to his work on Scrubs:

I wanted to make sure it wasn't too silly, because there is a little physical humor and I had gone very silly on Scrubs. And I didn't want to do J.D., so I wanted to be able to… It's a tricky line to be able to do the humor and the sort of physical comedy stuff without dipping into the thing I know so well, because I did it for a decade. But [Paul’s] a really good man. You know, he loves those kids. He loves those kids, will do anything for those kids. And he loves his stepchildren as much as he loves his… biological children. But he also has this dream, he wants to be something, we all have a dream. We all have a goal. We all have something we aspire to be. And so he's wrestling with, ‘Gosh, I want to be the best dad possible. But does that mean I have to give up on fulfilling my dream. And I think everybody can relate to that. And so that's why I think that it was a smart thing for Kenya [Barris] to put in the script.

The quirky John Michael "J.D." Dorian, who was inspired by a real medical professional, is arguably one of the most recognizable characters in the history of television. So it had to be challenging for the actor to craft a role that differs from that past work. Overall, he managed to succeed in that regard. While there are similarities between the doctor and doting dad, the latter mostly serves as the straight man to his family’s antics. 

However, one key similarity between Paul and J.D. is that they do their fair share of narration within their respective productions. Though I’d argue that the former’s sentiments aren’t nearly as quirky or surreal as the inner monologues the latter shared over the course of nine seasons. 

Cheaper by the Dozen does mark new territory for Zach Braff, who isn’t widely known for doing kid-friendly fare. The same is true for his on-screen wife, Gabrielle Union, who also admitted to us that she took on the role of Zoe Baker because she saw “zero diversity” in family films while growing up. Both commit to their respective roles and set the tone for the other actors.

Though Zach Braff’s days on Scrubs are now over, fans can certainly take heart in knowing that he’s still delivering comedic material, albeit in a different way. Plus, those adult fans who enjoyed the medical comedy can now introduce their kids to the actor through his latest feature. 

You can stream Cheaper by the Dozen (opens in new tab) with a Disney+ subscription, and be sure to check out CinemaBlend’s schedule for other 2022 movie releases.

Erik Swann
Erik Swann

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.