But before we start, a pic to sustain those who like to read:
GLOBAL heart-throb Zac Efron is at a crossroads. The 21-year-old star of the mega-hit High School Musical films is preparing to fly the Disney nest with the first of his post-HSM movies and you can sense he’s slightly nervous.
For a start, he’s shattered. The actor has been jetting all over the world, posing for pictures with fans to promote the release of 17 Again and today he’s got that bed-ruffled look, as though he’s just woken up.
“I just fell asleep for 20 minutes, I’m barely awake!” he says sheepishly.
He takes a few moments to choose where he wants to sit – plumping for a chair that’s disarmingly close – and then turns those doey Disney eyes on me.
With his carefully tousled hair and charming but laid-back attitude, I’m starting to understand why an army of teenage girls queued in Leicester Square since 5am for his film’s premiere.
“God, I felt so bad, somebody told me that there were girls in the queue and I thought they were just going to get rained on,” he says, with genuine concern.
17 Again, a new spin on the age swap comedy, begins with Zac back at a high school as star basketball player Mike O’Donnell. So far, so High School Musical.
But that’s where the similarities end. Moments before the biggest game of his life in front of college scouts, Mike’s girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant and he runs off court to propose. Cut to 20 years later, when Mike, now played by a saggy-eyed Matthew Perry, is in a dead-end job, doesn’t understand his teenage kids and is getting divorced from his childhood sweetheart Scarlet (Leslie Mann).
Mike goes back to his old school to see his children and meets a janitor who magically transforms him into his 17-year-old self. Enter Zac, who goes back to school to try and reconnect with his kids.
Zac assures me this was the most “different” role of all the offers that have flooded in since the HSM franchise became Disney gold.
“Everything else that was around was either a musical or a high school romance, you know, and this was actually the biggest risk and the biggest challenge.
“I can relate to playing a kid – I’ve had a first kiss, I’ve had awkward dates, I’ve had fights with my parents... But one thing I’ve never done is gotten into a fight with my teenage daughter,” he jokes.
Adam Shankman, who directed Zac in the hit 2007 musical Hairspray, first approached him with the idea, but Zac admits he had his doubts.
“At first I thought this was the opposite of a smart move, it seemed like a film of which there have been several incarnations,” he says, without needing to mention Big, Vice Versa, and Lindsay Lohan’s remake of Freaky Friday.
“My first question for Adam was ‘hasn’t it been done before?’ But after I read the script, I recognised that his reason for going back is much more interesting than ever before.
“Mike is able to connect with his kids as a peer and get to know them as a friend, which makes him realise how great his life and family are.
“I thought to myself ‘that’s what my dad would love to do’. My dad loves to be our friend, he likes to hang out with me and my little brother and be our buddy. He doesn’t like being a dad.”
Like his character in the film, Zac has put university on hold. Unlike Mike, he says he has no regrets so far.
“There are of course small things, but that’s an important message of the movie – not to live in the past.
“That’s Mike’s mistake, he’s dwelling on a few things that he felt were bad choices, but ultimately he realises they weren’t bad, they were actually an important part of his life.
“That’s kind of where I’m at, I don’t have any major regrets, I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out.”
That might be so, but you sense Zac is now desperately trying to avoid being pigeon-holed in more teen roles, while ensuring his continued success.
And that involves throwing off his squeaky clean HSM image. He’s already made a start with a sexy mud-splattered photo shoot this month and then he pulled out of a remake of Footloose with HSM director Kenny Ortega, due to be released next year.
“It’s a fantastic project and a lot of people worked very hard to make it happen, but this is a crucial moment for me right now and it’s an important next step,” he says cautiously.
“I’m making an effort to take my time and really think about what’s the right next move and so that’s it. I’m looking for a new challenge is really what it came down to. I love musicals, but I feel like I’ve made my mark there.”
His next project is an adaptation of Ben Sherwood’s novel The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud, with Zac’s character billed as a “cemetery caretaker who communes with his dead brother”.
“The tagline sounds really grim, I don’t know how that story came out, but it’s a marvellous story.”
Despite the cool demeanour he almost looks flustered when asked if he feels like the whole world’s watching to see what he’ll do next.
“I think it’s the opposite actually. Since the very beginning, since I did musical theatre, everything that I’ve always wanted to get involved with... what’s a good way to say this?” he says, pausing to think and rearrange the facade.
“The roles that you want to play are the ones that are just out of reach and the ones you have to stretch for, that you have to work hard to achieve.”
He says his future choices will rest largely on the director, but he thinks he won’t go far wrong as long as he keeps learning.
“I’m looking for people to work with who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and push me around a little bit,” he admits.
“As everyone does at some point, I want to try new things and work and grow. The best part about High School Musical when I started it was that I couldn’t play basketball or sing or dance. That was a growing process and I learned how to do it for that role and that continued in 17 Again, where I learnt a lot about acting.
“I never want to feel safe in anything I’m doing and this seems like more of a challenge and more of a risk, the more interesting path.”
Sydney Morning Herald: Zac Efron grows up
ZAC EFRON is sitting inside a Sydney hotel room, conducting all-day interviews with various media outlets, unable to get outdoors to the sunshine. That's until his PR woman whispers apologetically to me: "I hope it's OK but Zac would like to sit out by the pool for the interview, he just wants to get some fresh air."
In that moment, it's hard not to think of the thousands - make that millions - of teenage girls who would just about hyperventilate at those words: Zac Efron, by the pool.
When the 21-year-old says his first hello, ducking his head politely around a corner at the Park Hyatt's rooftop pool, he is dressed in regular jeans and a shirt, with a slight frame, medium height and what appear to be the biggest blue eyes in the world. (And he's not afraid to use them: Efron never averts his wide-eyed, pale-blue gaze throughout the entire interview.)
"Look around, who wouldn't want to be here," he says, sweeping his arm in the direction of Sydney Harbour. "I've always had an affinity towards the ocean and towards a beach lifestyle, and no place does that better than Australia - I'm always drawn to this area.
"Actually, this is one of the few places where I can surf these days ..." he says, trailing off mid-sentence, sounding a little relieved that he can still occasionally pay a visit to a local beach and not be recognised.
Elsewhere in the world, that's getting harder and harder because Efron is an A-list Hollywood heart-throb. After appearing in the Disney telemovie High School Musical and its sequels (including the big-screen release High School Musical 3) plus a film version of the musical Hairspray, he has millions of teenage fans around the world.
"You know, I'm human, I hope I'm not disappointing," says Efron with a laugh, about his red-carpet appearances. "Inevitably it's exciting, whatever it is, as long as they're happy - as long as the fans are happy."
Efron is now so used to teenage girls screaming, he can actually differentiate between the types of screams in various countries. "Absolutely, there's definitely trends," he says, smiling. "I'd say Australia's probably a higher decibel level than, for instance, Japan. You know, Japan's a very quiet scream. It's a very polite, bowing scream ... it's very excited but hush hush. Australians aren't afraid to show their enthusiasm."
Given his immense popularity, it would be easy to assume Efron is somehow affected by his stature as the world's newest pin-up boy. He grew up in an everyday working family in California (his dad worked as an engineer at a power plant, his mum was a secretary), so there must be an extraordinary confidence that comes with this level of Hollywood success.
But instead of smugness - or even a sense of security - the greatest surprise about Efron is his uncertainty.
"In the back of my mind, I can never forget this could be gone tomorrow - and at this point I think the odds are against me," he says, answering a straightforward question about red-carpet premieres.
Startling as it sounds, does Efron really believe his future in the industry isn't assured? "Well, no, but I plan for that," he says.
"I think the chances of succeeding in this business are slim to none; there's only a handful of people that have long careers. You have to put in the work, you can never be satisfied, never take it for granted."
Efron seems well aware of other former teen stars who have crashed and burned, either by disappearing off the big screen or indulging too heavily in Hollywood's party scene. It's a cliche he wants to avoid.
"There's a time for celebration and I partake, sure," says Efron, who has just reached the legal drinking age in the US. "But you know, it's important not to let that become too big of a distraction. The more you have access to, the harder it is to remain focused.
"You know what, I do not want to fall victim to that, it's too easy and too often done. It's out of style anyway, I think too many people have done it before me, I'm not going to. It's uncool, yeah. I think the rebellious thing to do would to actually be successful."
The star, whose personal fortune has already been estimated at about $US10 million ($13.9 million) - Forbes magazine reported he earned $US5.8 million in just the 12 months to June last year - says wealth hasn't changed him.
"I really want to talk about this ... I've always, always lived below my means," he says. "I would not consider myself a big spender; I buy what I need and that's about it. I've never been extravagant, that's not the way I was raised. It's just not who I am."
In that tricky transition from teen star to twentysomething in Hollywood, Efron has made his first move as a solo film star (away from the teen gang in High School Musical) in the movie 17 Again. He plays the lead role in a classic time-warp scenario and although he co-stars with Friends star Matthew Perry, there is no doubting the film is a star vehicle for Efron.
"This movie, this idea of playing a 37-year-old pretending to be a 17-year-old, was more complicated and colourful and exciting than other scripts that were around at the time, I felt," he says.
But Efron was initially hesitant about the role because he was worried about identifying with the emotions of a married father (played by both Perry and his teenage incarnation, Efron).
"I was put off at first because I knew I could in no way relate to a 37-year-old and their life experience, being that age. I've never had kids, I've never raised a family and been proud of their accomplishments, I've never been married. I was like: 'How on Earth am I going to pull this off?"' he says. Efron worked closely with the film's director, Burr Steers, to portray convincingly the required emotions.
In real life it's those themes - love, romance and commitment - that are a little harder to talk to Efron about; he is notoriously private about his personal life.
The star is happy to confirm he is still in a serious relationship with his High School Musical co-star Vanessa Hudgens.
"Yes. I can say yeah but that's all I can say," he says with a smile. Efron has fought actively against making the relationship a headline-grabber, despite the fervent interest from fans and journalists all across the world.
"It's just not something that you seek attention for, it's never been about that. I feel like I've been fighting that from day one," he says.
"It's one thing to be recognised for your work but to be recognised for your personal life, it's not admirable, I've never been interested in that."
It's clear the couple are serious but given the themes his character addresses in 17 Again, Efron also admits cheekily he's a long way off getting married and settling down.
"Right now? No. Right now there's no more terrifying prospect than raising a family, I'm far too selfish at the moment," he says. "I don't think I'm responsible enough, so I think that's years and years down the road."
Efron is focused primarily on expanding his film career - not only in making the right choices but in taking risks to expand his reputation as an actor worth his dues.
"I'd love to do it all, yeah. There's no limit to what I'll attempt. Who knows what will ultimately be successful but I will try everything once," he says.
"I feel like I want to capitalise on this opportunity, I want to put out the best work I can while I can and that would not be singing and dancing in every single film."
It's clear, though, he admires versatile performers such as Hugh Jackman, who can traverse different styles of films without being boxed into certain roles.
"He has this whole thing figured out," Efron says. "What I enjoy about Hugh's career is that he is regarded as a mainstream, talented film actor and he's in action franchises ... he's a stud.
"But then also, on the side, he's a fantastic song-and-dance man. You can tell he's put work into it. How he can maintain both and not be stereotyped as one or the other is hard work and I admire him for that."
The blue-eyed boy from California has his own long and varied road ahead in Hollywood but he is upbeat about it.
"You have to take it to the next level, you have to find the thing that nobody expects you to do but you know in your heart you can accomplish," he says.
"It's not that it's offensive being stereotyped in any particular way, it's just that you are hungry to try new things, as anyone is."
Teen Heartthrob Zac Efron explores his comic side in the new laffer 17 Again. The flick, essentially Penny Marshall's Big with the roles reversed, sees an discontented newly separated 37-year-old (Matthew Perry) suddenly transformed back into his 17-year-old self (Efron). Clint Morris caught up with Efron to ask how one goes about channeling their inner Chandler Bing.
Last time you were out [for Hairspray in 2007] I informed you about someone that had started a Facebook page pretending to be you.
It was shut down within 24 hours.
Fantastic! Its funny, everywhere I go I rep the fact that I don't have any online presence or communicate at all online, but still there's a couple of Facebook's and things that scape through.
So do how you feel, you're going to grow up to be Matthew Perry?
[Laughs] You know what? I think there are worse things. Matt's a good guy - he maintains a good sense of humour.
Did you actually meet Matthew on the set?
Yeah, absolutely. Well, we had to rehearse together a bit - considering we were playing the same character. It was tough - it took a lot of time out of my busy schedule to talk to him [Laughs]. No, I'm kidding - I had to talk to him; we had to figure out how to play this character, and after talking to him for just ten minutes I felt that there was somewhere to go. I was a bit lost there for a while, I didn't know what I was doing, but after talking to Matthew, I felt a lot better about what we were doing. This was a good, seventeen year old kid I was going to play.
You've got great chemistry with Leslie Mann, who plays your - or rather, Matthew's - wife.
She was so easy to work with, man. So easy. She's not hard to play romantic with. She's great.
And you've got some great scenes with Thomas Lennon too - who has all those awesome "Star Wars" toys. Was that fun? Playing with all those lightsabers and that?
So many of those were legit - they were real stormtrooper outfits; real memorabilia from the movie. There were a lot of valuable things we were wrecking in that house. That element, that nerd part of the film, is right up my alley. I was so at home in that house. I would look at everything for hours. I have pictures with Darth Vader and Chewbacca.
You could be in George Lucas's "Star Wars" TV series.
Is he doing a TV series?
Yeah, he's doing it out here too.
Oh man. I'll have to put in a phone call.
Yeah, Yeah. Bring it On!
How did you get involved in this project? What was it about it that appealed to you?
Well at first I thought it was crazy - there was no way I was going to play a 37-year-old dad that gets transformed into being 17 again. I couldn't even wrap my mind around that. It seemed like the biggest challenge of everything I was being offered though - so I agreed to do it. It seemed like the more interesting role to play. 17 Again was a chance for me to stretch a little bit. That's what I was looking for - a chance to have fun.
These films I grew up with - Big, Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son - but besides the Jennifer Garner one, Suddenly 30, your age group probably isn't as familiar with the body-switching comedy are they?
Yeah, and this one isn't typical. It's very now. We throw some culture in it. It's a good character too - Matthew is a good basis for this; he's very sarcastic and fun.
And those other films did have lightsabers either.
Exactly. Come On! [Laughs]
I have to ask this, do you play basketball? You played it in High School Musical and now in this film - and it looks like you know what you're doing.
Yeah I do - not in a league necessarily, but I played a bit growing up. I learned the fundamentals and have a pretty good shot. I'm not very professional though.
So not quitting acting to take up basketball any time soon?
No, no. Not my skill-set.
The Rock told us a couple of weeks ago that you might be joining him on a feature film version of the cartoon classic Jonny Quest?
Yeah, Yeah... it's a great idea; it'd be very fun. There are a million different ideas though - it's very early. It's a long, long process. It's so hard when people start leaking titbits. They're very, very early on [with it] - not that it won't happen, it's just early. People legitimately said to me today, ‘So Footloose is coming out, right?' I'm like ‘No. The script is coming out'."
So a Jonny Quest movie is still a couple of years away then?
Zac, great talking to you again. I'll watch that Facebook page for you.
Yeah watch that for me could you man? I have to copyright that. [Laughs]
NineMSN/Nine News: Efron trying to shed boy image
Zac Efron is desperately trying to shed his boy image.
The 21-year-old has become one of the hottest young Hollywood stars thanks to his roles in the teen musicals High School Musical 1, 2 and 3, and Hairspray.
But his challenge now is to maintain career momentum as he gets older.
Efron says he wants to move into more serious dramatic roles and is picking his roles carefully.
"That's the plan," Efron told AAP during a visit to Sydney last month.
Recently Efron dropped out of the upcoming remake of Footloose, and he's tried to toughen up his image appearing in a raunchy photoshoot with a naked girl.
"I can't say exactly what kind of movies I want to do in the future but I do know the way in which I would do them and that's a slower, more methodical approach," Efron said.
"It's important you take your time, diversify and try new things."
Efron said it was very "refreshing" to have a non-musical role in his latest movie 17 Again.
"Not that I was tired of musicals in any way - I hope to do them in the future - but there's always that sense of I never want to be stagnant," Efron said.
"17 Again there was definitely some uncomfortable scenarios, it was just more of a challenge and a new challenge.
"It was very fun."
In 17 Again, Efron stars as the soon to be divorced, bitter 37-year-old father, Mike O'Donnell, who is transformed back to being 17- years-old.
Matthew Perry plays his older version.
Efron admitted he was worried about playing the character at first.
"I had no idea what I was doing," Efron said.
"I was sitting there reading the script and wondering how on earth I was going to play this guy.
"But after I got through the script I realised there was a lot of heart in the movie and some pretty funny scenarios."
Efron said he looked to his father for inspiration on how to portray an older man.
In his personal life, Efron - who is dating High School Musical co-star Vanessa Hudgens - says he counts himself very lucky.
He may have a lack of privacy, being followed by photographers everywhere he goes and being mobbed by young fans, but Efron said he appreciated the fan support.
"You understand it is what it is," he said.
"It's better than the opposite reaction I think.
"I have to say it's very exciting having such an enthusiastic fan base because not a lot of people can say the same."
Efron says he doesn't know where he'd like to be when he's in his 30s.
"I don't even want to think. I have no idea," he said.
"A million things could happen between then and now. Who knows? I hope (to be still acting), but that could all change."
But one thing he does know, is that'd he still like to travel the world backpacker style.
"There's a way I would like to see the world, there's a way I would like to experience that," Efron said.
"Not necessarily staying in the nicest hotels but meeting people here and there, kind of drifting.
"I've always been a spontaneous traveller and unfortunately in the last couple of years that's gone out the window doing press tours, everything's uniform and organised.
"And that's what I would like to change if I travel the world.
"It'd be more fun not to be followed by photographers the whole time."