One of Hollywood's most promising young talents, Zac Efron's career in film and television continues to evolve with challenging roles in exciting projects. Transitioning effortlessly from the small to big screen, the actor is now playing Richard Samuels, a 17-year-old who happens to land a role in a re-imagined production of Julius Caesar from a young director named Orson Welles, in Me and Orson Welles.
At the press day for the film, Zac Efron and co-star Claire Danes, who plays Sonja Jones, Welles' assistant and a love interest for both characters, talked about developing their 1930's characters.
Q: What made each of you decide to do this film?
Zac: It was different and it was a very unique opportunity for me, at the time, and still is. It was something that didn't seem so cut and dry. It wasn't an obvious decision, and even I was a bit surprised, and that's very cool. I hope I can continue to maintain that and have those options. We do this to grow and try new things, and that was exactly what this movie represented for me, so thank God. It came at a perfect time.
Claire: The script was wonderful. It's really not that often that you read a script that is immediately engaging, coherent and charming. I loved all of the characters. They were all so detailed and specific. And, Richard Linklater was directing it, and I just love his work.
Zac: It seemed ambitious to me. Rick always says we made a screwball comedy about Welles, which is something he would never have done himself. We put him into a movie that he never would have been a part of.
Q: Zac, how do you feel about the fact that something you wear usually effects fashion a little bit?
Zac: It's all about accessories. I notice people that look good. I notice fashion on other people. I enjoy when people try to look their best. I was always taught to try and look my best. That's my main influence. I'm not looking to influence fashion, any more than the next guy. But, I try to do my best when I'm out representing my movies.
Q: Did you like the clothes from the 1930's in the film?
Zac: I think I stole some of the stuff. On the last day, they always try to get it out of your trailer, really quick. I always steal some of my wardrobe. I never know what I'm going to need.
Q: What kind of research did you do for this role? Did you read the original book?
Zac: I read the original book. For my age, I pretty much had the standard knowledge about Orson Welles. I studied him in high school, a little bit before that, and was familiar with a lot of his work, like the War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Coming into this, I thought I was pretty well-read on Orson and then immediately found out that I hadn't even scratched the surface on this guy. Rick Linklater was the one who really filled us in and supplied us with endless literature, articles and old photos. I think I've seen every picture of Orson that ever existed.
Q: Were you a fan of his work?
Zac: Yeah, definitely
Claire: It's hard not to be.
Q: What was your first introduction to Orson Welles? Was it through a movie?
Claire: I discovered Orson Welles in college. My freshman English professor screened Citizen Kane for us and I ended up writing a 20-page term paper on it. I'm sure that I'm not the only one. Many a term paper is dedicated to Orson Welles. So, I fell in love with him there, and since then I've seen a few other of his films, but didn't realize that he'd been such a revolutionary figure in theater as well, and then radio. He was really a maverick, in so many different mediums, at such a young age. It's mind-boggling.
Zac: At 22, he'd done more than anybody could ever dream.
Q: He was pretty arrogant at 22, though. Claire: Well, yeah, and rightfully so. The movie talks about the confusion of that. Even Sonja says, "With someone like Orson, you excuse a lot of behavior." It's true. When somebody's ego is in service of really brilliant, innovative work, it's hard to criticize their failures as a human.
Q: Zac, what was your first introduction to Orson Welles and when?
Zac: I was probably 16. I had worked with a director who said his favorite movie of all time was Citizen Kane and, as a wrap gift, he gave me the DVD. I was definitely fascinated by it and thought it was an incredible movie, but was probably too young to fully appreciate it, at that point.
Q: Your character, Richard, has to learn a lesson about dealing with Hollywood-type egos. Have you had to learn any lessons like that?
Zac: I think things have changed a little bit. I've never had an experience quite like that. I'd say it was reminiscent of a lot of my early theater experiences. It's pretty cut-throat and there was always another kid to pull from the sidelines, ready to take your place. But, I never experienced a guy quite like Orson.
Claire: Not many people have.
Q: When preparing for the project, did you just sit and watch The Magnificent Ambersons and then justify it as research?
Claire: I didn't with this movie.
Zac: This movie predates any of his films. At this point, in Welles career, he hadn't done that.
Q: Did you want to just watch any of his films, though?
Claire: Netflix is great for that. My husband (actor Hugh Dancy) and I watched a lot of Hitchcock movies in bulk, and there's a lot to be gained from focusing strictly on one artist's canon. I recently presented Robert DeNiro with an award and watched a lot of his movies. It's true that, when you see the work in concentration like that, it's really revealing.
Q: Zac, does it give you a sense of accomplishment that, because of your participation in this film, you're going to have a lot of young people out there get introduced to Orson Welles, who maybe never would have?
Zac: Exactly. People ask, "What about Orson Welles is going to attract a young audience?" But, what I'm hoping is that the audience that does come is able to enjoy this experience with such an iconic guy. Hopefully, it'll spark their interest and they'll be able to learn more and go find out about Welles and his amazing, very interesting roller coaster career.
Q: Your character, Richard, is based on a real person. Did you get to meet him?
Zac: No. He's based on a real person, but Rick Linklater was very hands-on, in trying to get as much of his story as we could. All the stuff with setting off the fire alarms was real. Other than that, he steered pretty far away from the real guy.
Q: Did you two meet over coffee or anything to talk about your parts before filming?
Claire: We rehearsed, mostly with Christian McKay and Rick Linklater, for a few days, and then they rehearsed again with the people in the play within the movie. I wasn't involved with that.
Q: Claire, since Sonja wasn't based on a real person, but was a compilation of people, did you base her on anyone you knew?
Claire: No. She's written so well. She was really vivid on the page, so I didn't have to stretch my imagination too much. She's bright and she's ambitious. I'm always impressed by that. I always think that's a good thing, especially in that time when woman were discouraged to do that and their goals were more confined and limited. Sonja is pretty brazen.
Q: What was it like to rehearse with Christian and develop your characters?
Claire: He was great. He adapted it pretty brilliantly.
Zac: Originally, he alluded to the fact that he was a bit nervous, coming in with very little experience on film. And, I just remember that, from the second I heard him speak and hung out with him and saw his personality, I'd never felt more confident in a leading man. He's very intelligent and a very quick study. Me and Claire sat in the room on the first day of rehearsals, when he read his lines for the first time as Orson, and were shocked. I was floored.
Claire: He'd also played the role on stage, and that was a good foundation for him, but he was playing him much later in life.
Zac: He exceeded our wildest expectations. It was absolutely incredible, and even better just to be with him and hang out. He definitely deserves all this.
Q: Zac, have you seen any early drafts or songs for Hairspray 2?
Zac: No, not at all.
Q: Are you going to do it?
Zac: You know what? I have not heard anything about it at all.
Q: Are you doing Jonny Quest?
Zac: Once again, I don't know.
Q: You recently wrapped The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud in Vancouver. Who do you play in the film?
Zac: I play a character named Charlie, who is the golden boy in his high school, and then his life takes a turn with the death of his little brother. It's a story about how he copes with that, and it's a love story. It's hard to explain. It always comes across like I'm digging graves.
Claire: Also, he's just finished filming it. I never know what a movie is about, when I've just done it. I get too close to it and it's fuzzy.
Q: Claire, what are you doing next?
Claire: I'm doing a movie for HBO, called Temple Grandin (about a woman who became a best-selling author and one of the top scientists in the field of humane livestock handling).
IESB: Richard Linklater
Based in real theatrical history, Me and Orson Welles is a comedic coming-of-age story about a teenage actor who lucks into a role in Julius Caesar as it's being re-imagined by a brilliant, impetuous young director named Orson Welles, at his newly-founded Mercury Theater in New York City in 1937. The roller coaster week leading up to opening night has the charismatic, but sometimes cruel Welles (Christian McKay) staking his career on this risky production while 17-year-old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) mixes with everyone from starlets to stagehands, as he is on the road for his own self-discovery.
During the film's press day, director/producer Richard Linklater talked about finding the perfect actors to play these real-life characters.
Q: Why were these actors right for these roles?
Richard: There's an art of the ensemble, and I enjoy it. It's a lot of fun to put together. But, we had to get an Orson first. I wasn't going to make this movie if I couldn't get the right Orson. I wasn't going to misrepresent that. So, once I had found Christian McKay, then Zac Efron was the next part of that. You just have a feel of who is going to work well together. People say, "Zac and Claire have a chemistry. Did you test that?" You don't test. I offered it to Claire when she came in. You manufacture it. They're actors. They rehearse a lot.
Q: You'd seen Christian in a play doing Orson. Did you tweak his performance from that to a different kind of Orson for the movie, or did he have the character down?
Richard: He had an element of it down, but it was a different point in Welles' life. That play is really Orson as an older guy, in a fat suit. It was an older Orson. It starts at War of the Worlds, but it's him looking back. And so, this was a whole different thing entirely. It was a big theatre production. It was just about working with Christian within the framework and the boundaries of film. We worked together a long time, but it wasn't me instructing him exactly how to play Orson. He had that, to such a large degree. It was just answering all his questions and making him feel comfortable in the ensemble.
Q: Were you relieved when you found him, since he's so good?
Richard: Yeah, but I actually fell out with the producer. I thought, "Oh, we can make the movie now," and the producer I was working with said, "He's good, but not great." They wanted a name. I was like, "No, don't you see? The magic is to have an unknown, so that you think you're hanging out with the real Orson." It didn't help us get financing, when the main person in your movie is Orson Welles, and no one knows who that is. But, for the future viewer, if there is one, it's good for the film.
Q: Did it help to have some names in the other parts?
Richard: Not really. It didn't get financed in the U.S. We went to Europe and put it together over there.
Q: Did you approach Zac, or did he come in and audition?
Richard: I own the rights to the book myself and we were just pursuing it on our own. I said, "I need a Richard," someone mentioned Zac and I was like, "I'll meet anyone." I don't judge an actor before I meet them. So, I sat down with him and, 15 or 20 seconds in, I was like, "This kid's great."
Zac is a leading man. To have a guy who could really go toe-to-toe with the biggest personality of the 20th century, you needed a leading man who had that charisma, and that's Zac. He really has that. The camera loves him. He has a strong presence. He's smart. Orson underestimates him and then realizes, "This kid is a step ahead of me." That's how Zac is. If you ever underestimate him, you realize that he's really two steps ahead of you. Don't play poker with him.
Q: Is Zac getting tired of playing the role of a high school boy?
Richard: Although he's technically a high school student in this, it's clear he's already gone beyond that. He's working with all these Broadway actors. I don't remember him being too hung up about his character still being in high school.
Q: Your camera is always moving in this. Was that important to you, to keep the sense of dynamics in a theatre story?
Richard: Yeah. This is also a little bit like a screwball comedy that's always on its feet, always moving. There's a certain trajectory and pace to it all. I didn't want to shoot it like it was 1930. They didn't move the camera that much by then. I used a steady-cam.
Q: Is Claire's character a composite of several women who knew Orson, or is she just completely manufactured?
Richard: She's more fictional, whereas Zac's character is loosely based on a teenager who was in the show. He was only 15, so there's a fictional element to it. A lot of that really happened, though. He set off the sprinklers, and all that. Claire's character is more fictional.
Q: What are the challenges of capturing this time period? How difficult was it to get all of the details right?
Richard: Every time you do a period film, there's the fun and the magic of filmmaking to try to recreate that period, but that was a huge challenge. We were lucky. We had a lot of the original stage drawings. I had the original score to the play. I had the text for Welles' adaptation of Caesar. We had some photos that really informed our costumes and our lighting of the play itself. Cecil Beaton did a series of photos back then, that appeared in Life Magazine. There's one of Welles on stage and this little teenage kid with the little ukulele. That's a famous photo. It was a lot of fun to try to recreate that.
Q: Coming from the stage, did you have to teach Christian how to follow the technical details?
Richard: He had a ton of questions. He was familiar, but a lot of it was about dialing it down. We rehearsed a lot, both the Shakespeare and his character. I was fortunate that I'd cast Christian six or seven months in advance, before we were shooting. We corresponded regularly, and he went to the gym and lost weight.
Usually, you just rehearse the last couple of weeks right before production, but I started working with him early, through the entire pre-production. We'd work on weekends and at night, but that was great fun. We would just sit around in a room, talk about Welles and go through scenes. It really helped me, as a director, to dial in my exact thoughts, on every scene. He's a great collaborator. Christian is like Welles. He's kind of a director. He created that one-man show with a few other people. He's writing at thing on Churchill and Richard Burton. He's an amazing guy.
Q: What was it like on the set? Did he go in and out of character, or did he stay as Welles throughout?
Richard: He went in and out. The Brits aren't mad. That would be crazy. He just turned it off immediately and was friendly. The irony is that he was probably the least experienced film actor. He doesn't know a lot. But, he belonged there. For no second, did he think he was a fish out of water or not worthy. You want a Welles who it wasn't outside the realm of possibility for him to be a lead in a big movie. That was okay with Christian.
Q: Considering Zac Efron's fans probably don't know who Orson Welles is, did you feel pressure at all to include Zac in a lot of the promo shots and scenes?
Richard: I never really thought about it. The movie is unique, in that it appeals to a wide audience. Old people like this movie, and young people like it, too. I've run into a lot of older people, if they don't have a grandkid or someone who informs them, that don't know who Zac is. I've had old people say, "Who's the kid? That boy's great!" And then, I have kids going, "I love the movie. Who's Orson?" They're intrigued with Orson. I'm happy about that.
Q: In researching Orson Welles, what did you discover that was new to you?
Richard: I think I had the same knowledge of Welles as any film person. I've read various biographies, and you know all the films and the life, and everyone has their theories. But, it was a lot of fun to go to the early Welles, to this period in his life that most people don't know much about. I'd heard about the productions and the general stuff, but it was fun to throw myself completely into the young Mr. Welles. Catch them young, and it says everything about the future. Whatever you want to see, you can project onto them, at that early moment.
Q: Can you talk about the editing process on this? Were there any story lines that you shot, that had to be removed for time?
Richard: No, it's pretty accurate to the script, which is pretty faithful to the book. Fifteen films later, I've really learned how to get things started. But, that said, there was stuff in Zac's character's home life, with a few more scenes at home, that I ultimately didn't really need. And, there was more of the play itself. It will be on the DVD.
Q: Would you do an extended DVD, or include them as separate deleted scenes?
Richard: Deleted scenes. The film is the film. I've never had a new cut of a movie.
Q: You had a heck of a time getting a proper DVD of Dazed and Confused released. Will there ever be a proper Blu-ray?
Richard: That took awhile. I'm not sure. Criterion has it now. I don't know. Maybe they'd reissue that in Blu-ray. I'm not sure.
Q: What next for you, School of Rock 2?
Richard: No. That's been overstated. It's certainly not on the front burner. We had a meeting or two.
Q: So, what is next on your agenda?
Richard: I'm not sure. I've got three projects, and any one of them could go. It's hard. It's a tough time. It's the worst it's ever been.
PopSugarUK's account of the press conference seems pretty comprehensive, so I won't be posting random other versions that are excerpts from it wherever they popup (unless significant other info is included).
PopSugarUK's account of the press conference - Part 1
Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend an hour with Zac Efron! He and his castmates in Me and Orson Welles, Claire Danes and Christian McKay, talked about their new movie in a Q&A session with UK journalists alongside their director Richard Linklater. Zac looked handsome and casual in a blue t-shirt and jeans, and fiddled with a bottle top on the table while talking, he was pretty self-deprecating, as was Claire who looked gorgeous and was really funny. Look out for more from this session right here next week, but without further ado — here's part one!
Richard, finding Orson must have been the key to the movie?
R — "Yeah, doing a movie with that title, you’d better find your Orson Welles, and that was the first step. We had the book rights, we had the script and then we went to find Orson. The film gods were smiling on us when we found Christian, I think what he did here was extraordinary. It’s an ensemble, about putting on a play, about art and collaboration but I think he made his presence felt. He took up most of the room."
And once you found your Orson, it was time to find your “Me”?
R – "I was just really lucky that Zac had read the script and liked it and wanted to meet me. You know, Zac was being offered every film in town."
Z — (deadpans) "You were so lucky."
R – "It’s true! It’s never a given, and we sat down, and I was convinced about fifteen seconds in and I felt like I’d found Richard. Like I did when I found Christian. Even though Richard’s only 17 you see it through his eyes, he needed to be a leading man, he needed to go toe to toe with Welles. I just needed that quality that Zac has, that charisma and that kinda presence."
Zac, were you trying to break out from High School Musical box?
Z — "I recognised almost immediately that this was a pretty unique opportunity. I got the phone call that Rick had a script that he’d like me to read, and he wanted to have a conversation about it. And I was… so excited, I remember running home to read the script. And I read it and was pleasantly surprised that the role was pretty big. That’s not exactly what I expected. I was the “Me”, that was pretty cool. I was looking for that opportunity. Not necessarily to change my image or anything. But for a new role, that was a new challenge, and something interesting – and this was it."
Claire, your character hovers on the outside of things, organising things…
C – "Yes, organising things… or creating chaos in the life of one young man. A heartbreaker… but it was never intentional. I play Orson’s Girl Friday, and someone who’s very ambitious and very forthright about that. She’s unapologetically so."
What was it like to flirt with Zac Efron?
C – (sighs) "Tough. Going." (Zac nods) "I don’t know... it was amazing. First of all the dialogue was very special. It’s very rare to find writing of this quality, very witty and engaging and I had a lot of fun with the flirty slang words and goofy vernacular. And the scenes, I thought, were very tender. And you know, Zac’s amazing."
Z (laughing) – "Yeah, the dialogue made me look really good."
C – "I was delighted to discover how fine an actor he is. And he can move very well. We took some dancing lessons for a brief scene in a dance hall, and that was very humbling. Zac was a much quicker study than I was, my god. A very coordinated guy."
Z – "It was the first time I actually led! It was great!"
Zac on dropping out of Footloose:
Z — "Footloose didn’t happen for a number of reasons, but...you know, I think it just felt like territory that I’d already explored. I felt like I’d already been there before. As opposed to trying something brand new, which is a bit riskier and it was a whole lot scarier, but so much more interesting, I think."
The cast on filming on the Isle of Man:
R – "We had a good time on the Isle of Man, we spent about three weeks working, we were just in the theatre the whole time."
Z – "It was great. No, I didn’t know where it was. I was looking forward to that seclusion. From what I’d heard it was a pretty quiet place, and there weren’t a lot of people there. You know? I can’t tell you how appealing that sounded."
R – "The girls did find out Zac was there and they showed up,"
Z – "Yeah… anyways… I found out there was a whole lot of people there. And we met… most of them. I mean, I felt pretty welcome."
C – "I don’t think anybody has been better received there."
Z – "It was funny, we couldn’t really go outside that much. We couldn’t really leave the theatre… we were there a whole lot. Day and night."
C – "Plus the theatre was literally next door, adjacent to the hotel we were staying in."
Z – "There was a tunnel from the hotel to the theatre."
C – "You didn’t have to go outside from your room to the set."
Z – "I didn’t. Didn’t go outside. It was great."
Also there the Wall Street Journal has an interview with Richard here, nothing specific about Zac though.