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Nov 27th
04:51 pm
Washington Post: Zac Efron, looking for a curveball to swing at  
It isn't those astonishingly blue eyes that stick in the memory, though they are admittedly striking.

It's not the fact that he actually, earnestly, uses the word "neat" in casual conversation.

No, of all the things observed during an hour in the presence of Zac Efron, "High School Musical" heartthrob and star of the new indie film "Me and Orson Welles," the one trait that makes the strongest, most lasting impression is this: his impeccable manners.

Leave a napkin on a table? Efron will pick it up and toss it in the garbage. Need to squeeze into an elevator? Efron will make sure there's enough room. And if several people happen to be heading toward a building entrance, the actor will dash several steps ahead of the pack just to hold the door on everyone's behalf.

All this may be testatment to his solid upbringing -- raised in Arroyo Grande, Calif., by middle-class parents -- or evidence of canny grooming by Efron's publicists, who earlier this month shepherded the star to Washington to talk up the importance of high school arts education in visits to Capitol Hill, the White House and this newspaper. (Accompanying him in that effort: "Welles" director Richard Linklater, perhaps best known for "Dazed & Confused" and "School of Rock," and co-star Claire Danes, who dealt with her own, decidedly more angsty version of teen stardom 15 years ago in the TV series "My So-Called Life." )

Still, such attention to etiquette is one clue that the 22-year-old Efron has made the leap from squeaky-clean singing teen to considerate, mature adult. With the new film, set in 1937, when Welles was mounting his version of "Julius Caesar" at New York's Mercury Theatre, Efron seems to be carefully steering his career toward meatier roles and away from "High School Musical," the unstoppably cheery Disney phenomenon that turned him into every tweeny-bopper's dream date.

But of course, don't expect him to come right out and say that.

For example, when asked what appealed to him about playing Richard Samuels, the teen in "Orson Welles" whose eyes are opened after a week of working on a Broadway production with the temperamental Welles and his manic troupe, Efron stops and starts before finally answering.

"It was the only opportunity that I had at the time that was . . ."

He pauses.

"I don't know, it didn't feel like . . ."

He pauses again.

"It wasn't another musical," he finally says. "It was definitely a step forward in my opinion, and a risk, and something that I wasn't even expecting of myself at the time, so I knew no one else would be. It would be kind of a curveball."

True, the film again features Efron as a high schooler who acts and sings (FYI for the "HSM"-obsessed: the crooning is brief), but the curveballs come from the sophistication of the material.

Richard has an affair with Welles's secretary, an older and far more worldly, nakedly ambitious woman (Danes, who is, in real life, 30). He also recites a lot of Shakespeare and deals with the prospect of getting fired, all of which gives Efron the opportunity to delve into more dramatic territory. Particularly in the scenes when Richard goes head-to-head with Welles, played with convincing gusto by newcomer Christian McKay, one can see Efron beginning to flex acting muscles that perhaps didn't get stretched fully when, say, he was competing against Sharpay for the lead in the East High School play.

Linklater says he cast Efron for one simple reason: "Less than 20 seconds after meeting him, I was like, this is [Richard]."

But the filmmaker, Danes and Efron agree that in some cases, it can be a challenge for an actor to land truly adult roles once he becomes strongly associated with tween-and-teen fare.

"I kind of became the poster girl for teen angst, which is a kind of crass way of saying it," Danes recalls of her gig as the brooding Angela Chase on "My So-Called Life."

"But the teen roles that I was playing, they were bright and they were atypical. There was room there for that particular kind of character to mature, so I didn't face a great amount of resistance in that respect. But I think everybody has to fight to become a diverse artist because people are inclined to associate you with one thing or are a little unnerved by your daring to do something."

"I'd say the challenge right now is finding specifically what to try and work on next," Efron adds. "It's not in terms of people being close-minded, really, to be honest. Maybe it was for a little while. But I was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from where [Danes] started, in 'High School Musical.' Like [she] said, everything that you want to do and everything that I aspire to do as an artist is always that project that's just out of reach."

There is a pivotal scene in "Me and Orson Welles" when Efron's character finally blows up at his egocentric director for constantly and insensitively referring to him as Junior. It seems like a moment that must resonate with Efron, but he says it didn't really, perhaps because he would never talk to an authority figure that way.

The polite young man has, it seems, already learned an important lesson: that you always win more respect by holding the door open for other people instead of screaming about the few who won't let you in.

by Jen Chaney

Mood: cheerfulcheerful
20 20 comments Comment
Shruti: Zac | America's Boyfriendcalcified on November 27th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
It is so funny to me that print articles often note that he stops mid-sentence, recalibrates, etc. but I never see him doing that in audio/video interviews. I've actually only ever seen a celebrity do that once and it was kind of painful. I feel like once you've committed to a trajectory, you might as well make the most of it.

There is a pivotal scene in "Me and Orson Welles" when Efron's character finally blows up at his egocentric director for constantly and insensitively referring to him as Junior. It seems like a moment that must resonate with Efron, but he says it didn't really, perhaps because he would never talk to an authority figure that way.

That's SO great to me though, like that Kiss My Ass line meant nothing to him either, HDU ADULTS ARE IN THIS ROOM.

Edited at 2009-11-27 10:10 pm (UTC)
butterflybee260butterflybee260 on November 27th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)

Really, I've seen him do it quite a few times. I think on film he's better at pausing to think before answering a question but he's done it a few times.
Shruticalcified on November 27th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
I guess my memory is going... I feel like probably I've seen it once, never was an exaggeration, but it's written about so often.
butterflybee260: by sexistdrummerbutterflybee260 on November 27th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)

I only ever remember him doing it maybe in two or three print articles so maybe my memory is going too. lol.
hunny miss (aka lets fead him to the gators)ehs_wildcats on November 27th, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)
i think this washington post person did not read his nylon article re: media training.
Shruticalcified on November 27th, 2009 10:24 pm (UTC)
I would read so many articles on someone before interviewing them, but a lot of reporters seem to strike at this in a really lazy/dull way. Maybe they have lives idk.
hunny miss (aka lets fead him to the gators)ehs_wildcats on November 27th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)
I think it is definitely a bit lazy. IDC if they do have lives but there is more to researching a subject than reading their wikipedia and imdb pages.
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Shruticalcified on November 27th, 2009 11:38 pm (UTC)
ikr the GQ one was hella douchey, NOT CUTE

lololol funny that you mention that, I was quoting this gemster this morning: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/nov/26/zac-efron-me-and-orson-welles
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Shruticalcified on November 27th, 2009 11:48 pm (UTC)
Re: No one knows what it's like to be the sad man behind blue eyes
THAT WAS THE PART I QUOTED. I understand the writer was pretending to be sarcastic but it doesn't work when it's clear you've become enraptured by the Zef's good manners, ability to throw away dirty napkins, etc.
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Shruticalcified on November 27th, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
tbf Zac was trying too hard with that too

FUCK NAW MAN, I NEVER LET THEM CURL MAH LASHES, though I did let them take that case of Mac to town on my cheekbones
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Shruti: Fox | B&W Rerunscalcified on November 28th, 2009 12:11 am (UTC)
It's funny, I just re-read that article, which was a terrible decision because I want to laugh so hard but my mom doesn't like me smiling too much (don't ask). Anyway, there is a relevant section:

“I don’t want to be famous for my personality. If anything, I keep that under wraps.”

All this makes good sense. But by refusing to be out there in the mix, participating in the thermodynamics of Hollywood social life, Efron’s placing a giant bet on his ability to stay relevant post–High School based on hard work and talent alone. He grew up in a Disney force-field bubble surrounded by shrieking girls; now it’s like he’s replaced that bubble with one of his own making. It protects him from dirt; it may also be protecting him from grit. He might have a better shot at some of those Penn-like roles if he were willing to let the world see a side of him that hasn’t been carefully managed.

In a sense I think it's impossible in this day and age not to be famous for your personality/some sort of "fame" thing - at least among people in Zac's age group and everyone else from hereon after. We're such INVASIVE people as a society/or at least gossip reading and loving populace; everyone wants to know too much. And the weird thing is that he's so private but he really has nothing to hide, I think; it's just that little bit of whatever's left of him as his own. Megan is just as private I think, but in a totally different way where she's basically invented this alter-ego to keep her real self private. She's been trying to open up and be a "real likable person" lately but it's not working really... she's already played too much of The Game, i.e. fake breaking up with BAG. Idk idk idk THOUGHTS.
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Shruticalcified on November 28th, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
I used to really dislike Megan for the things she said and what I perceived to be internalized misogyny, but at some point I came around to the conclusion that it totally is a construct.

I didn't dislike her but I was SO put off by that, because I saw it as willfully cheap presentation, but now I see her mindset and I'm intrigued. Though it's more interesting to see how she abandons that in her bid to become more of a person and less of a famous person.
IF U SEE K-A-H-L-I-L: Devon Aokivilain_garcon on November 27th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
His parents must be so proud.

I told Shruti that I'm not even as humble and as polite as he is and I'm nobody. Real or fake, he definitley sets the standard of what I want to be in life. I hope that he continues to not let fame change him and I hope I can continue to use him as someone to aspire to be.
hunny miss (aka lets fead him to the gators)ehs_wildcats on November 27th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
Shruti: Fashion | Boycalcified on November 27th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
Damn Kahlil, keep it real like:

bettybaby63bettybaby63 on November 27th, 2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
great interview!

and IA, in print articles, they often remark about how he hesitates when answering questions.....but i've never noticed much in "televised" ones...

also, hope everyone had a great thanksgiving!
superstar5622superstar5622 on November 28th, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)
His manners are very admirable.
It's Audrey not Aubrey: Tizaudrey_za on November 28th, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
Just curious, anyone here seen MAOW yet?
zettaiyozettaiyo on November 28th, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
I watched it opening day in LA.
butterflybee260: pic#88919658butterflybee260 on November 29th, 2009 01:00 am (UTC)

I'm seeing it Weds! :D :D