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Nov 28th
02:39 pm
The Sunday Times (UK): From HSM to Me and Orson Welles  
Zac Efron tips up at the hotel on the Sunset Strip with a half-eaten apple in his hand and a script under his arm. The symbolism seems apt. The young actor as modern Hollywood Adam, tempted by the knowledge of riches and fame.

I wonder if his girlfriend, the young actress Vanessa Hudgens, gave him the apple. His agency, often cast as Satan, certainly gave him the script. Efron is a little breathless and seems distracted. He sits and orders a hot black tea, but quickly disappears to make a phone call. Every eye follows him. Tousled brown hair, big sunglasses that hide his $10m baby-blues, a threadbare T-shirt, faded jeans — nothing can make anonymous one of the most famous young faces in Hollywood.

Efron tells me he was followed here by at least 15 paparazzi. When we’re done, an hour or so later, he suggests that I stand outside the hotel to watch his crazed celebrity circus ramp up again. As he drives away, a posse of aggressive paparazzi in huge black 4WDs appears from nowhere, brazenly running red lights, rolling up onto the pavement beside their prey, blocking him in so they can get more shots. It’s terrifying. I’m not surprised it took him a few minutes to compose himself.

Efron’s snatched photograph, preferably alongside that of Hudgens, has become one of the most prized by the tabloids. Efron and Hudgens vaulted to overnight teen stardom in 2006, in Disney’s High School Musical TV and movie series. The films became a monster hit, generating more than $1 billion worldwide. When I get home, one of the agencies has already posted photos of Efron arriving at the hotel for his interview with me. You can understand why they’re so valuable. Ten days later, thousands of screaming teenage girls, clutching pictures of their beloved, turn out on Leicester Square for the UK premiere of his latest film, Me and Orson Welles.

“I have no control over the 15 dudes outside,” Efron shrugs as he takes a sip of tea. “They can do anything they want. It’s the law. Maybe you could call me paranoid, but I have become a very private person. I imagine there are people who can thrive in this scenario, who can be the centre of attention, but I just get overwhelmed.”

It would be a mistake to underestimate Efron, who has just turned 22, as simply a pretty face. Although he decided to pursue acting, his high-school grades were easily good enough to get him accepted by the top universities in Los Angeles, UCLA and USC. He’s bright, articulate, accommodating, almost too nice, thoughtful, perhaps a little too self-conscious, but that’s surely a consequence of living so young in the weirdness of the modern celebrity spotlight.

For now, his photographs may be caressed every night by millions of adolescent lips. But not many leap the giant chasm from teen idol to adult movie star. Few emotions are as brutally discarded as the affections of teenage girls. Dozens of once adored but now forgotten pretty boys, like Donnie Osmond, David Cassidy and Luke Perry, star of Beverly Hills 90210, can attest to that. To avoid their grim fate, Efron is keeping an eye on the careers of male stars a generation or two older than he is, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise. They, too, were once teen idols.

“I’m rewatching Leo’s transition, from my perspective,” Efron says. “He is the best barometer for me. It’s amazing to see actors who have been able to sustain this for so long and keep positive, still focused on the work, still trying to make their best film.”

Efron knows such longevity is an anomaly. He knows those who have sustained careers have been both as private as their celebrity will allow and shrewd about their career choices. There was a big Hollywood flap earlier this year when Efron pulled out of a big-budget remake of the movie Footloose.

Having starred in High School Musical, and played Link Larkin in the movie musical Hairspray, he seemed perfect for the singing and dancing role. It would have earned him more than $10m. Too perfect. “I felt it was something I had done before,” he explains, “and that if I held out a little bit longer, there could be an opportunity to try something new and scary, to start from scratch. If I’m going to go down, I’m going down with guns blazing. I’m not going to go down safely.”

The desire to take a risk is evident in Efron’s decision to star in the relatively low-budget period drama Me and Orson Welles. Shot last year on the Isle of Man and in New York, it is directed by Richard Linklater, whose last film was Fast Food Nation. Efron plays the Me in the title: Richard Samuels, a young actor who lands a small part in Orson Welles’s famous 1937 Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar in New York. Welles’s imaginative contemporary restaging of the Shakespeare play was a powerful critique of European fascism. Claire Danes plays Sonja, Efron’s love interest, while the British actor Christian McKay gives a fabulously rich performance as Welles.

Efron’s role, which requires a much wider range of emotions than he has had to show in the past, took him into new territory. Although he’d played an older man trapped in a younger body in 17 Again, this is his first serious dramatic role. It was also a lot of fun, he says. “A group of actors trapped on an island was a pretty exciting prospect for a guy like me. I felt like the young gun on set. I couldn’t help empathise with the character and what he went through, his love of the theatre and his enthusiasm and excitement for performing.”

Efron started acting when he was about 11 — a small part in a local production of Gypsy, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. “It was amazing to be part of something that my parents couldn’t help me with. I had this whole other life. Why does Batman put on the mask? It was almost that level of fun. But it never crossed my mind that it might be a valid career path. I was kind of dead set against it. Later, I worked hard in school to keep my options open, to be able to go to college, to be able to go back to a normal life.”

Efron grew up in a small town in central California. His parents worked at the nearby nuclear power plant. In his early teens, his mother would drive him to auditions in LA, three hours each way. He started picking up small roles in television series such as The Guardian, NCIS and CSI: Miami before getting a recurring part in a series called Summerland. Even now, he feels amazed that he was cast in High School Musical.

“It was a shitload of luck, to be honest.” Here, as he does a few times as we talk, he catches himself, worried about the swearword, worried about how he will come across. “A lot of luck,” he corrects himself. He doesn’t want to upset his millions of fans; most of all, he doesn’t want to appear arrogant or ungrateful for his success, despite the annoyances of the paparazzi.

He takes care to mention that he had been reading a particularly heartfelt birthday card from a young female fan the previous night. “It was almost like she knew what I was thinking about. It completely lifted my spirits.”

Efron is endearingly excited about some aspects of fame. He admits he’s still completely star-struck, although he cringes when he remembers meeting Leonardo DiCaprio. He later told a journalist DiCaprio had told him: “There’s only one way you can mess this all up. Just do heroin.”

“Oh my God, I can’t believe I just did that to him,” Efron recalls feeling when he read the story. “It was a joke, it was meant completely in sarcasm, but it came across so differently in print. I was devastated. I tried to call Leo and say, ‘Dude, I’m so sorry, that’s not at all what I meant to say.’ It was the worst feeling in the world.”

After Efron and I have said goodbye, I wander out to my car, but double back to use the loo. To my surprise, Efron is in there, gesticulating towards an older man who looks incongruous in a tweed shooting cap, thick glasses and a long brown raincoat. The older man seems taken aback by the attention. “I just love your work,” I hear Efron gushing. The older man, who looks vaguely familiar, mumbles a thank-you, raising an eyebrow to me as he leaves. He seems to have no idea he’s just been accosted by one of the most famous young stars in the world.

“Oh God,” Efron says after the man walks out. “I can’t believe I just did that. He must think I’m so ridiculous. Did you see who that was? Oh my God.”

I rattle my brain. Why, I realise, that was Robert De Niro. Zac Efron and I have just met Robert De Niro in the gents. How weird is life in Hollywood? Will anyone snap De Niro’s photograph as he leaves, I wonder.

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76 76 comments Comment
 
 
Shruti: Film | Half Virgincalcified on November 28th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
OMG ROBERT DENIRO I LOVE YOUR WORK

And irl lol @ V giving him the ~forbidden fruit~, this writer is so hyper-metaphorical. I like how Z is careful not to swear except the 28 times he did in GQ.

Edited at 2009-11-28 09:49 pm (UTC)
hunny miss (aka lets fead him to the gators)ehs_wildcats on November 28th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
i'm going to say it even though i know you know it but gq is a lot different readership than the sunday times, of course he's going to self-edit differently.

and in my head i can hear exactly how he'd say all of that to robert deniro. lol.

Edited at 2009-11-28 10:07 pm (UTC)
Shruticalcified on November 28th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
Lol I know that, I'm just saying aqui esta ~the softer side of Zef~.
(no subject) - ehs_wildcats on November 28th, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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Lavender_Girllavander_girl15 on November 29th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
I really like this article.
I don't mind if he swear 2 of 3 times but 28 times NO.
Susankalibreeze on November 29th, 2009 02:55 am (UTC)
lmao where can i find the gq interview?
🦉willbeloved on November 28th, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC)
I actually really liked this article, usually I'm just sort of meh about most of them.
hunny miss (aka lets fead him to the gators)ehs_wildcats on November 28th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)
a lot of them just rehash old details but this was insightful i thought, that's why i liked it.
Beejeezbee on November 28th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
What is it that all the interviewers get so "poetic" recently?

But I like that they are taking him seriously and trying to figure him out a bit. And while none of the interviews are very revealing in itself, if you put them all together you get a few tidbits and seemingly a little better idea of his line of thought.

If I’m going to go down, I’m going down with guns blazing. I’m not going to go down safely.

Interesting statement, esp in combination with the Guardian and TIMES interviews where he insists of having no strategy and won't do a role just to do something different. It's not a complete contradiction but a further proof that he's not letting on what he really thinks/plans on doing imo.

hunny miss (aka lets fead him to the gators)ehs_wildcats on November 28th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
to me, that's the poker player part of him. i think it's probably smart too.
(no subject) - jeezbee on November 28th, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
germangirl89germangirl89 on November 28th, 2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
hi; long time no see...
For now, his photographs may be caressed every night by millions of adolescent lips.

I loved this sentences....

I liked the entire article...

and lol at the robert de niro part...
hunny miss (aka lets fead him to the gators)ehs_wildcats on November 28th, 2009 11:37 pm (UTC)
Re: hi; long time no see...
hey there :D

that sentence made me laugh because it is probably totally true.
Re: hi; long time no see... - germangirl89 on November 28th, 2009 11:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Beejeezbee on November 29th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC)
There was a new color ad in yesterday's NY Times with a lot of quotes from the recent reviews.

Does anyone have a pic or scan of it?
Beejeezbee on November 29th, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
M&OW BO numbers are in:

3-day: $64,800 (PTA: 15,200)
5-day: $86,600 (PTA: 21,650)

We don't have any daily estimates but from above it's clear that the Wednesday & Thursday numbers are pretty bad but it picked up a lot on the weekend.

All in all, the 3-day weekend estimate is OK but not fantastic. Considering how it picked up on the weekend, it's going to be interesting how it holds during the week and how it does with the small expansion next weekend.

I feel that the buzz is finally picking up a bit, so it might be doing ok. It feels like they started with the promo push 1-2 weeks too late; let's hope it goes well from here on out.

Edited at 2009-11-29 06:58 pm (UTC)
hunny miss (aka lets fead him to the gators)ehs_wildcats on November 29th, 2009 07:44 pm (UTC)
I think the numbers certainly aren't as huge as some indies but I think those are pretty respectable given how little promo they have compared to Precious or An Education and some of the obstacles in terms of Zac, Christian being an unknown and it being a niche genre. Compared to other movies in that small genre of indie 'putting on a play' it's on par with the other two high performers and it is only a bit off from Linklater's highest PTAs. So I'm relatively happy with the numbers. If it had been below $10k PTA I would have been less happy.

I feel like so much of the promo was NY based, I'd be curious how the LA screenings fared compared to NY.

I get the sense there are at least a few videos/interviews from the junket we haven't gotten yet so they are holding stuff for Dec 11th maybe. I am still waiting for the schedules to come out for the week of Dec 7th to see if he's doing any promo on LA shows. I hope he is.
Beejeezbee on November 29th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC)
I think it has potential but imo the PTA needs to stay above $10k next week when they expand to probably 10-15 theaters.

If I had to guess I would also think that the NYC numbers are better than the LA ones.

I'm with you hoping that he still does a bit LA promo. Leno & Conan have still not published their schedules for the weeks you've mentioned, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for one of those. I'm curious if there are any "restrictions" due to his Letterman visit, as we talked about during 17 Again promo. Leno on a personal level and Conan based on time slot. I haven't watched the past schedules close enough to see if it's an either or situation with other guests or not. Did you monitor it?