Also an article from USA Today (with one Troy pic):
'High School' cast graduates after big-screen sequel
By William Keck, USA TODAY
SALT LAKE CITY — School's out for summer. Out for good, actually. At least for Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Monique Coleman, Corbin Bleu and Lucas Grabeel — the six principal players in Disney's High School Musical franchise.
Shooting just wrapped for their big-screen grand finale, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, due Oct. 24. While a fourth film is in the works, no one expects the primary players to return.
But for much of the spring and summer, the actors were together again at East High, where the original Disney Channel movie took off in 2006 and became a pop culture sensation, fueled by drama and dance numbers from Efron and Hudgens' sweethearts Troy and Gabriella; their pals Bleu and Coleman; and twin rivals played by Tisdale and Grabeel.
For the third time, set designers have transformed Salt Lake City's East High School into Disney's version of a freshly painted slice of academic Americana. Outside the main entrance, a red banner proclaiming "Congratulations Wildcats: Back to Back Champions!" has been hung. Broadway-grade red curtains hang in the auditorium for the musical numbers. And in the gym, Troy's basketball jersey has been retired, displayed up high next to those of his father and best pal, Chad.
The first HSM was shot for $4.2 million, the second, $7.8 million. Though there's more to work with for Senior Year (no one will say how much), the sets are still kept in the simple style of actual high school musical productions. Even a fantasy sequence features palm trees and flames made of paper.
"We always try to keep a naiveté," explains Kenny Ortega, who has directed all three films. "There is more scale and detail in High School Musical 3, but it's still our world — young people wishing and aspiring."
It has been a struggle to keep filming to its 45-day schedule, necessitating shoots that have lasted up to 18 hours. But the young actors aren't complaining. With summer temperatures on the rise, they have been hanging out in a inflatable kiddie pool outside Efron and Hudgens' trailer or in Tisdale's trailer, where the big draw is Guitar Hero on her Wii — a particular favorite of Efron's.
Efron, 20, was the last to sign on for film No. 3, but he says that had little to do with wanting a movie-star paycheck, which many believed he deserved after his lead role in Hairspray.
"High School Musical has always been a blast to work on since Day 1," he says. "I just didn't know if a third one would work. When the script came in, I thought it was very well done, and it was an easy yes."
Ortega points out that Efron was just 17 when the first installment made its debut. "Then suddenly High School Musical 2 thrust him into this extraordinary light — the cover of Rolling Stone. Any adult with any common sense would (have advised him to) step back and be objective, and make sure that all the steps taken in that special light are the right choices."
Ortega has been sharing his deep love for the American musical with his young cast, whom he calls his "kids." When legendary dancer Cyd Charisse died last month, he dedicated a day's shoot to her memory.
"This has been a 13-year-old boy's dream," says Ortega, seated in his director's chair with a handheld microphone he uses to make announcements. Usually perched on his lap is his teacup terrier, Manly, who plays Sharpay's dog, Boi, in the films. At one point, Ortega compliments the cast for nailing a scene, and Manly, too, barks approvingly.
The finale of the film is, of course, a graduation scene. It's a big song-and-dance number shot on the football field, inspired by Ortega's work on Super Bowl halftime shows and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Atlanta and Salt Lake City.
The film also includes sequences with a bit less flash but plenty of humor. Sharpay (Tisdale) gets an over-the-top I Want It All dream sequence, in which she envisions herself and twin brother Ryan (Grabeel) as superstars. Though only four minutes of screen time, the sequence takes three days to shoot.
Through Sharpay's eyes, her friends are seen in various subservient roles, including Efron, who plays a crazed fan at a movie premiere.
"It's pretty fun," Efron says between takes. He's dressed in a T-shirt with Sharpay's image silk-screened on the front and has a big red heart tattoo on his bicep with an "SE" (for Sharpay Evans) in its center. "It's my chance to switch roles."
Though Tisdale gets dolled up in a platinum wig for her fantasy scene, the cast seems to rebel against high fashion off-camera. Tisdale shuffles around in ratty old slippers, Hudgens has on short denim cut-offs, and Grabeel is wearing something his character never would — brown sandals and black socks.
The most serious of the cast, Grabeel, 23, generally stays in place in between takes while his castmates dart off to chat. "Let's go, people," he shouts at one point, not wanting to waste time.
He's the only one who has taken an apartment in town ("I don't like staying in hotels," he says), and the rest of the cast is divided between Salt Lake's Little America Hotel and the more luxurious Grand America.
Everyone stayed at Little America while shooting the first two films, but for the second sequel, the principals were invited to upgrade. Efron, his real-life girlfriend Hudgens, Tisdale and supporting player Chris Warren Jr. ended up at Grand America.
There, says Tisdale, "we have security that helps us get in and out without going through the lobby. I don't really feel safe at the Little America."
Bleu and Coleman decided to return to the more casual Little America, along with supporting actors and backup dancers. "I prefer the Little America because I can have coffee in the lobby in my pajamas," Coleman says.
But a big motivation, she concedes, was avoiding the paparazzi and fan obsession over Efron, Hudgens and Tisdale. "It's a popularity situation, and I can be really thrilled by the fact that it hasn't happened to me yet," says Coleman, 27.
The cast members, while still close and playful, have begun to go their separate ways. Efron equates it to an authentic high school experience where "people you've loved and lived with for four years — your best friends — all have to grow up and say goodbye."
Grabeel has tried to savor every moment in Salt Lake, driving out to explore the salt flats, which he says were like another planet. But he stays levelheaded about the end of this part of his career. "I think all of us are physically exhausted," he says. "There's a sentiment, but I try to view this as any job — not to get too wrapped up in it. There comes a time when the story has to end."
Adds Bleu, 19: "We all live in L.A., so I know we'll see each other again, but we're all extremely busy. As it is, we all have projects we're moving on to."
Bart Johnson, who plays Efron's dad and coach, says he has noticed how much the cast has matured. All the actors had their parents with them on the first movie, he recalls, then just a few for the second, "and now they're all adults on their own. It's really weird."
Despite the cast's maturation, all the action on the screen remains strictly G-rated, which Ortega says has been a "great challenge."
It is a different vibe behind the scenes, where the actors openly display their blossoming sexuality. Coleman laughs as Warren stands by a fan — letting it blow open his Hawaiian shirt to reveal his rippling abs.
No longer hiding their relationship, Efron and Hudgens are openly affectionate on set, wrapping their arms around each other or splitting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
"Life imitates art," says Ortega. "It doesn't hurt us that Zac and Vanessa have a connection. When Zac and Vanessa first auditioned for me, they didn't know each other. But the chemistry those two kids share was just there. It has always been there."
Hudgens, 19, believes their chemistry shows on screen. "I'm such a hopeless romantic," she says. "You can feel the emotions Gabriella has for Troy. Zac and I have done three movies together now, and we can basically do anything in front of each other. We're so comfortable, we're not afraid to take chances."
Tisdale, 23, swoons over her visiting beau, Jared Murillo, who played a dancer in the first two films and took time off from his boy band, The Factory, to do a cameo in Senior Year. On set in the cafeteria, Murillo holds Tisdale's dog, Maui, and often hurries to her side during breaks for a kiss. "Thanks, baby," Tisdale tells him.
One cast member got engaged during the production. On May 24, Kaycee Stroh, who plays Martha, accepted a ring from Salt Lake local Ben Higginson. Stroh, 24, beams as she shows off her princess-cut diamond. "I'm envisioning a winter (2009) wedding, and I'm hoping all my Musical friends will fly out," she says.
As for a second possible wedding between Efron and Hudgens, Stroh just laughs uncomfortably. "Whoa, ho, ho," she says. "My lips are sealed. I have no clue."
All Efron will say about his real-life romance is, "I'm glad Troy and Gabriella's relationship comes across as real."
Another relationship that appears genuine: Ortega's with his "kids."
With the end of production drawing near, he is presented by the cast and crew with a bottle-cap necklace with three gems representing the HSM trilogy. A diamond represents Senior Year, which he views as his opus — though, he hopes, not his finale.
"If there's a High School Musical 4, I'm sure hoping I'm invited," he says. "I love this!"
Why couldn't this have happened when C and I visited SLC.