Amanda Crew on Jimmy Kimmel
Bungee jumping? Zac Efron loves it, stress-free. It’s tall, super-steep waterslides that spook the rising star.
“There is an element of like, ‘You could fall out,’” says Efron, 22. “There’s vert on that thing. It goes straight down, but you’re not strapped in. I trust the elastic.”
In his career, however, Efron—best known for playing the singing, dancing, basketball-loving Troy Bolton in the “High School Musical” franchise—is ready for serious risk. Rather than continue to showcase his musical talents and impressive footwork, Efron passed on remaking “Footloose” to do the somber drama “Charlie St. Cloud,” opening July 30. The film is based on Ben Sherwood’s novel “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud” and offers Efron, recently seen in “Me and Orson Welles” and “17 Again,” a chance to take on his most dramatic, emotional starring role yet. “I didn’t know if I could actually pull it off,” he says.
Charlie (Efron) is a star sailor with a full scholarship waiting for him at Stanford, but the death of Charlie’s little brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) throws Charlie’s life way off course. Especially when, five years later, Charlie still sees visions of Sam and prefers to play catch with his brother in the woods than pursue Tess (Amanda Crew), a cutie who had eyes for Charlie back in high school.
Efron again proves he can do mature, charismatic work no matter what the material. The California native, who is still dating his “High School Musical” co-star Vanessa Hudgens, chatted with us about his career and lots more at the Peninsula Hotel, just after downing a filet mignon at Gibson’s.
What do you think your “High School Musical” character Troy Bolton is doing right now?
[Laughs] He’s playing pro ball, I think. He probably went to the Bulls instead of LeBron.
What can he bring to the team?
I think he’d be a good point guard.
Take a hike, Derrick Rose!
[Laughs] Yeah, I think Troy’s probably benched right now, but I think in the next couple years he’s really going to come to fruition.
Were there nerves about getting to the emotional levels of “Charlie St. Cloud”?
Sort of. It was just about trying something new and stepping outside the comfort zone. Everyone laid out these things in front of me that were just too good to be true; on paper they just couldn’t fail. I wanted to do something for me, so I could believe in myself on the inside.
You have passionate fans, you’re on magazine covers, and you’re included on all sorts of “sexiest” lists. When’s a time you’ve felt insecure?
[Pause, then serious] It’s never fan interactions, and it never has to do, usually, with magazine covers or anything like that. That’s fine. Sometimes when it can get to you or you start to feel insecure … first of all, just never really go on the Internet. Don’t look at reviews or anything like that because there’s no filtration.
Do you feel sensitive to those things?
Yeah, of course. You can’t help it. Someone actually says those things.
Anyone would feel that way, having your job performance knocked.
Yeah, as anyone would. So I make a point to not go there, and I try and focus on what I know I can do better. It’s pretty amazing out there. You really feel like a jackass. But not so much recently. … Sometimes when the paparazzi … you fly across the world for seclusion, and then someone’s there to document it and show everyone. Sometimes that gets to you a little bit. It’s just an element of frustration. You really do want to have some moments for yourself.
What’s the most overwhelming experience you’ve had with fans?
Mall of America. Just recently. It was like two days ago. Ah, it was about three days ago now. It’s all blending together, but that was insane. I’ve never seen 7,000 fans en masse.
What was going through your head?
I was speechless. I don’t know what to even relate that to. It’s unlike any premiere. It was four or five levels of fans and you in the center, and deafening. I’ve had some pretty loud premieres and things where it’s like you slip in some earplugs, but I’ve never heard anything like this. And I looked around and I’m like, “I can’t be the only one.” And all the security and the cops that were there, and there was a lot of them; they were all like this: [covers his ears and closes his eyes]. These big, tough [people] … I didn’t feel so bad, you know. So that was pretty funny. Just nuts.
On Twitter our reader @sharonaling wanted to know what superpower you would want and what you would do with it?
I think it’d be fun to read minds. To be able to know what everyone’s thinking at all times.
I thought that’s what the Internet’s for.
[Laughs] No. That’s how they want to be perceived, but what are they really thinking? I just think that would be a pretty valuable tool.
My fiancé was wondering if you’d be up for performing at our wedding, and how much you charge?
[Laughs] Nah, dude, I would do it but for free. As long as you guys have it at a very nice location. [Holds up magazine cover with island on it] … That’s very cool. Please say “What up?” to your wife-to-be. That’s very cool man, congrats.
Thank you. Also: I challenge you to a dance contest. Where and when?
[Laughs] Want to do DDR? You know, Dance Dance Revolution? Oh, dude, I’m down. I’ll beat you at any arcade. It’s on.
Is that something you do often?
[Laughs] Not often. But I am really good at that game for some reason. I got it for PS2 when it came out. We had the mats and I got really into it.
But you’re such a good dancer for real and DDR is just stomping.
I know, but the cool thing about it is instead of jogging, which is really monotonous, I never really get into it. You can just sit there, download a few of your favorite songs and put them to DDR. That’s a crazy work out, it’s insane. Me and my little brother are super-competitive when it comes to video games and electronics.
How often do you and Vanessa sit around watching the “High School Musical” movies?
I don’t think we have since they’ve come out. Not once. Every once in a while we’ll be flipping channels and they’ll show up and we watch for a good laugh every couple minutes. But inevitably it gets to a song and we both kind of go [pretends to look at her and groans].
You’ve said that if you do another musical you want it to be original. I’d like to offer you the lead in my production of “The Zac Efron Story.” Interested?
No, but I think Philip Seymour Hoffman, he would play me for sure. [Laughs] He’d be good. Have a lot of gravitas.
Zac Efron at a glance
What he thinks of when people talk about Chicago: “I think of Kanye West. I think about Cubs. Hot dogs.”
Social media: He doesn’t have Twitter or Facebook. Anything you see is fake.
How often he communicates with the dead: “They’re leaving me alone these days, but there was a minute when it was crazy. And they’d come up and ask for autographs.”
If he could hang with someone dead: “Elvis. Just to see what he was like. [I’d want to] probably just jam out a little bit. I dabble in everything a little bit. [Laughs] I know how to play the saxophone a little bit and a clarinet and I can play piano. I’m not too good at guitar, but I can get around it.”
Saturday date night: “Usually try and sneak out to a restaurant or something like that. We go to the movies a lot. The movies are a place we tend to not get bothered surprisingly enough. We try and see most movies in theaters.”
Best he’s seen recently: “I really liked the new ‘Toy Story.’ Blew my mind when they all held hands and accepted their fate. I was watching that like, ‘Oh my God,’ It’s insane. I just really wonder where the hell all my toys are. Where’d they go?”
Worst job ever: “One of my first jobs was theater. And it wasn’t that it was the worst job, it was a great job. It’s just you got paid below minimum wage. We had like a 50 or 60 show run, and at the end they gave us our paycheck and it was like $200.”
Up next: “Fire,” based on Brian Bendis’ graphic novel; an office comedy written by “17 Again” writer Jason Filardi
Zac Efron builds it and fans come
When Zac Efron hit Chicago last week to promote ''Charlie St. Cloud,'' his upcoming film opening Friday at local theaters, the actor's media handlers carefully planned a press tour they thought could avoid the popular star's avid fans from mobbing him at every stop on the morning spin around town.
No such luck.
At every media outlet, a loyal and loud coterie of Efron aficionados was spied screaming, "Zac! Zac! We love you!!!'' And it wasn't merely Efron's 'tween and teen groupies who followed him from place to place.
''I think I should start a 'Cougars for Zac' club,'' said a South Suburban matron in the lobby of Fox Chicago News, who declined to give her name, ''or else my husband will have a heart attack!'' she said with a laugh.
Efron took all the hoopla in stride. ''Look, it's all so flattering. Plus everyone is so nice. I wish I had more time to talk to them all, but then I'd be here until next week!''
Well-hidden away from those fans, Efron turned serious as he discussed a key element in his new film -- the title character's relationship with his younger brother after that sibling has died.
Efron -- who stars as Charlie St. Cloud -- revealed that those on-screen chats and baseball pitching practices his character conducts daily with his dead little brother Sam may not necessarily be about Charlie seeing ghosts.
''One of the things I like about the movie was keeping all options viable," Efron said. "At no point do we clearly point out the existence of ghosts or spirits -- leaving open the possibility that all of this could be going on entirely in Charlie's head.''
Efron admitted he's ''still up in the air'' about a lot of issues regarding life after death. ''I don't have one clearly defined opinion one way or the other. ... I do know one thing: The mind is a powerful place -- I know that from where I've been in my own dreams,'' Efron said with a laugh when pushed for some examples of dreams he could remember.
'Oh, no!" Efron quipped. "We're definitely not going there!''
In the film, Charlie St. Cloud's younger brother Sam, played by Charlie Tahan, dies from injuries suffered in a car crash. As his brother lies dying, Charlie makes a pledge never to leave his sibling. Overcome with grief at the funeral, Charlie bolts and runs deep into the woods near their seaside home in the Pacific Northwest, where he sees Sam -- waiting to resume the brothers' nightly baseball routine.
Having a younger brother in real life, Efron said he did ''bring a lot of that relationship'' to his character and the way he interacted with Tahan.
''We tried to bring that honest big brother thing to the film. Big brothers aren't lovey-dovey. There's a lot of s--t-talking involved. We had plenty of that in 'Charlie St. Cloud.' ''
For Efron, making this film took him down a similar path to when he worked to get himself cast in ''Me and Orson Welles,'' the acclaimed 2008 film that made a lot of people in Hollywood first realize there might be a bit more to Efron's talents than he had showcased in the hugely successful ''High School Musical'' franchise. Efron stressed his approach to acting has changed a lot in the past couple of years.
''Initially, I was all about doing what's fun. Then, when I was 20 or 21, I realized fun wasn't as much a priority to me as was diversity. I knew I had to change it up, and my priorities quickly shifted. I was very hungry to get out there and try something different and do something dramatic -- to sink my teeth in to roles you wouldn't necessarily expect.
''Don't get me wrong, it is a result of 'High School Musical' that I have had these chances. But being involved with it for such a long time did make it harder for me to find my way into these other projects."
For ''Charlie St. Cloud'' director Burr Steers, a big part of Efron's transition away from his ''High School Musical'' image will be aided by the exposure to seasoned dramatic actors -- like Oscar winner Kim Basinger (who plays his mother) and Ray Liotta, the paramedic who saves Charlie's life but can't keep young Sam alive.
''For younger actors, bringing in the pros is essential," Steers said. It raises their game and teaches them how much they still have to learn.''
Efron made it clear that learning how to be a better actor ''is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.'' It also often involves learning new skills. Charlie St. Cloud is a champion sailor -- a skilled practitioner of a sport Efron knew nothing about.
''One thing I learned was that racing in those small skiffs is much tougher than the big boats -- which are more like cruising,'' Efron said. ''It's fine when you have plenty of wind, but we had plenty of days with little wind. The hardest part is keeping the boat stable so you don't fall out. And trust me, you don't want to fall into the water around Vancouver [where 'Charlie St. Cloud' was flmed]. That water is cold with a capital 'C'!"
More USA Today
Stars, they're just like us. They, too, get displaced by younger siblings when they leave the nest. Now that he's out of his childhood home in California, Zac Efron gets a jolt whenever he visits his parents and younger brother, Dylan.
"My brother's in my room now. I'm sleeping in the guest room. I never appreciated how cool my room was until you go in there and your brother has manhandled everything and put posters of every soccer team on the wall. I had my Tyra Banks posters, skateboarding, BMX, sports. I go home and I can't believe it was my room," Efron tells USA TODAY's Donna Freydkin.
And it's not that Efron is getting taller, per se. It just feels that way. "I feel like a giant in my house because every time I go home, everything just shrinks," he says.
I Am Rogue Interview with Cast
Kevin's Reel World (St. Louis)
Yahoo Junket Interview with Zac and Amanda
People blurb about hanging with Corbin
Zac Efron, dining with High School Musical costar Corbin Bleu and a few other guys at New York's Cafeteria. They sampled items from the menu and had a few mojitos and carafes of Cafeteria cosmos. "Zac and Corbin were totally chill normal people," an onlooker said of the Charlie St. Cloud star and his friend, who got plenty of attention from fellow diners. "They were cool about taking pictures and meeting people."
LOL Star Mag blurb about Zac and Vanessa's July 4th with friends