[Scott Hicks] went on to speak about the young leads of his film and what it has been like working with them. "Zac Efron is a young actor and sort of emerging into I think a new phase in his career," explained the director. "I was very impressed by his seriousness of intent when we met and he set about so solidly doing the work and getting ready to play his part, physically transforming himself. He clearly had a tremendous discipline about him. Then I traveled with him to meet with some Marines at Camp Pendleton because I was thinking about his age. I thought, is he the right age? We met with a group of sergeants who were twenty-three years old, Zac Efron's age, and they'd done two or three tours of Iraq, or Afghanistan, and some were going back. Clearly he was absolutely in the right age range. So all of those things came together."
"I wanted to be a part of that transformation for him because he's clearly somebody who has a colossal future," Scott Hicks continued.
Scott Hicks also talked about the military influence on the film. "For Zac Efron to acquire the kind of physical demeanor of a Marine, he worked closely with a couple of different trainers. Just try to acquire the physicality, and the body language, the way these people present themselves. So it's been an important part of that process for him, finding that sort of game face that he needs for the role. This is a character that's been through a bit of trauma you know. He's traumatized by his experience. This is not just Zac Efron playing himself; he really has undertaken a character unlike anything from his own experience. So it's a big acting step for him. He's been wonderful to work with on that front."
Finally, the director also spoke about author Nicholas Sparks involvement in the film. "He hasn't been involved closely in the writing," explained Scott Hicks. "But in terms of direct involvement, he dropped in to see us the first day when we were filming, but that's about it." Scott Hicks continued by discussing changing the film's location from North Carolina to Louisiana. "He seemed very warm about the idea. It was a very interesting exercise to sort of mentally transform the story into a Louisiana setting and embracing being in Louisiana, instead of trying to pretend we're in North Carolina. It'll have a very different feel and texture too."
"It all starts with story," continued the director. "For me that premise was the trigger. It begins with story and that's the powerful factor. Then the next thing for me is the cast, and the choice of actors is paramount because they will express everything that you want. So I was very excited about Zac Efron, but I also wanted to surround him with a powerful cast, an ensemble that he could work with and feed off of. So that's been really exciting. Then it's about putting together a visual team. Those are the elements I like to put together. Then you pray for magic dust. You set out to make the best movie you can and keep your fingers crossed."
"But I didn't have much of an expectation about him," she continued. "I knew he was incredibly famous, but as far as his work as an actor, I didn't really know. I really got to know Zac Efron when I tested with him for this film. He was just such an incredibly charming, down-to-Earth guy. He made me comfortable at that test and was so generous, so wonderful, and was also so interested in the work. He was engaged in the scene and was so good. It's just been so wonderful to work with someone that I feel really has my back as a scene partner. There's some really vulnerable stuff in this movie and I feel like I can trust Zac Efron with anything I've got. He's a special guy."
We asked Blythe Danner if she was aware of the media frenzy that follows her co-star Zac Efron wherever he goes. "No, I felt so stupid," she admitted. "I knew he was lovely and that he was a very big star, but I didn't realize how much. That he'd have to have guards but he's a lovely guy. I worked with a few people who had just worked with him and they said, oh, you're in for such a treat. He's such a down-to-Earth guy. And he is. He's very dear and fun."
Finally, the time had come for us to meet the man-of-the-hour, international superstar Zac Efron. The actor began by telling us how he prepared himself to play a Marine in the film. "Man, I found this channel on TV called the military channel," Zac Efron explained. "That's probably one of the coolest things that I stumbled upon. It was a total accident. I turned it on and it was a Navy Seal, it was their boot camp that they were going through. It was really in depth watching them go through the most basic training. There was always a part of me deep down where I thought that if it came to it, I could pass (as a Marine). With training, I thought could make it through basic training, that I could do it. After watching these things I realized there's no way that I could do it, or subject myself to that. They're of a different caliber of man."
Zac Efron also talked about what he learned from his research that he was able to instill in his character and how important meeting actual Marines was. "It was everything. I just realized in my life that I never spent anytime at all with a Marine. Any time that I had knowing somebody that was ex-military, I found it difficult to just say, so what's it like? It's hard. What do they want to talk about? What do they not want to talk about again? What's going through their mind is what I was concerned about, so I would just sort of pretend it never happened. This was my first real time to sit down and face the issue. It was really great just watching them go through it, and every guy was different."
"There were four or five guys at Pendleton this time and some were very open, straightforward about it and talked about it with an heir [sic] of invincibility," Zac Efron continued. "Other guys you would see them sort of have to go back there mentally, a lot of them. Some of them you know it looked rather painful. It was brushing everything else aside and just focusing on what the hell it's like out there. What is it like to be a Marine? What is it like to serve?"
Zac Efron also talked about his leading lady Taylor Schilling and how impressed he was when he first read with her. "She came in and was so professional and just so good. I remember reading opposite her, I had read the lines once or twice and we came in and of course it was her test but she was much more honed and focused than I was. I just remembered she was doing so many cool things that I was just fascinated with her when I was reading the lines. So I was like I already love her, I don't know how, I don't know how anybody else couldn't. It made sense. She totally deserved it at this point. So I was blown away with her audition."
Seeing that [Sparks]' fan-base, and Zac Efron's fan-base are probably one in the same, the combination of the two seems like the perfect marriage of actor and source material, so we asked Zac Efron if being in a Nicholas Sparks film was something he had been wanting to do for a while. "Yeah. I mean I really liked The Notebook and I really like The Last Song. He's a phenomenal writer. I read the book and I really liked it. I think he's both perceived to be kind of one thing and I wasn't necessarily drawn to that genre," the actor explained. "I felt that I didn't want to be in it for some reason. When I read The Lucky One I was just blown away. I couldn't put it down. He's a great writer. He goes into everybody's heads and it was a bit scary meeting him because I wondered what he was thinking about the whole time. He's so in tune with the smallest things and I really enjoy his style. I think he writes great characters."
Finally, the actor discussed the difficulties he's had picking strong projects to be in post-High School Musical. "I'm still learning as I go. Every project's different and it's kind of just where you are mentally at any given moment," said Zac Efron. "I think lately I've been looking to be challenged. I feel like, because I'm not in college and I sort of jumped into the big leagues, I really wanted to learn as much as I can from the directors. So that's what I've been focusing on lately is working with you guys and it's worked. I feel a lot more aware so I'm learning a lot, but then there's a side of you that just wants to do things that are fun. That's where I was in High School Musical 3: Senior Year and 17 Again, and you just have to do one of those every once in a while as well. But it doesn't get any easier," the young actor said in closing.
Australia Premiere info (source via twitter):
April 9 @ 6pm, Event Cinemas, Westfield Bondi Junction, Sydney
April 11 @ 6pm, Village Cinemas Crown, Melbourne
April 12 @ 6pm, Event Cinemas, Westfield Marion, Adelaide
Sadly they probably won't have time to drive the Great Ocean Road between Melbourne and Adelaide, lol.