Zac Efron bulks up to enlist in 'The Lucky One'
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Outside a movie theater, a rallying cry has launched.
"When I say 'Zac,' you say 'Efron!'"
On a warm, sunny day, a crowd of more than 1,300 teen daughters and young wives of deployed Marines have gathered (along with a sprinkling of men), each waiting anxiously for the arrival of Zac Efron. Or as he will be known Friday, Hollywood's most freshly anointed Marine.
Efron, 24, is here to screen The Lucky One, a Nicholas Sparks-born best-selling tale that follows U.S. Marine Sgt. Logan Thibault from battle in Iraq to the door of the woman (Taylor Schilling) whose stray picture becomes his good luck charm.
Against a barricade, Bailey Wilson, 18, holds up a poster from the film, which shows off the bulkier, bearded star. "He looks good with the scruffiness," says Wilson, who slept outside the theater overnight to be here. "Pretty manly. Pretty hot."
Sheila Maestas, 24, agrees. She drove two hours with her best friend from Norwalk, Calif. But as a fan of the Sparks book, she says she initially resisted Efron's casting. "At first I just thought High School Musical," she says, wrinkling her nose. "But when I saw the previews, yeah. He grew up."
Suddenly, a cacophony of Beatles-sized shrieks begin when Efron, dressed casually in a black T-shirt and burgundy trousers, walks out of the theater. It's a James Dean moment: His hair is slick, his grin is instant and those famous twinkling blue eyes are shaded by a pair of brown plastic Persol frames.
The crowd goes berserk. Hallmarks of his career are thrust in the air, from Lucky One posters and High School Musical DVDs to his recent Men's Health cover and stray copies of 17 Again. A young girl offers up her small, pristine white Keds sneaker. On each, Efron scrawls "Zac E."
Suddenly, a teen half-lunges over the barricade to plant a red lipstick kiss on his cheek. Efron's barely fazed, and his publicist calmly finds a tissue and wipes off the stain. Nearby, another girl has hurled herself toward a 6-foot-tall shrub to get closer. She has landed in it with the top of her head barely reaching through the leaves. Efron spots her and signs her poster.
Finally, the actor turns to go inside the theater. "Take off your shirt!" a female voice hollers.
He does not.
Sparks' stamp of approval
This crowd is screaming just as loudly for Sparks, the author who has turned writing emotionally charged, silver screen-friendly romances into his own cottage industry.
"I love Zac Efron, but I came for the book," admits fan Megan Day, 20, who traveled from Littleton, Colo.
"These movies kind of have their own brand," says Sparks, adding that Efron "fit the mold" of his character exactly. His string of adapted hits, spanning Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, The Last Song and Dear John have also made careers — or at the very least, widened the audience of their respective stars. Just ask Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum and Liam Hemsworth.
"His books have phenomenal stories and great characters that make great movies," says Efron, who calls The Notebook "a damn near perfect movie." And playing Logan, who returns to the USA and finds love with a single mother after three tours in Iraq, "looked like a challenge," he says. "The character wasn't exactly like anyone that I'd played before. Marines have a different sort of persona than I think I carry personally and … I thought there's a chance I could pull it off with the right amount of hard work, and it would be worth it to transform."
Mission accomplished, says his director.
"His desire to play the part was palpable," says director Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars). "My question to Zac was, really: 'How are we going to do this? Obviously, on the face of it, you're not built like a Marine.' "
What ended up on screen is a departure. Efron, who cites Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan among his favorite combat movies, buzzed off his trademark locks, put on 20 pounds of muscle, grew facial scruff, underwent two to four hours of training a day with a retired Marine and heard first-hand stories of war at Camp Pendleton.
"He's just like young Marines that I always worked with," says Sgt. Major James Dever, who previously whipped actors such as Nicolas Cage, Tom Cruise and Aaron Eckhart into fighting shape. "That's what I loved. He liked to kid around just like the young Marines do, but he also takes it seriously, too."
Efron's co-star saw his commitment first-hand. "I'd roll up to hair and makeup at 6 a.m. for our call (time) and would be kind of bleary-eyed, and Zac would already have been at the gym. He'd have woken up at 4 a.m. to do his workout," recalls Taylor Schilling, who plays divorced single mother Beth Green, the woman in the picture whom he ultimately falls for.
Over time, his tough, introspective Marine was born. "When I first saw myself (on screen), I didn't really recognize myself at all," Efron says.
'Bye bye, Disney'
It's a new rung of achievement for the actor, who graduated from Disney's High School Musical trilogy in 2008.
"I think if you play your cards right and do the work you can find a role that will separate you from your past," says Efron, settling into a small dressing room crowded with publicists behind the theater.
Inspired by the evolving résumès of Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, in the past five years, Efron has veered off of teen fare, instead trying obscure drama (2008's Me and Orson Welles), headlining a rom-com (17 Again), and digging deeper emotionally (2010's Charlie St. Cloud). In the critically panned, celeb-packed New Year's Eve, Efron was a bright spot; Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote that he delivered "the film's one appealing performance." This year, Efron has voiced animation in Dr. Seuss' The Lorax and saw his new indie comedy Liberal Arts go to Sundance, where it received a standing ovation.
In The Lucky One, palpable tension launches from the first shots of a midnight raid in Iraq. Efron, in full combat gear, shot it in "this dilapidated old building, kind of crumbled, at two in the morning," he says. "It was me and a fellow actor and like 50 Marines, real Marines. So I would just say to the guys, 'Tell me if there's anything I'm doing that doesn't look legit. Get my back here.' " He grins. "And they were so great. That was probably one of the most fun days that we had. Just thinking back to High School Musical, I never thought I'd be doing that."
Adult themes continue with a steamy love scene with Schilling, his first on camera. But Efron, who is thoughtful but practiced at these conversations, shrugs off any awkwardness. "It was pretty easy to get lost in the moment," he says.
It's only at the mention of a love scene in this fall's erotic thriller, The Paperboy , with Nicole Kidman that gets the actor grinning sheepishly. "That one my heart was racing for," he admits. "I'm a big fan of Nicole's for a long time. I felt like I was stepping into Moulin Rouge."
Director Lee Daniels (Precious) says Efron's title role, played alongside Matthew McConaughey as the two chase a murder case in Florida in 1969, will surprise his fan base.
"Bye bye, Disney," says Daniels, who was initially against casting Efron in the dark film due to his squeaky-clean image. "I have to say that I was nervous in the beginning about working with him, and I was completely wrong from day one. … His timing, his humor, his instinct, is extraordinary."
More than a heartthrob
The actor is also unfailingly polite. After sitting down, Efron realizes he's chewing gum and ditches it, and later doubles back after an interview to shake hands and express thanks. When pal Lily Collins calls during an interview, he picks it up, tells her he'll call her back in 10 minutes, and then quickly apologizes. "Sorry, excuse me, that was rude." (He maintains that he is single.)
Efron's charm, "is not a mask," says Hicks. "That's who Zac is."
But his heartthrob status means that paparazzi are literally always following him, from hotel room balconies to the golf course. Efron shrugs it off. "I just try and stay out of their viewfinders as much as possible and keep it about the work."
That Marine-like laser-focus is about to pay off. "I had a specific goal that I set to achieve which was, 'How do I get from where I was at professionally and sort of move on to more mature roles in a graceful way, without cashing in and keep my integrity?' " says Efron. "I feel like I've done that. This movie kind of marks that for me."
Excerpts from LA Junket Roundtable
Are there ever moments where you read this big sweeping romantic dialogue and think, “Oh, come on, nobody talks like that?”
ZAC EFRON: There’s a cynical part of you that red flags go off on a couple lines.
TAYLOR SCHILLING: We talked about a couple of those lines.
SCHILLING: You deserve to be kissed every… That’s exactly what.
EFRON: But then I think back to moments I’ve been in and I’ve said things way, way crazier than that. So it’s all relative. There was a little bit of shivering when I realized I was going to do that on camera, but I think a bit of pride too.
When you watch that as an audience, do you think, “That is stirring?”
EFRON: I mean, I couldn’t look during that part.
How attached did you get to the dog?
EFRON: We went through so much, man, me and that dog, me and Rowdy. It was amazing because the first time I met him, I wasn’t even allowed to engage him because the dog loses respect for you if you do that. We went through this roller coaster relationship from me paying virtually no attention to him and to him being interested. Finally, I was able to engage him and we became best friends. We had a great working relationship. He was the best actor on the set. Super, super talented. Yeah, I grew very attached to the dog.
What about genres you haven’t tried yet? Would you like to do action movies?
EFRON: No. Yes.
Have you thought about that or gone out for them?
EFRON: I don’t know. I really liked Chronicle. I thought that was a very, very cool movie. I’m not sure. I don’t know. Something that’s different, something with a cool director. Once again it just comes down to great material and a great director at the helm. Anything with that combo is interesting to me. I’ll take a look.
Did you ever feel like you wanted your character to punch the ex-husband?
EFRON: Yeah, it’s kind of neat. Logan is very controlling. He has a lot of self-control, but the whole time he’s a weapon that can break out at any time. I thought that was kind of cool. It’s like one of those characters you don’t know is a samurai.
I thought of Jason Bourne when you disarmed Logan and all that training suddenly came into play. How many takes did that scene take?
EFRON: It was fun. That didn’t take takes. I made sure I knew that before I showed up on set. If that was going to mess up the scene, I wasn’t going to let it. I had that down pretty much by the time we got there, but there was a lot of rehearsal beforehand with the master sergeant and everybody.
Was the river rescue shot on set or on location and was it freezing?
SCHILLING: Well, that was a really intense day. But I have to say, all I had to do was stand on the river bank and scream. They actually had to be in wetsuits and with scuba divers.
So it was a real river?
SCHILLING: It was a real river and I had never experienced anything like that. There were rain machines and things churning to make the water churn.
EFRON: Sharks and shit.
SCHILLING: They brought in alligators. They have pulleys attached to them and things like that so I feel like I actually had it kind of easy in that scene. I just had to run and stay on the river bank but it was very cold.
EFRON: It was freezing. I’ll never forget it. It looks cool but it’s so short. We were there for so long.
SCHILLING: We were there for a really long, long time.
EFRON: It was cold. We had suits with hot water being pumped into them and we were still freezing.
SCHILLING: And a hot tub to sit in because everyone was so wet.
Do you feel a lot of pressure with this film?
EFRON: I feel pressure with everything I do.
Even The Paperboy with Lee Daniels?
EFRON: Yeah, without a doubt. I mean if it doesn’t scare you, if you don’t feel like it’s – - that’s why I love what we do. Everything is heightened and it makes your spine tingle. That’s why I was so scared when I read the script for The Lucky One because I was like, “Dude, I like this. I like this and it’s going to be real hard and you have a big chance to fail here.”
Is there a dog in your future for either of you?
SCHILLING: I can’t wait ‘til I can get a dog. I have to be in one place though for longer before I can get a dog.
EFRON: I need to be a better person. A dog, for me, it’s not just getting a dog. I couldn’t leave him at home. I’m looking for a life partner and I’m not ready. I’m not emotionally mature enough.
What’s next for you, Taylor?
SCHILLING: I just finished Argo with Ben Affleck. I’m playing his wife in the new movie he’s directing.
What’s next for Zac?
EFRON: I finished a movie called Paperboy. Lee Daniels directed it. Cool, great cast. Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, Macy Gray, John Cusack. It’s awesome. I ran into Macy Gray at dinner last night. Random, “Macy!”
EFRON: It’s on fire right now.
Excerpts from Zac Efron is 'The Lucky One'
Kidzworld: Zac, are you one of those method actors who stays in character on set?
Zac: Logan’s a man of few words. I try to never take anything too seriously but he’s a bit more weighty I think. Maybe on set I would do that. But as soon as we got off I was straight back to me. (He snaps his fingers).
Kidzworld: You shot the movie around New Orleans. Did you get to do anything fun while there?
Zac: New Orleans is one of the funnest towns in the world. The most funnest? The most fun city in the world.
Taylor: He took me to Bourbon Street for the first time.
Zac: Yeah. I used to go to New Orleans with my family because they live in Mississippi. So, we’d always drive down to New Orleans. My uncle would drive way too fast.
Kidzworld: Did you learn to play piano for the film?
Zac: Yeah. I learned one of the pieces.
Kidzworld: Are you done with the teen high schooler roles?
Zac: I don’t know. I’m not sure what defines a “teen/tween” role. Yeah, ideally as I get older, I’d have to be. (laughs).
Kidzworld: So, will you be playing a young dad soon?
Zac: I don’t know, maybe. Is that coming already? Wow! (laughter).
He takes a drink of water out of a glass in front of him.
Zac: Wait. Was that mine? Oh no! I totally drank out of it.
Kidzworld: It was mine but I don’t mind Zac cooties. What movie will we see you in next?
Zac: I did the movie called The Paperboy with Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey. I’m the paperboy. It’s a drama with Lee Daniels directing. It was extraordinary. I can’t wait for you to see that movie.
Links to a couple:
Canoe.ca/Sun Media, Bruce Kirkland: Efron transforms into leading man
New York Daily News, Joyce Chen: 'The Lucky One' star Zac Efron shies away from the 'teen heartthrob' label
Some reviews, again not including all of them, but it is nice to get an idea of what to expect. Hopefully the reviewers will continue the trend of cutting him slack for the bad material, but idk.
Sydney Morning Herald, Ed Gibbs
Given this is, in effect, another showpiece for the 24-year-old High School Musical star, the only real shock for Efron obsessives will be to see him cast against a relative unknown (TV's Schilling, who appears as dewy-eyed over her co-star as the audience). The pair work reasonably well together, given the slightness of the material, with Schilling likely to benefit most from the exposure.
Efron broods well enough, too, even if there's still a tendency for him to look faintly lost when anything remotely demanding is required….
Hicks's star, Efron, will no doubt make further weepies and may well emerge as a bona fide acting force in the years ahead. As too, one imagines, will Schilling.
Moviehole, Mandy Griffiths
Zac Efron embodies the role of a manly Marine is an authentic and believable way, he walks the walk the of a soldier, sleeps the sleep of a man disturbed, and, of course, has the body that could lift a small vehicle. He doesn’t, but you know he could if he wanted to…
The chemistry between Logan and Beth (Taylor Schilling), the woman in the photograph is great…
“The Lucky One” provides you with everything you would expect from a tragi-romance film, and Zac Efron proves himself as a leading man when it seems Hollywood is quite short on them at the moment. You won’t need tissues as much for this Nicholas Sparks film, whether that is a good or a bad thing is really up to your preference for public crying.
Efron’s performance is compelling – but only because the child star has grown muscles and stubble. His acting is cringe-worthy, All-American jock style, but, thankfully, he has that lovely face to get him through the 101 minutes of formulaic sap.
The Film Emporium, blog
Efron is solid, but comes across as being worse than he is because the material is so bad… The chemistry between the leads is quite apparent and this is one of the film's few positives.
His acting in this film is exemplary and he plays it exactly like I would assume a Marine would act. Very calm and strong and gentlemanly. When it was first announced he would get this role half the world laughed at him and pictured the kid from HSM playing a Marine would be a joke but I assure you he deserves more respect - this guy is so talented in many ways and like true acting chameleons can play any character they set their mind on.
I also thought Taylor Schilling was a breath of fresh air - she beat some big names for this part and is relatively unknown except for her part on TV show Mercy - but she has it and I think this role will lead to quite a few more - and the chemistry between these two was sizzling!
Before the hail of flaws this movie has can be mentioned, one thing has to be said: Zac Efron is not a bad actor. He isn’t, look past the screaming 12 year old girls with signs covered in glitter behind him and notice that he can act. So, it only makes things worse when the character and lack of direction he’s given to work with is beyond limited, it almost looks like it’s his fault the movie is literally nothing? It isn’t. In fact, none of the actors mentioned are at all bad actors, they’re just given a whole bunch of uncooked and dull elements to work with.
While I don't read Nicholas Sparks books (I prefer thrillers) it was a very sweet movie… A pretty basic chick flick. Logan, Efron's character, seemed a little stiff from time to time. But all in all it was an enjoyable romantic movie.
An Online Universe
This film is bad on so many levels. So let’s start with the couple of things that were good. Surprisingly Zac Efron is quite believable in this role, and he does a good job with the terrible material he has. He makes a real effort to add life and heart to his ridiculous character.
Movies with Butter
The story is very similar to Sparks other movies and the acting from Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, or Jay Ferguson is only decent, although Blythe Danner always does an excellent job as some sweet, loving mother.
And to give you an update on box office, tracking on boxoffice.com was lowered just a bit to $21 million. Of two other tracking sources, one puts it in the 'high teens' and the other at $22 million. I'm still not sure though what will happen, polls indicate it is still mostly drawing the interest of the under 25 female. The LA Times even jokes, "Men will either not attend or only go at gunpoint." Facebook growth is still weak, Twitter is somewhat anemic and IMDb Moviemeter didn't really move. This all seems to indicate a lack of momentum. Hopefully they can build some heat this week though with fresh US promo.