Zac Efron
Thursday, 03 May 2012

From High School to the School of Hard Knocks

He was the world’s number one teen heartthrob, but Zac Efron has grown up. Katy Pearson talks to him about his latest role, the beauty of a good love story and why eating too much is so hard to do

Written by Katy Pearson

He’s the Hollywood heartthrob who found fame aged 18 in the High School Musical films, but Zac Efron is determined to prove that he’s more than just a pretty face. In new drama The Lucky One, the 24-year-old plays a US marine who finds love after returning from Iraq.

To play the role convincingly, Zac had to gain 20lb of muscle. He cropped his trademark quiff and grew a beard. But when we meet at The Soho Hotel he’s looking more like himself. He’s lost about 10lb, he confides – and claims that putting on the weight was ‘horrendous’.

‘You couldn’t train like that all year round, you’d kill yourself,’ he said. ‘There were days when I was eating around 6,000 calories.

‘Talking about it is awkward because if I really told you how hard it was, it’s going to come across as stupid. But then I don’t want to brush it off or trivialise it because it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, just eating that amount of food.

‘You know when you’re full, but you have to eat past that. And then you get one hour and you have to do it again… It’s disgusting. I didn’t feel hunger for four months.’

Zac Efron put on nearly 20lbs for the roleZac put on nearly 20lbs for the role

Zac stars alongside Taylor Schilling, 27, in The Lucky One. This film, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel (author of hit book and film The Notebook), is Taylor’s big break, while Zac hopes his role is a step towards shedding his teen-idol image.

‘I love surprising people,’ he says. ‘Early on after High School Musical there wasn’t a script sent that was right. Rather than cash in and take the roles people wanted or expected to see me in. I wanted to take a step back and work with directors who’d put me in roles that would be a challenge, that pay no money. This movie was the best-case scenario. It was a much more mature role than I’ve played, a role with honour and integrity, and it also told a beautiful love story.’

Having spent time with serving US marines in preparation for the role, Zac felt the need to do them proud. ‘I just wanted to be able play them with the utmost honour,’ he explains. ‘That meant finding out as much as I could about them. I realised how little I knew about what it’s like to be a marine. But when I met them at camp… that’s when I realised that I was among real heroes. For me this was so much about playing them honestly with honour, and they really opened up after a while.’

Could he be a marine? Some 70 per cent of US marines are aged 25 and under. ‘I don’t think I’m man enough to do that,’ he confesses. ‘Just the basic training that marines go through, they put you through some of the most gruelling, physically-demanding tests that you’ve ever seen.’

Has he stayed in touch with any of the marines he met?

‘They all came to the premiere,’ he smiles. ‘I was so happy that they came, and I could shake hands with them.’

In the film, Zac’s character, Marine Logan Thibault, returns to Colorado from his third tour of duty in Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive – a photograph he found of a woman he does not even know. Fate and destiny are threads that run through the heart of the film.

Does Zac believe in fate?

‘I don’t know where fate and luck cross, but I think in my life I’ve been in the right place at the right time too much for it to just be that,’ he muses. ‘I think fate can open a lot of doors for you, but I think if you work hard, even more doors open. Maybe fate opens the doors but it’s up to you to walk through them.’

Zac Efron

So what’s next for him? He says he won’t star in a blockbuster, until he ‘deserves it’. ‘At this point, if I did one of those, I’d be lined up to be shot down. Without a doubt, there’s a more deserving guy out there. I want to wait until I’m deserving of that role and fully capable of that role and not jump into it early.’

He is, however, off to Cannes for the first time, thanks to his role in The Paperboy. ‘I’ve never been invited before,’ he laughs.

So things look pretty good for the engineer’s son from California. ‘I’m getting to a place where I’m much more confident than I’ve ever been before,’ he enthuses. ‘And that’s going to lead to more depth in each character and having more places to go. I’ve never been more excited.

‘Just look at where all this started – in the back of my mum’s van, reading lines for One Tree Hill. I could not be more happy.’

The Lucky One is on release now.

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