The world knows him as the pretty boy with the great hair from High School Musical. But Zac Efron has grown up and wants an adult movie career (aww, you know what we mean). He talks about his gritty new war movie and the all-chicken diet that helped him bulk up for the part.
Zac Efron doesn’t seem like a method actor, I think as I enter a very posh room in the Soho Hotel in London. And yet here he is to talk to me about The Lucky One, in which he plays a stoic but charming Marine just home from Iraq, sporting a rather large bandage on his left hand. Old war wound?
“Far less cool!” he assures me, explaining that he cut it that morning and has come straight from the hospital. “Hurts like hell though. And they only gave me Paracetamol!”
Well that hardly seems fair. Someone give this boy his chance to become a painkiller-addicted, tabloid-stalked car crash like the rest of his peers!
“I know, right? Ruining my cred.”
Though Efron’s breakthrough roles in High School Musical pitched him as yet another all-singing, all-dancing, tween-fangasm-inducing Disney teen star who would (hopefully, many thought) disappear once the incessant refrains of ‘All In This Together’ were finally forgotten, the 24-year-old has persevered. Roles in 17 Again, Me And Orson Welles, Charlie St. Cloud and now The Lucky One have demonstrated a canny career path that both allows him to utilise his good looks while also steadily moving towards more complex and adult roles. And in The Lucky One, his PSD-suffering Logan is an impressively-nuanced performance.
“I think it’s a natural part of the progression on the road I’m on right now, searching for roles that are more mature, that have subject matter I can sink my teeth into. And it was great to play a character with so much history. He’s lived a very tough life. He’s been on three tours, seen a lot. And I don’t know what it would be like to integrate back into our world and try and find love after seeing war.”
In order to help him to understand the mindset and mentality of his characters, Efron interviewed several Marines who had seen action, and admits that for an actor who has enjoyed a privileged and luxury-filled lifestyle, their stories were harrowing, and difficult to hear.
“When I got there it was like stepping into a different world. This is my generation, on the front lines. They’ve experienced some pretty gruesome things. We sat and talked for several hours and they were the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had with anybody. Hearing from the Marines about what it was like to be out there, it’s really astonishing they slide back into society the way they do. Back in the old days, when you went to war you spent a month on a boat travelling out before you saw action, then when you were finished your tour, you would have a month to decompress with the guys – share stories, get it off your chest. Now these Marines that are going out there, they’re 19 and 20, fly out, and within 24 hours they’re in combat. Then they see their last day of combat and they’re back in bed with their wives and kids 24 hours later. It’s unbelievable, and pretty powerful stuff.”
Powerful too is Efron’s physique in the film, as the actor put on 25 pounds of muscle for the role – which involved a unique daily snack.
“Eating that amount of protein a day is pretty gruelling. It was life-consuming. And I was eating so much chicken that the problem was not getting full, but that I was spending three hours a day chewing. So I ended up putting a couple of chickens in a blender and emulsifying them.”
Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be ordering that milkshake in my local ice-cream parlour any time soon.
“No, don’t! But I shut up and did it. A lot of people wouldn’t do it!” he says proudly.
You never know. His fans are notoriously crazy, I wouldn’t put it past them to adopt it as their Christmas dinner if he instructed them to. I ask him how he feels about the heartthrob label, and whether he feels it detracts attention from his actual acting. Efron admits that despite his impressive turn in The Lucky One, he’s spent half his publicity tour demonstrating his ability to flick open a bra – an action that takes up perhaps one-fifth of a second in the film.
“Yeah, it’s weird,” the actor admits. “And hard, man, talking about yourself is hard,” he sighs, slumping in his chair. “But it’s all in good fun, right?”
But I get the distinct impression he’s ready to be taken seriously. Maybe next time.