Zac Efron: Not just a pretty face

The actor’s shirtless, popcorn, multiplex blockbuster could prove to be a turning point as he seeks a more serious direction in his career.

Robert Chilton May 31, 2017

Most actors say that appearing in Hollywood movies involves a lot of hanging around. For Zac Efron on the set of Baywatch, that was quite literally true. Efron worked his physique to extraordinary lengths for the movie that’s released this month, and spent much of his time on set hanging from monkey bars.

“We pump up before shirtless scenes,” he reveals. The movie’s crew built a mock set of the TV show American Ninja Warrior for its star. “I love that show,” grins Efron. “I want to be on it so badly. I thought I could be on it until I tried it. It was very, very difficult.”

Efron stars in Baywatch with Dwayne Johnson. Efron tells EDGAR, “He is one of the coolest and most interesting men I’ve ever met. He’s the kind of guy who can handle anything in any scenario; it was great working and learning from him.”

The movie is a tongue in cheek reboot of the hit 1990s TV series that it’s estimated was watched by more than a billion people in 148 countries. “We’ve taken Baywatch and updated, it, upgraded it, turned up the volume,” says Efron. “I have vague memories of it being on TV. I remember Pamela Anderson...” Don’t we all, Zac. 

To get in shape for the role Efron ate zero sugar and carbs. “I do eat a pretty strict diet, with lots of raw, organic healthy meals. I have a good body, but I’m average,” he says modestly. “Everything looks bigger on the screen.” The graft paid off though, and Efron is now perhaps the buffest guy in Hollywood, with a plum new endorsement deal as the face of Hugo ICED fragrance to boot. 

However, one day soon, he hopes to say a fond farewell to comedy and shirtless scenes and earn praise, not for his biceps, but for his acting. “I want to be a real actor, I want to succeed through skills, talent and discipline, not because of certain physical traits. I’m no toy boy.” 

He’s starred in a series of lighthearted hits such as Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Hairspray, and Bad Neighbors. Before all that, of course, came the High School Musical trilogy, which made him a star in 2006 just as he was ready to quit acting and begin a film course at the University of Southern California. 

Despite his success in these jovial roles, Efron insists his comic skills are weak. “I wouldn’t say I’m a great comedian,” he told The Sunday Times. “I wouldn’t even say I’m a good comedian. I’m not funny.”

Drama is where he wants to steer his career now. “I want to earn the evolution. To earn something, you’ve got to go all out.” He acknowledges the sacrifices he needs to make along the way to achieve his goal. “Take your shirt off. Make an idiot of yourself. Then reap the benefits. What you get by doing this is street cred, then you get to work with great directors. I need to meet somebody face to face, then I can earn that dramatic cool role.”

Rocky Road

Efron, 29, grew up in California “watching those amazing MGM films with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly” he smiles. He and his younger brother Dylan were raised by their secretary mother and engineer father who is an even bigger hero to Efron than Dwayne Johnson. “My dad’s a rock. To this day, there’s nobody that I go to more for advice. My dad is probably the best guy I know.” 

It was his father that Efron turned to when he trod the sadly familiar path of young Hollywood stars and ended up in rehab. Work was consuming Efron’s life and he found himself rarely at home or with friends. Instead, his life became a 24/7 swirl of film shoots, industry meetings and hotel rooms. 

“You’re in your 20s, single, going through life in Hollywood,” he explains. “Everything is thrown at you. I wouldn’t take anything back. But it was an interesting journey, to say the least.”

Efron’s co-star in Bad Neighbors, Seth Rogen sees strength in his pal. “He was a child actor, and you don’t need to have a sociology degree to see the pitfalls, especially as they transition to becoming an adult actor,” he says. “But people are rooting for him.” 

Efron has changed his ways. “I’m not really into partying,” he explains. “Not anymore at least. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve gone to a club or two. But I’d much rather be with my close friends at home or a concert, or on a trip. I never wanted to fall victim to partying too hard. It’s out of style, I think too many people have done it before me. It’s uncool. I think the rebellious thing to do would to actually be successful and work hard.”

Someone Efron admires for successfully navigating these pitfalls is Leonardo Di Caprio. “We are good friends,” says Efron. “I admire him as an actor but also as a human being, and as a former young star who was able, after partying a lot, to put everything in perspective and dedicate himself to serious work. A great example for me. The day will come when I too will try give something back for the betterment of the world. But it takes a lot of maturity and knowledge that I still have to gain. I’m a modest guy, I’m not vain and dumb as you might think.”

With this kind of determination, don’t rule out the possibility of Efron following in Di Caprio’s footsteps all the way to Oscar glory. “I feel like I’m unlocking it right now,” he says. “I’m just getting started.”