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CANNES, France—Zac Efron felt uncomfortable filming his revealing role “The Paperboy”—and he says that’s the way he wanted it.
The “High School Musical” actor has moved into decidedly grown-up territory with the film by “Precious” director Lee Daniels, which screened Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival.
It’s a swampy slice of Southern gothic set in the 1960s, with Efron as an aspiring writer helping his journalist brother (Matthew McConaughey) investigate a possible miscarriage of justice. Efron’s Jack falls for Nicole Kidman’s sparky but sultry femme fatale, who is in turn obsessed with a death row inmate (a supremely creepy John Cusack).
The cast also includes singer Macy Gray as Jack’s family maid and surrogate mother, and British actor David Oyelowo as an ambitious big-city journalist.
Efron spends much of the film in his underpants, but says he didn’t mind the scrutiny.
“I don’t think I was supposed to feel comfortable,” the 24-year-old actor told reporters in Cannes. “It’s like life. This character is supposed to be learning the ways of the
world, and that can be very uncomfortable. But it’s also exciting.”
Daniels had a shallower explanation for all the Efron flesh on display. “He’s a good-looking guy,” the director said. “And I’m gay. What do you want?”
Efron is not the only actor asked to bare his soul in the movie, which combines a crime thriller plot with a swampy landscape and undercurrents of racism and sexuality into a pungent gumbo.
Cusack sheds a lifetime of good guy roles to play the sweaty, sinister inmate, and loved every minute of it.
“I felt like I’d been let out of some cage,” Cusack said. Kidman also stretches herself, playing a sexually adventurous woman drawn to danger. In one memorable scene she administers to Efron the traditional treatment for jellyfish sting—urine. “I’d been looking as an actor for something raw and something dangerous,” Kidman said.
“I may be uncomfortable watching the movie. But that’s my job—it’s my job to give over to something, not to censor it, not to put my own judgments of how I feel as Nicole playing the character. I am there to portray a truth.
“I don’t want to be pigeonholed,” she added. “I’m willing to fail because of that. I just want to try.”
Kidman worked hard to create Charlotte Bless, interviewing women who were in love with convicts and putting together the character’s bold look.
What should audiences expect from the film?
I think that it’s a thriller that studies sex and race and the coming of age of a boy to manhood. Pete Dexter adapted his own novel, something that novelists aren’t always comfortable doing.
How did you work with him?
There was always Pete Dexter’s screenplay. Pedro Almodovar [who at one point was planning to direct the film] had written a draft also. But Pete’s was sort of the one I based my spin on. He wrote a script and I sort of rewrote, added on to what he wrote. He did a great job. I had my own take on it. I had a very specific take on race. Look, I had just left Selma, so I had that race issue in the ’60s bubbling up in me, waiting to explode. And I took a lot of that and laced it throughout Paperboy, which added another element to the story.
You’ve got a very high-profile cast. How did it come about?
Casting was a circus. It was crazy. We kept losing actors because we kept pushing the start date. We started out with one cast and ended up with another. We started out with Tobey Maguire and Sofia Vergara and Bradley Cooper and we ended up with Zac Efron and Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman. Crazy. I think the universe plays it exactly as it’s supposed to. I couldn’t be prouder of each of the actors in the film. They serviced Pete’s characters magnificently.
Zac Efron is the relative newcomer in the cast. How did he hold his own?
Zac Efron, he is hungry. That is the best way to describe Zac. He is hungry and eager. He really gave it to me, man. He brought it home for me.
How did the invitation to come to Cannes come about?
They kept asking. I wasn’t even done. We were about six months pregnant with the film. It was almost there, but it wasn’t quite there yet. But the producers were like, “We’ve got to go to Cannes, we’ve got to commit to Cannes.” For me, I don’t do movies for festivals. I like to wait until the movie is finished and then figure out where the film is supposed to be placed. Cannes felt a little early. But I had no say because I don’t own this film like I did with my others. I was a director for hire. But it all worked out for the good.
You’ve been to Cannes many times before, both in the festival sidebars and last year selling rights to The Paperboy. What’s it mean for you to finally be in the Competition?
This one is an out-of-body experience because it’s in Competition. It sounds corny to say it, but I’m humbled. That’s the only way to describe it, but I’m still sort of in shock and humbled that I’m in the Competition.
Longtime drama teacher Robyn Metchik took her final curtain call at the Clark Center for Performing Arts, where she directed and produced countless student performances over the last decade.
Nearly all of Metchik’s guest directors and more than 50 former students performed in the show, which included musical numbers from past “Metchik Shows” and a special performance by the honoree’s three children: Aaron, Asher and Ari.
But the biggest surprise came at the end of the night when former pupil and Hollywood actor Zac Efron emerged from backstage with a homemade award for Metchik.
“She pretty much embodies drama for me all through my high school years,” said Efron. “When I found out she was retiring, I raced in my car today to be here. Literally stuck in traffic not even knowing if I was going to make it.”
The Lucky One starring Zac Efron is looking like $8.9M Saturday — about even with Friday – for a $22.8M weekend. This is another wild overperformer because the studio only expected $15M through Sunday. Playing in 3,115 theaters, it received a ‘B+’ CinemaScore from audiences.
Zac Efron takes on his most mature role yet in the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks‘ The Lucky One playing U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault who has defied the odds during three tours of duty in Iraq. When Thibault discovers a photograph of an unknown woman (Taylor Schilling) half-buried in the sand and pulls it out, it becomes his lucky charm that he credits with keeping him alive. After he returns stateside, the picture becomes the catalyst for an unusual and moving journey of discovery and healing.
At the press day for The Lucky One, we sat down at a roundtable interview with Efron and Schilling to talk about what drew them to the Nicholas Sparks universe and the story’s interconnecting ideas of luck, love and destiny. They told us how the friendship they developed on set helped when it came time to film some of the movie’s more romantic scenes, how it was working with Academy Award-nominated writer/director Scott Hicks, and what they have coming up next including Efron’s The Paperboy and Schilling’s Argo. Zac also talked about his progression toward more serious roles, how he transformed himself physically for the role, and why it was important to him to give the most accurate portrayal possible after getting to know the Marines at Camp Pendleton.
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.
IT’S A WARM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA morning, and I’m meeting Zac Efron in Studio City at a place called Weddington Golf & Tennis. With a name that stuffy, I expect marble and money. The course turns out to be public, with a plastic-cup snack bar where a waitress, without looking up, informs the 24-year-old movie star that she doesn’t take credit cards. They’ve reserved us a private tee, which is approximately 4 feet away from the adjacent public one.
Here at the practice range, Efron—in T-shirt, oversized cap, shorts, and Vans—strolls around in disarming anonymity, though to be fair, it’s hard for even the preeminent teen pinup of the 2000s to attract notice in a crowd that includes this many codgers in lavender pants. After talking and meandering (not especially well) through a bucket of golfballs, we encounter Roger Dunn, a California golf-shop magnate who gives lessons wearing a Panama hat and smoky sunglasses. We’d heard that Dunn is just shy of his 50th year of teaching, and he’s been introduced to us as a man of considerable local repute. Mostly Dunn has something to teach, and Efron is drawn to that.
“I could pick up almost anything,” Efron had told me earlier. “If you put it in front of me, I could always find a way to tackle it. I was never a natural at anything, but I could always outwork everybody.” He’d mentioned Bruce Lee, a man he’s been reading about. “What you got from him was the work ethic,” Efron said.
Zac Efron likes a good scare. “I think each time in life that you confront your fears, you actually grow a little bit,” says the former teen icon. He stars in “The Lucky One” (opening next Friday), playing a Marine fighting in the Iraq War.
When you’re the guy who hoofed it through “High School Musical” and then went for laughs in “17 Again,” it was time to feel a little jittery. His character in the movie, inspired by a Nicholas Sparks book, fights during three tours in Iraq.
Could Efron pull that off? “It was me asking myself, ‘Can I do it? Can I get it right?’ ” he admits. “My answer was, ‘I think I can.’ “At the end of the day, I was very pleased with the movie, and I’ll never forget the things I learned playing this character.”
Efron had to do his first combat scenes with real Marines in the background. Eye-opening doesn’t even begin to cover it. “I would turn around and see all of these American heroes who had my back,” he says.
Efron got a bit emotional. “All I could do was try to take it all in: the way they spoke to each other, the way they moved, their mannerisms,” says Efron. “My passion for getting it right had never been stronger.”
At age 24, Efron could develop the guns necessary to get the job done. “I read that I gained 25 pounds, but that isn’t true. It was really 17 pounds during an intense training program,” Efron says. “I was guided every step of the way by a real Navy SEAL.” The strict diet was the worst of it. “Everything was pre-planned,” he says. “I have never eaten that much fruit in my life, plus it was a lot of chicken and vegetables.
“I’d get so sick of the sight of what went down every single day,” he says. “It was actually one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because the eating and working out was very consuming.”
He doesn’t just make war in “The Lucky One.” He also makes love. After his service overseas, the Marine travels to North Carolina to find an unknown woman (Taylor Schilling) whose photo he stumbled upon during the war. Before long, the couple is steaming up a shower together. “Love scenes are always awkward,” he insists. “It’s a lot of breath mints. In this case, the water was cold, too.
1. You play a marine in your new movie—badass! Got any girlie qualities? Sometimes I take a while to get ready to go out. It’s not excessive, but it takes me some time to find clean clothes that match.
2. You see a beautiful woman. How do you approach her?
“So do you like High School Musical?” I’m kidding! If the situation’s right, buy someone a drink. Think on your toes, use what’s around you, and come up with something organic and fun.
3. Telltale signs a first date is going well?
I think when it ends up going on longer than planned… and you don’t even realize it. You don’t want it to end.
4. What makes someone marriage material? A sense of ambition and a sense of freedom, which is a careful mix. You have to balance those two. I haven’t exactly found it yet.
5. What’s the best compliment you’ve received? A woman called me interesting once, and it kind of blew my mind. She said, “You’re one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met,” and I was like, Wow. I’m still high on that one.
Hidden talent? I can draw really well. And I like to paint. I’m a bit of an artist.
Biggest regret? Not going to college.
Favorite female body part? Lips. Because they smile. And they’re fun to kiss.
Last thing you bought yourself? A Butterfly table-tennis paddle.
Zac Efron plays U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault in the film adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel, The Lucky One , which opens in theaters on April 20th. The talented actor shared his thoughts on the powerful story during our recent interview.
Q. The Lucky One’s theme is one of fate and destiny. Do you believe a person writes their own story or lives a life that’s already written.
A. From my own experience, I think there’s some sort of guidance. I don’t know what it is, but something helps me along the way. I think maybe opportunities present themselves or doors are open and it’s up to you to walk through them — only you can do that. I think I believe in both to a degree.
Q. Your character, Logan, is led by his lucky charm — the photo of Beth. Do you have a lucky charm?
A. I don’t really have a lucky charm at the moment. There’s little things that I keep around, but I can’t think of anything that I carry around day to day.
Q. At the core of the film is a photograph that connects Logan and Beth. Have pictures played a role in connecting you to other people?
A. Yes – I’m sure at some point. I love to keep pictures around of family and friends. I’m always looking through pictures that connect me to great memories.
Q. What makes The Lucky One such a powerful story?
A. It’s about two real people that have experienced life and all of the challenges and hardships, but despite the weight they carry, are able to come together and find true love and find their soul’s counterpart. It’s very powerful. It’s a love story.
Q. If you were to be remembered by a single image, what would it look like?
A. Hopefully, I’m smiling and my eyes are open.
Celebrities beware, “Punk’d” is back on MTV and nothing is off the table. When the show returns on Thurs., March 29, 10 p.m. ET, some of Hollywood’s hottest stars will be at the center of some big pranks.
Executive producer Ashton Kutcher is handing over hosting reins to the likes of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus as they pull stunt after stunt on their famous friends. Other celebrity hosts for the new season include Kellan Lutz, Bam Margera, Hayden Panettiere, “Punk’d” alumni Dax Shepard, and Tyler, The Creator, are Nick Cannon, Lucy Hale, Mac Miller and Heather Morris.
The celebrity targets? None other than Dianna Agron, Ron Artest, Lauren Conrad, Zac Efron, Shenae Grimes, Ian Harding, Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Hutcherson, “Jersey Shore’s” Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, Chloe Moretz, New Boyz, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Darrelle Revis, Emma Roberts, Cody Simpson, Rob Dyrdek, Liam Hemsworth, Khloe Kardashian, Sean Kingston, Demi Lovato, “Teen Wolf’s” Tyler Posey, and Taylor Swift.