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The years since “High School Musical” have been hard on the former child star, replete with hits (“Hairspray”), misses (“Charlie St. Cloud”) and substance abuse. Now, with “Neighbors,” he’s working on his life as an adult: “I needed to learn everything I did.”
Zac Efron leans back, lost in thought.
“No matter who you are, you face challenges growing up,” he says. “You go with your things, you learn, you have to. It’s impossible to lead an honest and fulfilling life as a man and not make mistakes and ‘fess up to them when you need to. But it’s especially humiliating when they happen to be so public and so scrutinized.”
He pauses. “When you have success young, and you accept the good things, you have to accept all of it. You have to accept the moments of glory but also a great responsibility. And that responsibility, to some degree, involves being a role model. At the same time, I’m a human being, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve learned from each one.”
When we sent our intrepid writer Mary H.K. Choi to interview the lovely Zac Efron at L.A.’s Chateau Marmont for the February issue of InStyle (on newsstands now), she knew he’d be a nice guy, but she had no idea how nice. “Yep, it’s true. He’s a gentleman,” she says. “He stood up when I arrived and was clearly slightly early because I was right on time. He offered to share his roasted artichoke and when I said it didn’t qualify as sharing food, he countered with ‘they’re just like nachos.’ At the end of the meal he lunged for the check and insisted on paying, saying it was ‘customary.’” Zac’s take on all this? “It’s just the way I am, the way I was raised,” he says.
He also offered up these polite bites to satiate your appetite for good, old-fashioned etiquette:
Respect your elders.
“This one’s important. You always have something to learn from people who have been through more than you. Be open and receptive to what they know.”
If you meet a girl’s parents, treat them like they’re normal people.
“Ask questions. Be engaged. Put yourself in their shoes. If I had a daughter and some guy came home with her, I’d be on him like a hawk. When I meet people’s parents I know my place. It’s not that hard. Just be sensitive.”
Get your face out of your phone.
“Please. Be in the moment and be present. I feel disconnected like I don’t know where I am if I’m on my phone too much. I’m also just the type to call. I’m not good on text.”
“I do my best with this one. It’s part of being decent and respectful but I’m not in control of the schedule most of the time.”
Finally, don’t be that guy.
“If there’s a party and they won’t let my friends in, I’d leave. No question. Who wouldn’t leave. I wouldn’t want to go to that party. That’s a lame party.”
To see the full interview with Zac Ephron, pick up a copy of InStyle’s February issue, available now on newsstands and for digital download.
On High School Musical: “But here’s the one thing about High School Musical, that a lot of people forget or don’t realize. It affected a lot of people, its resonance, culturally, was massive … and at the same time, it was in every sense of it, the luckiest break in the world. The wrong thing to do—and that’s what all these interviews now are trying to get me to say— is to turn on it, to like sh– on it, call it crap. But that’s insane. There are hundreds of people who began doing one thing when they were younger, who go on to develop and refine and shape their vision, as they get older, and other concerns—like fame, or money, take a back seat to other ones.”
On not complaining about his life: “The b—hiness doesn’t do anything. It just puts you out there and it makes you look unappreciative to your fans. If I’m talking to my friends, or somebody important who can have some influence on or affect the situation, that’s one thing, but to b—h about attention while getting attention? I’d be doing it to the very people whose job it is to get that information—who are watching me and have control over that information. Therefore, it makes them upset, they read it like it’s hypocritical, and so they spread some bullsh–. You should hear the chatroom sh– that gets said every time you try to complain. So that’s why I’m not going to complain. I will do a lot of things in my life differently to make sure it’s not known or tweeted about or photographed. But it’s a complete day-to-day situation. I mean, I wish I could sit here and be completely honest—but I guess that’s an even bigger responsibility—and it’d take a more courageous man.”
On making good movies for the studios: “It’s really tough. I feel like I’m in the trenches with them. It’s really hard because I respect these people so much. And they are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. And they struggle more than I can even comprehend with the problem at hand—the dichotomy—the challenge of making good movies and making movies that people want to watch. And right now, being me, I personally know which ones I want to be in. I feel like the other way. S–t, I feel like I can be effective in one.”
Zac Efron has been spending a lot of time in hotels. The Toronto International Film Festival, where he was promoting the gothic potboiler “The Paperboy” and the family drama “At Any Price,” required him to jet from location to location for interviews and photo shoots. “I think I have seen every hotel in Toronto today,” he says from his seat in the hotel bar. “I could write a guidebook.” Still, the exhausted Efron is gracious and gregarious, stopping to pose for photos and sign autographs for anyone who asks—and a lot of people ask.
Spend any time with Efron and it becomes clear that the burgeoning movie star does not have an equally burgeoning ego. “I might not be the greatest actor, but I walk in to every project willing to work hard,” he says. “There are a lot of people who can slide on talent their whole lives; they’re just naturally gifted. I’ve never considered myself one of those people. I enjoy outworking the opposition.”
Efron is savvy about his shot at longevity in a fickle business. Unlike many actors who hit it big in their teen years, he has kept his head down and concentrated on the work. There have been no public scandals, no drunken outbursts, no reports of bad behavior on set. Efron is wise beyond his 24 years, saying, “I know I’ve been lucky. But it’s what you do with that luck afterwards that really defines whether you stick around.”
Sure, it’s still sweltering and humid outside and it doesn’t seem like it’s ready for the temperature to be dropping anytime soon, but Autumn is quickly approaching. Soon the leaves will be changing colors and dropping to the ground. But cheer up, kids! What’s fall without a few parties? I mean, we’ve got Halloween, for crying out loud. And does one need a good excuse to have a party, anyway? Not really! You’ll find in our upcoming October/November issue that a party can happen anywhere at any time just as long as you’ve got a few party animals hanging around together.
Speaking of which, we had some cute animals hang out with one of our favorite party animals: Zac Efron. He’s a cutie himself, although I think you’ll be surprised how grown up he’s become now that he’s starring in the gritty upcoming film, The Paperboy, directed by Academy Award-nominated director Lee Daniels and featuring a heavyweight cast including Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, and John Cusack. But it’s Efron who’s making a splash in the sexy thriller and, thankfully, on the cover of our next issue.
But back to partying! We sent photographers across the globe into the night to look at how people celebrate all over the world, we have a look at DJ school in Bali, and we hear from the most debaucherous events in the country: political party conventions. Plus, we also chat wtih British chanteause Paloma Faith, who is looking to make her big break on American shores, Heathcliff and Cathy party on the Scottish moors in Andrea Arnold’s gorgeous new adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat curates a playlist to ease a broken heart (and strike back against your nemesis). And there’s so much more, including the newest trends in nightlife, restaurants, hotels, fitness, and more!
Check out The Party Issue, on newsstands later this month, and, as always, check back here for full coverage!