Bungee jumping? Zac Efron loves it, stress-free. It’s tall, super-steep waterslides that spook the rising star.
“There is an element of like, ‘You could fall out,’” says Efron, 22. “There’s vert on that thing. It goes straight down, but you’re not strapped in. I trust the elastic.”
In his career, however, Efron—best known for playing the singing, dancing, basketball-loving Troy Bolton in the “High School Musical” franchise—is ready for serious risk. Rather than continue to showcase his musical talents and impressive footwork, Efron passed on remaking “Footloose” to do the somber drama “Charlie St. Cloud,” opening July 30. The film is based on Ben Sherwood’s novel “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud” and offers Efron, recently seen in “Me and Orson Welles” and “17 Again,” a chance to take on his most dramatic, emotional starring role yet. “I didn’t know if I could actually pull it off,” he says.
Charlie (Efron) is a star sailor with a full scholarship waiting for him at Stanford, but the death of Charlie’s little brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) throws Charlie’s life way off course. Especially when, five years later, Charlie still sees visions of Sam and prefers to play catch with his brother in the woods than pursue Tess (Amanda Crew), a cutie who had eyes for Charlie back in high school.
Efron again proves he can do mature, charismatic work no matter what the material. The California native, who is still dating his “High School Musical” co-star Vanessa Hudgens, chatted with us about his career and lots more at the Peninsula Hotel, just after downing a filet mignon at Gibson’s.
What do you think your “High School Musical” character Troy Bolton is doing right now?
[Laughs] He’s playing pro ball, I think. He probably went to the Bulls instead of LeBron.
What can he bring to the team?
I think he’d be a good point guard.
Take a hike, Derrick Rose!
[Laughs] Yeah, I think Troy’s probably benched right now, but I think in the next couple years he’s really going to come to fruition.
Were there nerves about getting to the emotional levels of “Charlie St. Cloud”?
Sort of. It was just about trying something new and stepping outside the comfort zone. Everyone laid out these things in front of me that were just too good to be true; on paper they just couldn’t fail. I wanted to do something for me, so I could believe in myself on the inside.
You have passionate fans, you’re on magazine covers, and you’re included on all sorts of “sexiest” lists. When’s a time you’ve felt insecure?
[Pause, then serious] It’s never fan interactions, and it never has to do, usually, with magazine covers or anything like that. That’s fine. Sometimes when it can get to you or you start to feel insecure … first of all, just never really go on the Internet. Don’t look at reviews or anything like that because there’s no filtration.
Do you feel sensitive to those things?
Yeah, of course. You can’t help it. Someone actually says those things.
Anyone would feel that way, having your job performance knocked.
Yeah, as anyone would. So I make a point to not go there, and I try and focus on what I know I can do better. It’s pretty amazing out there. You really feel like a jackass. But not so much recently. … Sometimes when the paparazzi … you fly across the world for seclusion, and then someone’s there to document it and show everyone. Sometimes that gets to you a little bit. It’s just an element of frustration. You really do want to have some moments for yourself.
What’s the most overwhelming experience you’ve had with fans?
Mall of America. Just recently. It was like two days ago. Ah, it was about three days ago now. It’s all blending together, but that was insane. I’ve never seen 7,000 fans en masse.
What was going through your head?
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I was speechless. I don’t know what to even relate that to. It’s unlike any premiere. It was four or five levels of fans and you in the center, and deafening. I’ve had some pretty loud premieres and things where it’s like you slip in some earplugs, but I’ve never heard anything like this. And I looked around and I’m like, “I can’t be the only one.” And all the security and the cops that were there, and there was a lot of them; they were all like this: [covers his ears and closes his eyes]. These big, tough [people] … I didn’t feel so bad, you know. So that was pretty funny. Just nuts.