Ss­c­ch­hooooll’’ss oouutt

He’s won the hearts of thou­sands of young girls but can he make it out­side the teen scene? The well-man­nered, well-be­haved Zac Efron talks to Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

IF YOU are over the age of 16 then there is a very real pos­si­bil­ity that you haven’t heard of the most fa­mous per­son in the world. This re­al­i­sa­tion struck me about four years ago when I at­tended the UK pre­miere of Hair­spray. While be­ing chan­nelled through the ser­vice en­trance, I sud­denly heard an up­roar of apoc­a­lyp­tic pro­por­tions. A small na­tion of teenage girls was fling­ing it­self hys­ter­i­cally against the ropes while emit­ting pierc­ing high-pitched wails. One of the stars of this en­ter­tain­ing mu­si­cal was clearly mak­ing his or her way up the red car­pet. It was nice to know that Michelle Pfeif­fer was still so ad­mired. Maybe the lucky ac­tor was Christo­pher Walken.

Zac Efron? Sorry? I have no idea who you’re talk­ing about. Efron is al­most cer­tainly no longer the most fa­mous per­son on the planet. The last High School Mu­si­cal movie – the cause of Zac’s renown – emerged in 2008. That’s a life­time in this uni­verse. Biff Bolden or Chuck Sex­pot has prob­a­bly grabbed the crown in the in­terim. Heck, Justin Bieber can prob­a­bly walk down the street un­mo­lested these days.

To be fair, young Efron turned out to be a pretty de­cent ac­tor. Af­ter wav­ing good­bye to the High School fol­lies, he went on to shine in Richard Lin­klater’s Me and Or­son Welles. He has just fin­ished work­ing on The Paper­boy, the new film from Lee Daniels, di­rec­tor of Pre­cious.

Be­fore those more rar­efied plea­sures come along, how­ever, the pub­lic can savour the Efron brand in Garry Mar­shall’s New Year’s Eve. The film is, es­sen­tially, Mar­shall’s Valen­tine’s Day – that thing with all the in­ter­weav­ing sto­ries – dragged back in the cal­en­dar by a month and a half. Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Sarah Jes­sica Parker, Hi­lary Swank and a dozen other stars have sup­pos­edly touch­ing ad­ven­tures on the last day of the year. Efron plays a bi­cy­cle courier who finds him­self help­ing Michelle Pfeif­fer’s frus­trated of­fice worker to achieve a se­ries of ap­par­ently un­rea­son­able am­bi­tions. Efron ac­quits him­self quite well un­der the cir­cum­stances.

“Last time I worked with Michelle was on Hair­spray,” he says. “I was a lot younger. I was re­ally ner­vous. I put my foot in my mouth when­ever I talked to her. This time, we got to hang out a lot more. I am a lit­tle more sure of my­self now.” Oh, I think you’re pretty sure of your­self, young man. To gen­er­ate this de­gree of teen love you need to con­vey a per­fect blend of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and con­fi­dence. You should have the sort of face that looks as if it might cry dur­ing the sad bits in High­way to Heaven. But you also re­quire the swag­ger of the class joker. It’s been this way for gen­er­a­tions. Paul Mc­cart­ney man­aged it. So did the Bay City Rollers. Leonardo Dicaprio had it in his younger days. The dif­fi­culty – with which Leo is still strug­gling at 37 – is trans­lat­ing teen fame into grown-up star­dom.

Efron is off to a good start. He’s spent the last year broad­en­ing his range. What ad­vice would he have for any young ac­tor lucky enough to be con­fronted with this dilemma? “I think it’s im­por­tant to stay pri­vate,” he says af­ter a long hum.

“It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the big pic­ture. Fol­low your heart and, most im­por­tantly, know what you want. It’s re­ally hard. And you prob­a­bly shouldn’t live in LA.”

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