“Follow your heart and, most importantly, know what you want. It’s really hard. And you probably shouldn’t live in LA”
It must, however, be inordinately difficult for a star like Zac, now 24, to “stay private”. Within the space of a few months he went from being a moderately successful child actor to a proper old-school pin-up. He was on lunchboxes and watches and T-shirts. Buying a pint of milk must have involved a military operation. “There is a bit of that,” he says. “Yeah. There are certain things you try and be a bit more careful of. Other than that you still try and find ways to have fun. I do spend a little more time at home.” Aware that he might sound ungrateful, he rapidly doubles back on himself.
“That’s not a shame though. Sometimes it can bum you out. But when that happens you just remember you have so much to be thankful for. I don’t want to be the guy who lets it get to him. I try and focus on the positive.” Have there ever been instances where it’s all gotten out of hand? I imagine young women attaching themselves to him like limpits. “Yes. That has happened. But you just have to try and laugh about it.”
As you will have gathered, Efron is a disappointingly well-behaved young man. Raised properly by a middle class family in southern California, he knows not to complain and – when asked about his partying habits – makes sure to clarify that, while enjoying the odd drink, he tries not to go overboard. He dated Vanessa Hudgeon, his co-star in High School Musical, for a spell, but they managed to end the relationship without attracting too much negative publicity. He is, in short, the very model of the contemporary youth-oriented movie star.
I wonder when he realised he was becoming a superstar. The son of an
electrical engineer, Efron worked hard at school and secured a few small parts a kid. Then, to the surprise of everyone – including Walt Disney – High School Musical, a humble TV movie, became a runaway success. Who knew the teen musical was due a comeback? Glee is, in many ways, the bastard child of the HSM franchise.
“Yeah. Nobody saw it coming. We were all shaking our heads,” he says. “I knew it had become a sensation when it went international. I had never been outside the Unites States before that. I’d hardly left California.
“Suddenly I was on an airplane seat bigger than my bed at home. I was meeting fans all over the world. It was all very surreal. I’ll never forget that moment.”
Still, Efron was faced with a choice. Still just a teenager, he continued to imagine that, after school, he would make his way to the University of Southern California. A decision had to be made. “Oh, I still don’t know what I am going to do with my life,” he laughs. “My whole life had been pointing towards college. I wanted to go to USC.
“Then I hit that fork in the road. I had to pick going to college or doing Hairspray. I decided when my dad – who had always said: ‘You go to college or you’re not my son’ – said he felt I should do Hairspray. Then I realised I had to do that.”
What might otherwise have become of him? “Well, I was going to do film or drama anyway. I did the right thing. I’ve talked to a few people who did the course and they are still asking to come on set with me.”
Efron does appear to be in this game for the long run. He still comes across like an overgrown boy in a good suit. But he exhibits that terrifying aura of professionalism that only Americans can manage at this age. You get the sense that the next year or so could be the defining point in his young life. If he achieves escape velocity and leaves teen mania behind then he could be headlining serious movies for decades to come.
Unlike Bieber, who (younger, to be fair) comes across like a runt moose stranded in the lights of an oncoming Land Rover, Efron has the wit to sit back and analyse his situation with some sharpness. I suspect that, even if he does get sent back to sit-com gulch, he will manage to remain maturely philosophical. “Coming into all this when young was strange,” he muses.
“It was fun in a lot of ways. But it required one to become a professional before one had become a human being. It’s like a constant balancing act. It was difficult at tine. But I wouldn’t change it.” Take heed, Biff Bolden and Chuck Sexpot. You’ll be faced with the same challenges sooner than
(Fat Cat) We’re expecting great things from Breton’s debut album in 2012, especially on the back of this electronic thriller.
(Mr Bongo) Sunnyside tropical
(Acid Jazz) Four Manchester lads with old musical heads on young shoulders shout to the top.