How Zac got jacked

Zac Efron has gone from goofy High School Mu­si­cal teen heart­throb to a man that we’d all love to look like. He re­veals to MF how he’s trans­formed his body – and turned his life around in the process – for a se­ries of lead­ing Hol­ly­wood roles, in­clud­ing thi

Men's Fitness - - Contents - Words Josh Dean Pho­tog­ra­phy Jeff Lip­sky

Cover star Zac Efron re­veals how he build his beach body for a trunk­sonly role in the new Bay­watch movie

If you want to see Zac Efron with his shirt off,

you won’t have to search too long for the right film. In 2016 alone you had Bad Neigh­bours 2, in which he was fre­quently shirt­less, and Mike

And Dave Need Wed­ding Dates, which dis­played his abs on the poster. And now there’s this sum­mer’s big-screen adap­ta­tion of 1990s TV se­ries Bay­watch, in which he’s rou­tinely run­ning on the beach wear­ing – no sur­prise here – noth­ing more that those le­gendary red trunks and a whis­tle. A quick search on­line for Efron yields hun­dreds of pic­tures of him in the shape of his life, while look­ing him up on In­sta­gram leads you to his many, many re­cent beef­cake pho­tos from the Bay­watch set, where he and co-star Dwayne “The Rock” John­son ev­i­dently spent their spare time en­gaged in bare-chested tyre-flip­ping con­tests.

Though Efron, now 29, worked very hard to achieve his physique (the same shirt­less torso that, in 2014’s Bad Neigh­bours, caused Seth Ro­gen’s char­ac­ter to say, “He looks like some­thing a gay guy de­signed in a lab­o­ra­tory”) and works even harder to main­tain it, he’s also aware the sub­ject has be­gun to spin out of con­trol. The breath­less on­line cov­er­age of his pecs, lats, and delts ex­pands daily, rang­ing from fawn­ing (“This Woman Spray­ing Zac Efron’s Body Has Your Dream Job!”) to po­ten­tially dis­turb­ing (“Are buff male stars like Zac Efron driv­ing young men to drugs and eat­ing disor­ders?”).

Efron ap­pre­ci­ates the love but as a guy who spent years run­ning away from the first, ex­tremely pop­u­lar, ver­sion of him­self – Zac Efron, Pretty Boy Teen Idol – he ad­mits he’s now wary of be­ing type­cast all over again, this time as Zac Efron, Shred­ded Hu­man Ken Doll. But that doesn’t mean Efron has any in­ten­tion of let­ting him­self go. Al­though it must be tempt­ing, given his ridicu­lous sched­ule.

It’s a Sun­day in LA, and we’re at a ta­ble in the gar­den room of the trendy Soho House. Efron flew in early yes­ter­day from the set of

Bay­watch, in Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia; so far he’s seen his girl­friend, slept a lit­tle and filmed an en­tire day of reshoots on Bad Neigh­bours 2. That shoot ran un­til 5am, af­ter which Efron spent some more time with his girl­friend, then caught a few hours of sleep be­fore get­ting up and driv­ing over here to talk about him­self over brunch. As soon as we fin­ish, he’ll go straight to the air­port and fly back to Sa­van­nah, land­ing around 1 am, and by 7am to­mor­row, he’ll be on set again, along­side John­son, res­cu­ing peo­ple who are pre­tend­ing to drown.

“It’s been a pretty gnarly sched­ule,” he says. It’s ob­vi­ous he’s tired, and I half ex­pect him to or­der a cheese­burger and a beer and prop up his feet. In­stead, he digs into a small back­pack and pulls out a plas­tic bot­tle, shakes it up and sets it on the ta­ble.

In­side is a yel­low-brown liq­uid with a foamy head, com­pris­ing in­gre­di­ents typed on a la­bel by his nu­tri­tion­ist: mango, co­conut and lemon­grass with co­conut wa­ter, vir­gin co­conut oil, pro­tein and al­mond milk. He drinks a lit­tle, then adds wa­ter to di­lute what’s left. That’s right: Efron is so com­mit­ted to his body that he brings his own health drink to a place that of­fers at least five juice con­coc­tions in­cor­po­rat­ing ev­ery con­ceiv­able type of veg­etable as well as de­light­fully LA-ish in­gre­di­ents such as al­ka­line wa­ter, mont­mo­ril­lonite clay and ac­ti­vated charcoal.

Al­though Efron is taller than I’d imag­ined at 5ft 9in (1.75cm), he seems less bulky than ex­pected. It’s not un­til he pushes his

sleeve up to scratch at the rem­nants of a fake fra­ter­nity tat­too from the pre­vi­ous day’s shoot that I glimpse a sign of it: a gi­ant bi­ceps, ridged with veins. “I guess I for­got to scrub there,” he says.

Efron sips his drink and gri­maces a lit­tle. For him this is some­thing to tol­er­ate, not en­joy – but the pay-off is a body that, he says, feels as good as it ever has. “Right now I’m prob­a­bly phys­i­cally the strong­est I’ve ever felt,” he says. “Not in terms of bench press or how much I can squat, but in how quickly I could get out of this room and de­stroy ev­ery­thing in my path.” He looks around the room – at the par­ents with kids, the wil­lowy young women and men eat­ing in sun­glasses to dis­guise their hang­overs – and laughs. Maybe this isn’t that im­pres­sive, but “if the zom­bie apoc­a­lypse hap­pened right now,” he says, “I’d def­i­nitely be able to de­fend my­self.”

Of course, Efron wasn’t al­ways rec­og­nized for be­ing an ob­scenely

fit man. Or, for that mat­ter, for be­ing a man at all. At the height of his early fame, circa 2007, he was the ex­tremely hand­some teen star of Dis­ney’s smash-hit High School Mu­si­cal se­ries who, ac­cord­ing to a pop­u­larly cited but im­pos­si­ble-to-prove stat, was plas­tered on a third of all Amer­i­can teenage girls’ bed­room walls. Efron prob­a­bly could have made a hun­dred more

High School Mu­si­cal se­quels, al­bums and shop­ping mall ap­pear­ances, then re­tired into a life of wealthy ob­scu­rity. But he had other things in mind. “The sec­ond we fin­ished the first one,” he says, he be­gan to tell peo­ple this wasn’t the life he had in mind. “I was, like, 17. And I said, ‘Guys, you know this is not at all what I want to do?’ And they were like, ‘Re­ally?’”

Af­ter ap­pear­ing in the 2007 mu­si­cal Hair­spray, Efron went on to his next post- HSM projects, the teen-girl-friendly films 17 Again and Char­lie St Cloud, but he quickly bailed on the

Foot­loose re­make and be­gan to do, well, any­thing that wouldn’t type­cast him. There were dra­mas ( Park­land), thrillers ( The

Paper­boy), in­dies ( We Are Your Friends), grown-up ro­mances ( The Lucky One and That Awk­ward Mo­ment, the lat­ter a bro­fest co-star­ring Michael B Jor­dan and Miles Teller). He even voiced a star­ring role in an­i­mated Dr Seuss adap­ta­tion The Lo­rax, and poked fun at him­self in sev­eral Funny Or Die sketches.

Off-set Efron was ex­per­i­ment­ing, too. He be­came a re­cur­ring char­ac­ter in the tabloids for a se­ries of so­cial shenani­gans. But in 2013 he went to re­hab, emerged sober and im­me­di­ately

“I step back and look at my­self, and I still want to kick that guy’s ass”

owned up to his prob­lems, telling The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter that it was all part of be­ing young, sin­gle, and suc­cess­ful in the in­dus­try. “I’m hu­man,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of mis­takes.”

Then in May 2014, Bad Neigh­bours came out, and the “Efron­ais­sance” be­gan. The for­mer teen idol sur­prised nearly ev­ery­one in Hol­ly­wood by play­ing a lov­ably ar­ro­gant prick and show­ing for­mi­da­ble comedic chops. The film earned more than $260m (around £211m) and be­came the high­est-gross­ing live-ac­tion film of co-star Seth Ro­gen’s ca­reer, but the big­gest sur­prise was prob­a­bly that Efron stole the movie. Like Justin Tim­ber­lake be­fore him, he seemed to suc­cess­fully shed any for­mer teen-idol lame­ness and man­aged to come out the other side not only re­spectable and un­scathed but also cool.

And yet, Efron is nowhere near ready to de­clare this trans­for­ma­tion com­plete. “I step back and look at my­self and I still want to kick that guy’s ass some­times,” Efron says of his for­mer self. “Like, fuck that guy. He’s done some kind of cool things with some cool peo­ple – he did that one thing [ Bad Neigh­bours] that was funny – but, I mean, he’s still just that fuck­ing kid from [ High School Mu­si­cal].”

That’s how Ro­gen felt, too, when he ran into Efron at a party a few years back. “For sure, I as­sumed he’d be a guy I wouldn’t like very much,” Ro­gen says. “But he was very self-ef­fac­ing and self­dep­re­cat­ing, and I re­mem­ber re­ally lik­ing him. He won me over.”

Efron says Ro­gen “was and is my hero” and con­fesses he never con­sid­ered work­ing with him “within the realm of pos­si­bil­ity”. In their ini­tial meet­ing about Bad Neigh­bours, Efron re­calls speak­ing first. “I said, ‘I know what you think of me. I know be­cause I don’t like me, so I can’t imag­ine what you think.’”

Ac­cord­ing to Ro­gen, it’s this self-aware­ness that makes Efron so en­dear­ing – it pro­vides a level of psy­cho­log­i­cal com­plex­ity that gives his char­ac­ters depth. “What’s sur­pris­ing about him is how sym­pa­thetic and vul­ner­a­ble he seems,” Ro­gen says, “prob­a­bly be­cause peo­ple view him a cer­tain way and he’s been shit on. He’s some­one you sym­pa­thise with, and that’s re­ally hard to do when you look the way he does.”

“I know that’s how peo­ple think, and it’s in the back of my mind all the time,” Efron says. “I ul­ti­mately want [those peo­ple] to want to see me in an­other in­ter­est­ing role. And that can only come with time, re­spect and mak­ing de­ci­sions that are hard.”

If you look closely enough, there are plenty of signs of this process

at work, of­ten in un­likely places. Efron was the first ever celebrity guest on Run­ning Wild With Bear Grylls, the Bri­tish sur­vival ex­pert’s US show in which Grylls takes celebri­ties – in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Obama – into the wild and tries to teach them to fend for them­selves.

The episode opens with Efron and Grylls sky­div­ing from a he­li­copter to be­gin their quest. Efron had jumped a grand total of once in prepa­ra­tion, and that was with an in­struc­tor at a much higher al­ti­tude. But then the show called for him to make a 5,000ft (around 1,500m) solo jump with a self­de­ploy­ing chute. To the show’s view­ers, Efron jumped out, the chute opened and he landed. In real­ity, he says, what hap­pened was “one of the worst things pos­si­ble.”

To be more spe­cific, he al­most died when the lead chute’s cord tangled around his an­kle and wouldn’t de­ploy. “As I was go­ing head­first to­ward the ground I thought, ‘Some­thing’s wrong here’,” Efron re­calls. He could feel the ten­sion of the chute’s cord tight­en­ing around his leg, “and ev­ery­thing went kind of white and I started to say, ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic, reach for your re­serve!’” Jump­ing from only 5,000ft doesn’t give a per­son much time to re­act, but he did ev­ery­thing he could to free his leg. “I just started kick­ing wildly,” he says. “Then all of a sud­den, shoomp! the para­chute came out. And I went, ‘Oh my God, that was close…’”

Per­haps most sur­pris­ingly, he then just brushed it off. “I haven’t re­ally told any­body this since then,” he says. He got on well with Grylls, and the two wan­dered around the woods for two days, snack­ing on worms, ab­seil­ing down cliffs and camp­ing out in a cave, where they joked and told sto­ries. “This is a guy who’s not in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try,” Efron says. “I don’t know what he knew of my work or if he’d seen any of it, but I was so grate­ful he was in­ter­ested in who I was. I felt like I was talk­ing to just a guy, a dude, with no judg­ments. He came in with no pre­con­ceived no­tions, and we talked about awe­some stuff.”

Efron was born in San Luis Obispo, on Cal­i­for­nia’s cen­tral coast, and spent his child­hood there with his younger brother, Dy­lan, who now shares a house with him in Los Feliz, a sub­urb north­west of cen­tral LA. Their father, an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer at a power plant, and mother, a sec­re­tary who worked at the same fa­cil­ity, gave their boys a fairly normal life. Efron re­calls that, through­out his school years, he had one defin­ing trait: his height.

“I was the short­est kid in ev­ery grade, by a long shot,” he says. In fact he was only 5ft 1in by the time he left high school. He didn’t reach his cur­rent height un­til he turned 20.

His dad pushed both sons to try sports. Zac played base­ball and bas­ket­ball but found his size a real hin­drance. It was a pi­ano teacher who saved Efron from a life of ath­letic ridicule, rec­om­mend­ing that he au­di­tion for a pro­duc­tion of Gypsy at a nearby drama school af­ter hear­ing him sing a Michael Jack­son song. Efron au­di­tioned, got the part, “and that was it”. The show ran for 60 per­for­mances. “Once I found the­atre, I’d do any­thing to get on­stage,” he says. He took drama classes and con­tin­ued to win parts, prac­tis­ing and per­form­ing along­side col­lege stu­dents and even pro­fes­sional ac­tors from the area.

“I was, like, 13, 14, and thrust into this world where my par­ents weren’t al­lowed, with col­lege girls and dudes who loved to share knowl­edge, and it opened up a whole new world for me.”

For all our talk about get­ting away from the past, it’s ob­vi­ous Efron still cares deeply about mu­si­cal the­atre. “I’d love to find a way to rein­vent a mu­si­cal,” he says when I ask if he’d do it again. But for now, Efron’s read­ing scripts and tak­ing meet­ings – but, he says, ev­ery au­di­tion is still a fight. “The only way peo­ple re­ally get me is if they meet me,” he says. “Un­til that hap­pens, I don’t think they have their heart set on me for any role. Af­ter­ward, maybe they take me more se­ri­ously.”

Efron’s fit­ness goal, es­pe­cially for Bay­watch, was to be “fast and light”. His phys­i­cal archetype is Bruce Lee. “I want to be lean,” he says. “When I put on a T-shirt, I don’t want peo­ple to go, ‘Oh, that guy’s a body­builder’.”

To con­sume enough calo­ries to carry out Bay­watch’s many phys­i­cally dif­fi­cult scenes yet keep his body fat min­i­mal, Efron eats a diet de­signed by his nu­tri­tion­ist, trainer Pa­trick Mur­phy. Ev­ery el­e­ment – car­bo­hy­drates, fat, salt, vi­ta­mins – is bro­ken down for ev­ery meal, so both he and Mur­phy can see ex­actly what he’s putting into his body. The diet is ex­tremely low-carb, with an em­pha­sis on or­ganic whole foods.

“Af­ter a while your body stops crav­ing junk food and you look for­ward to these meals,” he says. When I ex­press my scep­ti­cism, he ex­plains fur­ther. “There’s this trig­ger that hap­pens af­ter two or three weeks of di­et­ing and eat­ing healthy food, where your body switches its pri­mary en­ergy source from burn­ing mainly car­bo­hy­drates to burn­ing fat. And when it switches over, all your crav­ings change. You go, ‘Holy cow, I want kale and vinai­grette shred­ded with beets and a lit­tle bit of sweet po­tato!’” I wait for him to laugh. He doesn’t.

Efron was no less se­ri­ous about the fit­ness plan cre­ated for him by Mur­phy, who spent ten weeks help­ing him “drop the last bit of body fat” and “get into the best shape of his life”. (For Efron’s Bay­watch- body train­ing plan, turn to p91.) It was nec­es­sary be­cause al­though, as Mur­phy says, “many ac­tors train hard for a spe­cific scene,” Efron was pre­par­ing to shoot an en­tire film wear­ing, for the most part, noth­ing but swim­ming trunks.

Mur­phy trained him five or six days a week, of­ten twice a day, mix­ing bal­ance and agility, strength and en­durance train­ing, plus swim­ming, sprint­ing and hik­ing to cre­ate what he calls “the most dy­namic pro­gramme I’ve ever put to­gether for a client”.

A few weeks af­ter our chat in LA, Efron has a rare day off in Sa­van­nah, and I man­age to get him on the phone. One thing I’d wanted to ask him about in LA, be­fore we ran out of time, was his so­bri­ety. Efron bat­tled some very public drug and al­co­hol is­sues, and he’s been forth­right about those episodes ever since, even dis­cussing them with Grylls on Run­ning Wild. “I was car­ing less about the work and more about the week­end,” he told Grylls as the two pre­pared to eat an omelette made of wild bird eggs and earth­worms. “I don’t want to have to take any­thing from the out­side to feel good on the in­side.”

And when I bring it up, Efron isn’t ret­i­cent. Work­ing out has def­i­nitely helped, he says. “When I’m very care­ful about my fit­ness and have a goal in mind, it keeps me mo­ti­vated and bal­anced. I wake up ear­lier. I don’t feel the need to be out [so­cial­is­ing] – that kills your day, your hob­bies, and your mo­ti­va­tion.” Fit­ness, he says, is now a key part of a for­mula that seems to be work­ing: “Bal­anc­ing so­bri­ety and work and find­ing that com­fort­able place where you feel like a good per­son.”

Spend­ing weeks in Sa­van­nah, far from home, work­ing along­side The Rock isn’t likely to lead to a re­lapse, ei­ther. John­son, Efron says, is ex­actly what any of us imag­ine him to be: a su­per­hero in cor­po­real form, “like the genes just clicked and made this dude”.

Efron wakes up at 5am to train – but John­son rises by 4am. “He’s get­ting less sleep than I am and he al­ready did a post on In­sta­gram at 5.30am, do­ing the most ridicu­lous leg day you’ve ever seen,” Efron says. “He’s reached nir­vana – mus­cle nir­vana.”

The ad­mi­ra­tion, it turns out, is mu­tual. “Ath­letes know how hard it is to prep, train, and diet for a com­pe­ti­tion,” John­son says. “It’s months of fo­cused sac­ri­fice all lead­ing up to one par­tic­u­lar event that takes place in one night. In the case of Bay­watch, Zac’s had to ap­ply the diet and train­ing strat­egy of an elite ath­lete, but he’s also had the ‘added bonus’ of need­ing to main­tain that look for months while we’re shoot­ing. Zac com­mit­ted to be the best ver­sion of him­self pos­si­ble and did it. He came in look­ing like a fuck­ing an­i­mal.” The two have been glee­fully bro-ing out ever since.

Early one day on set, as the cam­eras were pre­par­ing to roll, John­son no­ticed Efron work­ing with some stretch bands – “to, as Arnold says, ‘get the pump on’,” he ex­plains. John­son asked Efron to toss one his way, and the two com­menced prep­ping their movie-star mus­cles for the first scenes. The ridicu­lous­ness of the mo­ment poured over Efron. “Here we are lift­ing weights on the beach, sur­rounded by a bunch of peo­ple watch­ing. It was one of the most ridicu­lously nar­cis­sis­tic mo­ments of my life.”

Efron has ev­ery rea­son to be self-sat­is­fied – he looks in­cred­i­ble, he’s strong as hell, his ca­reer’s go­ing amaz­ingly, he’s friends with The Rock for heaven’s sake – and yet he’s not rest­ing on his lau­rels. Af­ter our in­ter­view he’s off to be fit­ted for a new bike so he can take up cy­cling, and months later com­pletes his first triathlon. Some­thing tells us he’s just go­ing to get bet­ter and bet­ter.

“Af­ter a while your body stops crav­ing junk food”

In 2016 Efron com­pleted the Mal­ibu Triathlon to raise money for a chil­dren’s hospi­tal

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