The Reinvention of Zac Efron
The year is 2006 and a 19 year old dancer and actor is poised to take up some valuable real estate on the bedroom walls of teenage girls all over the world. Zac Efron suddenly jumped into 7.7 million people’s lives and car CD players, and remained there for the next three years as he starred in three High School Musical movies as well as Hairspray, a movie best remembered for a cross dressing John Travolta.
When you think of a specific actor, what’s the first word that pops up in your mind? Jack Nicholson, “legend”. Hugh Jackman, “awesome”. Samuel L. Jackson, “Samuel L. Jackson”. Perhaps it gets a little more complex with say Leonardo Dicaprio or Channing Tatum.
You see the problem is that for most guys Zac Efron had quickly taken his place as a pretty boy dancer, and for many that’s what he’ll always be. Channing Tatum started out in a similar way with his role in Step Up. However his massive physique meant he could transition easily to action movies, then back to eye candy for the girls in Magic Mike, and then back to blowing up terrorists in White House Down.
Is Efron doomed to be sent to Typecast Hell? Pigeon holed as the one trick pony who’s required to play the same character over and over again ad infinitum?
Born and raised in California, Efron was raised in a normal family – both his parents met and worked at the same power plant. He had a penchant for achieving well, getting a “B” instead of an “A” would be cause for a flip out. By the time he was 11 his dad saw some potential in him as an actor, and encouraged him to get into his school theater productions. Eventually his drama teacher recommended him to an agent in Los Angeles, and when push came to shove, and his acceptance letter came in telling him he was admitted into a local community college, he turned it down in favour of chasing his acting career. He was signed up with the Creative Artists Agency who’s represented some massive A-listers in its time such as Will Ferrell, Chris Pratt and Leonardo DiCaprio.
“Life is a challenge and it’s full of obstacles,” Efron said in an interview with HUGO BOSS. “but they are really just opportunities to rise above. If you think about it like that, then life is just a fun game.”
“We only have one shot so we have to make the most of life and overcome our insecurities and accept the challenges life throws at us.”
Leonardo DiCaprio could arguably be considered the Zac Efron of his day. He faced a similiar problem as the generic teen heartthrob on The Titanic romancing Kate Winslet before she heartlessly hogs the entire floating door and lets him freeze to death.
DiCaprio remained in our heads as just that, a baby face with not much else to offer. It didn’t matter that he did every genre under the sun, from the psychological thriller of Shutter Island to the western Django Unchained, to the Wolf Of Wall Street he did it all. He threw himself into every role. It didn’t matter that he was never considered for an Academy Award.
This persistence started to change our minds about him ever so slightly though. 18 years after he was painting Winslet as one of his French girls he was crawling around in the guts of a bear in The Revenant. The public were fully on his side screaming at the Academy Award judges “Why hasn’t this guy got an Oscar yet?!”
This attitude of throwing himself into every roll and giving it his all would appeal to Effron, who admires passion.
“I admire Bruce Lee, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant but my grandfather and my dad are my real heroes. My grandpa is 86, and he still skis and swims every day. The point is that all of these guys give 110% every single day and that’s why they’re my inspiration.”
I admire Bruce Lee, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant but my grandfather and my dad are my real heroes.
It isn’t until we step back and reflect on DiCaprio’s career that we have to revise our opinions on him. Without a constant reality check our opinions can quickly become divorced from reality as new facts emerge. It’s easy to write someone off and discard them. This applies even to ourselves, we never really believe we change. You think about yourself right now as the final version of yourself. Look back ten years however and you probably think “I’m glad I’m not that dweeb anymore”. At first it’s a maturity thing of course. In your twenties it’s obvious you’re going to see massive changes coming out of your teen years. But it never stops even when you’re in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s. Everyone is in a constant state of change, outwardly in our career as well as internally. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to review our opinions occasionally. You might be surprised how outdated they’ve become.
High School Musical earned him a ridiculous amount of money. It shot him into the Forbes Celebrity 100 list in 2008 as Number 92. He had an estimated earnings of $5.8 million and by the next year he had doubled that.
Fame has a strange way of messing with people, the most classic examples being child star Macaulay Culkin and fellow Disney protege Britney Spears who had a massive public breakdown that same year that Efron hit the Celebrity 100 list. $10 million is a lot of money for a 22 year old, but its impacts wouldn’t be felt until much later in his career.
After his stint with High School Musical he’s slowly worked his way out of the Disney scene with a series of Romantic Dramas and coming of age tales that plague every good looking actor under the age of 25. None of the films got the rave reviews the studios were hoping for, but critics had to grudgingly admit this didn’t matter to the “Zac Zealots” Efron would draw to the theatre. He’d already gathered the star power to be a formidable name, but not the right titles to really let him shine.
Released in 2010 Charlie St. Cloud, an adaption of Ben Sherwood’s best-selling novel, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, got generally unfavourable reviews. Critics were easy on him though, with Rotten Tomatoes stating “Zac Efron gives it his all, but Charlie St. Cloud is too shallow and cloying to offer much more than eye candy for his fans.” while Empire summarised that “it’s a decent enough vehicle to flaunt Efron’s acting chops.”
2012’s “The Lucky One”, a story about a U.S. Marine suffering PTSD who tracks down a woman who’d been his “guardian angel” while in Iraq grossed a billion dollars worldwide and earned him a People’s Choice Award for favourite Dramatic Movie Actor, despite the movie itself getting negative reviews.
The garbage ticket sales didn’t stop Neil Young of the Hollywood Reporter from ranking Efron 2nd for THR Film Critics’ Favorite Performances of 2015 stating that Efron “increasingly ranks among the most exciting American actors of his generation.”
It wasn’t till his role in the R rated Seth Rogen film Bad Neighbours that people started to realise he was starting to shed his “Disney kid” pretty boy stereotype. If there’s one way to erase your Disney Stigma it’s by featuring in a film with Seth Rogan by taking mushrooms and crossing streams with each other.
When Bad Neighbours was released the surprise from critics was audible, despite their murmurings for years that he had what it would take given half a chance and a decent script to work with.
If there’s one way to erase your Disney Stigma it’s by featuring in a film with Seth Rogan by taking mushrooms and crossing streams with each other.
Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak saw this as a chance for Efron to properly break into the comedy scene with the help of Rogen’s seal of approval which would “add immeasurable street cred to Efron.”
Talking to USA Today Efron had a good sense of humour about his persona, when it was done right. Getting his shirt off for the camera he found something “inherently wrong” about it but “This is the first time it makes sense, because we’re making fun of it. I’m a douche. And that’s cool. I love it.”
Rogen admired how switched on Efron was about himself and how he’s perceived. “When I first met (Efron), I made a lot of assumptions about him, probably that he was going to be a brat or not self-aware. But he was actually very self-deprecating and charming and endearing.”
Talking to TheWrap, writer Nick Stoller said he admired these actors that came out of the “Disney system” saying that Zac’s “very funny and knows what makes him funny. He’s not afraid to play the straight man and he has some of my favorite improv scenes.”
Bad Neighbours was a make or break for Efron in the comedy scene, and it went off. To date the movie is Seth Rogen’s highest grossing (non-animated) film with an estimated profit of $136.1 million.
Bad Neighbours was sort of a prism of Efron’s life a few years earlier. In 2013 that massive net worth of his had facilitated a party lifestyle and had ended when he sought treatment for alcoholism and substance abuse. For a while he had reigned as the real life bad neighbour. Since he sought treatment he has remained on the wagon, and is investing himself in healthier activities like learning how to surf and completing a triathlon.
“I have always wanted complete a triathlon, or a marathon. I just haven’t managed to do it yet but I’m determined to finish one soon.”
He now avoids Los Angeles saying that he doesn’t like to stay there at all except when he’s working. Even the legends fall into this trap. Efron’s crisis mirrors musical legend David Bowie’s experience of the place decades earlier. “The lowest point in my life was in 1975, when I was 28, living in Los Angeles,” Bowie told The Sun in 2013. “I really did think that my thoughts about not making 30 would come true. Drugs had taken my life away from me. I felt as though I would probably die and it was going to be all over. My assistant, Coco, got me out of it. Thanks to her, I got myself out of America to Berlin. Best advice, which I wish I had known at 18? Don’t do drugs.”
Stoller mentioned that he was aware that Bad Neighbours might hit a nerve with Efron, but had experienced this turning of demons into entertainment before with Russell Brand on Get Him to the Greek. But he noted that neither Russel Brand or Efron shied away from the opportunity.
“Actors are there to be raw and real. A lot of them are fragile people for that reason.” Stoller told USA Today.
Actors are there to be raw and real. A lot of them are fragile people for that reason.
Zac Efron is now gearing up to be in one of the biggest comedies this season in Baywatch headlining beside Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. The movie is completely aware of it’s cheesy 90s source material roots. From his role in Bad Neighbours we’ve seen he’s got the self awareness to play the ditzy male blond.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of his reinvention and admittance into the big leagues is the fact he’s recently been made the brand ambassador of the HUGO brand. Being the face of a fragrance has always been reserved for the George Clooney’s and Hugh Jackman’s of the world. HUGO picked him out from the crowd for what they consider his modern masculinity and empowerment of the next generation. They note his irreverent urban edge coupled with an intriguing mix of classic movie star confidence which is propelling him forwards to become one of this generation’s greats.
But what’s his end goal? What defines success for him? He’s got the ability and the star power behind him. What’s he going to do with it?
“For me, success means doing what I love and continuously challenging myself.” He told HUGO BOSS. “It takes courage but you have to believe in yourself and make the most of every opportunity. I’ve always lived by the idea that actions speak louder than words!”
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