Zac Efron graces the cover of May 9’s issue of The Hollywood Reporter and, as he was once everyone’s tween heartthrob, he reveals that his path since stardom has not been entirely easy to grapple with.
“When you have success young, and you accept the good things, you have to accept all of it. You have to accept the moments of glory but also a great responsibility. And that responsibility, to some degree, involves being a role model. At the same time, I’m a human being, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve learned from each one.”
Speaking to a reporter over lunch in West Hollywood, Zac seems lost in thought as he graciously opens up about the growing pains of teen celebrity to adult stardom, which takes the reporter by surprise. At 26-years-old and having just dealt with tabloid attacks of an occurrence with a homeless man in the early hours of the morning in downtown Los Angeles, the High School Musical star seems as genuine as ever. From a highly-publicized rehab stint last spring, to having his jaw wired shut after a fall in his Los Feliz home and now to March’s occurrence on skid row, the tabloids aren’t exactly working in Zac’s favor.
The upcoming release of his new comedy Neighbors has also been garnering Efron a lot of positive buzz for his performance as an out-of-control frat boy.
“His character tests through the roof,” Peter Cramer of Universal Pictures remarks, “and the most common comment we hear is how much the audience loves seeing him in this new kind of role.”
After the success of his teen-movie franchise through High School Musical, Hairspray and 17 Again, Efron seems to hold himself up to a higher-esteem when it comes to choosing his roles. Having been able to carefully pick-and-choose the roles he wishes to take on as offers are constantly given him, he puts a lot of thought into his decisions.
“I was aching to do [Footloose],” he says. “But I knew if I did that, it would ultimately be limiting. And at that point, I was really searching for something else. It was never about money for me, [but] the hardest part was saying no to Kenny [HSM director] because I adore him so much.”
Noting Leonardo DiCaprio as one of his biggest influences, he went on to star in films such as Me & Orson Welles, Charlie St. Cloud, New Year’s Eve to The Lucky One, where his work has not been garnering any real acclaim. Often noted by co-stars as being very polite, considerate and dedicated to his work on set, it’s unfortunate to see his work flopping. (Though, I would never discredit the value of his work; I just feel he is constantly being cast in roles that just do not “fit;” i.e. he is too pretty, too young or too handsome for his roles, as his boyish features still get the best of him.)
It seems that Efron, although holding himself strongly against roles that may seem of little value to who he is as a person and actor, seems to genuinely care for his body and his life. He isn’t afraid to take the necessary actions to get better.
Noting a daily regime of lifting weights, using a rowing machine, swimming 20 laps a day while eating healthy and drinking from a pH-balanced water faucet, his positive-lifestyle is something all of us wish to emulate. Having also just joined Alcoholics Anonymous, he reveals, “I think it’s changed my life. I’m much more comfortable in my own skin.”
But, he still admits, “It’s a never-ending struggle.”
Co-star Seth Rogen seems to speak very highly of Efron, noting that he’s “incredibly impressed with his work and his ethic” as well.
Having met Rogen years ago during an awards ceremony while Efron was still in High School Musical, Efron recalls that he went up to approach Seth.
“I blurted out: ‘Hey, Seth, my name’s Zac. I’m an actor, and I just wanted to tell you that I really love your work. And thank you for everything you’ve done.’ ” He reveals Rogen had looked up in shock and replied, ” ‘Aw, man, I just wanted to hate you.’ And I said, ‘Seth, I get it. I don’t even like myself at this point.’ ”
Having grown up with a nurturing mother and father who pushed for success, Efron unexpectedly fell in love with theater as he went on to take classes after his father recognized his talent.
” ‘If you’re not going to play sports, you have to do something,’ ” he recalls of his father telling him.
And then came his massive-success with High School Musical that jump-started him to stardom, having fortunately been paired up with co-star turned then-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens (“She was a really interesting, sweet person.”). When speaking of his early High School Musical days, he remarks:
“I’m grateful for every bit of that early success. It was hands down the most honest, carefree, passionate experience of my life. There were no expectations. [But later] I definitely felt that pressure. I’m not comfortable with it at all times. The people that I saw and the people that I started to meet, the majority were young. These were kids, and I looked into their eyes and I saw myself as a fan, and it was shocking to be on the other end of that. You just want to please every single one.”
Throughout Efron’s late career, he has felt an urge to keep working and perfect himself–something that young people (especially myself) can often relate to.
“I’m constantly searching for characters that are about betterment of self and betterment of others. And I’m searching for those parts because those are the ones that make me happy. They’re the ones that fulfill me personally.”
And so Efron would begin to lose himself to his work. He had lost touch with his family and friends, noting that “there was something lacking, some sort of hole that I couldn’t really fill up.”
“[Work] started to become the reason to go anywhere, the reason to talk to anybody. The phone calls I received were regarding [work], the ones I wanted to make were regarding scripts or to producers. Slowly but surely, I was no longer living in my house … I was just so deep into my work, it was really the only thing I had. I clung to it in a way that became a little bit destructive.”
“I didn’t realize how incredibly isolated I had become,” he says. “I had a fantastic excuse to put myself at ease, which was: ‘It’s for the work. It’s for the art. You should be lonely when you’re working like this. That’s what artists do.’ ”
Now living as low-key a life as possible, he spends much of his time at home, reading various books and screenplays from Siddhartha to Tao Te Ching, and avidly listening to Kings of Leon to the Black Keys and Ray Charles on vinyl and Spotify. Having just returned from a travel to Peru with his father, he refuses to blame his parents for his issues, saying, “I had a great dad; my parents were fantastic.”
Rather gracious for his conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Efron revealed on The Today Show that his interview “was a weight off my chest. It was a rough year [and] Neighbors is such a great sort of icing on the cake.”
“Without those moments where you feel like your lowest,” he goes on to The Hollywood Reporter, “it’s impossible to appreciate the high ones. But I sit here in front of you today much happier and healthier than I’ve probably ever been.”
And sometimes it is only through the struggles can we really gain a truer and more genuine appreciation of the things and opportunities we have in our life. Like Zac, life can prove to be difficult, but it can only persist if we let it.
All photos courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.