Zac Efron: The Movieline Interview
Zac Efron is at the next stage of his career, and he knows it. Though he's ceded his teen dream status to Taylor Lautner, the 22-year-old Efron is nothing if not savvy about picking his next wave of projects: Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles proved that Efron could go indie for a respected director, while the new romantic drama Charlie St. Cloud courts the female audience who's grown up with him, yet gives Efron his first meaty, adult role. Where will he go from here? As he told Movieline, that's the question at the forefront of his mind.
In advance of Comic-Con, we published an excerpt of Efron discussing his reluctance to commit to superhero roles, but here's the full interview, where Efron touches on the evolution of his acting technique, the projects he has in development at his new production shingle (and the idea behind its unique name), and how he feels when shirtless paparazzi photos of him make the cover of People magazine.
Your last two movies were directed by Burr Steers. What is it about him that makes him different from the other directors you've worked with?
Burr is very performance-oriented. He's very good at explaining different points of view and finding interesting motivations; basically, he's great with actors, and he's great with me. I'm not necessarily trained -- I never have been -- I've just kind of gone from project to project and learned as I went along, and I always thought everyone I worked with was an "actor's director" just because they were nice to actors. Burr has sort of redefined that for me. He's very generous, very giving, and also a perfectionist. I appreciate that because I am too, and I never want to quit until we've got it.
This is a much more subtle performance than you've had before, though. Is it more daunting to approach a scene where you're supposed to very little and hope it all comes through onscreen, or to be given a scene that's very showy and emotional?
I've always been more inclined to the showy and emotional. No one ever really told me otherwise! I didn't know what I was appreciating in other people's performances, and the movie that really helped me wrap my head around it was No Country For Old Men, where you are so deeply devoted to those characters. The actors are so specific, and they don't give too much -- actually, it's what they don't give that's more interesting. Burr's been a revelation with that sort of thing, explaining internalization and that sort of stuff.
He's more inclined to have you do more by doing less?
But by doing less, you can't do nothing. As long as you're thinking in terms of the character and as long as you really feel it, it's going to show. You don't have to necessarily have to emote what you're doing, you know? Burr is very Meisner. He's always dropping acting philosophies from different coaches, and I read this Meisner book he gave me after 17 Again that just sat on my coffee table forever, with this picture of an old-looking dude with gray hair and glasses on the cover. [Laughs] It's a hard one to turn the first page, but I just sat and down and committed that I was going to read it all, and then I couldn't put it down as soon as I started it. I read the whole thing in about three days. It's just fascinating, and it's all those little things that I wouldn't have gotten into if it weren't for Burr.
You say you aren't formally trained, but you've been acting in this business for a long time. Did you feel like there was a point where you had to break yourself of habits you developed as a child performer?
Yeah. It was always through observation, seeing what I liked from other people's performances in movies or fellow actors that I worked with. I've always been kind of improvisational, which is not always a good thing, believe it or not. I always thought it was great and really fun to do, but a lot of writers really want you to stick to the script, and it is your responsibility. [Laughs]
You'll have to get yourself into an Apatow movie, then.
I would love to, man. I would love to work for those guys.
You're at the age when actors get offered superheroes and tentpole films. Has that been happening to you? Do they come to you with, say, the new Spider-Man?
You know, they do here and there. When a superhero movie is about to get made, we're at different levels of conversation about it. I find that it's hard to commit to an action movie for the sake of doing action. I love action as much as the next guy, but I wouldn't say it's my favorite genre or one that I look for an amazing performance in. I'd say that it's what's underneath the action or what's driving it that's really important, and is that necessarily in a superhero movie? I don't know, maybe. It'd be fun to try. Every superhero origin story is pretty powerful, and there's usually something to tell there; it's not just about someone gaining powers, there's a lot more to it. There's life lessons in comic books, and I know, because I read them. I learned a s**tload from comics, you know? I think it would be about finding the right one.