Emmanuel Itier: Where do you see yourself at the age of 37?
Zac Efron: I don’t even want to imagine where I’m going to be at the age of 37. I have no idea. I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow. I don’t know what I’m going to be like in a year, so I can’t really make a 20-year plan. I’m pretty sure I could be a million places.
EI: What about looking back at 17, which wasn’t that long ago for you?
ZE: For some reason, it feels like a long time ago. That’s so weird! [Laughs] But looking back all those years ago to when I was 17…ah, man.
EI: What was happening for you at 17? Were you doing High School Musical?
ZE: Yes, I think when I was 17, we did start HSM. That was very much the beginning. I didn’t know what I was getting into at all. None of us did. I was a pretty standard teenager; I’m not just saying that. I had a very standard high school experience for a typical guy. I was not the heart throb of the class in any way, and not a total geek. I fell somewhere in between. I was just a regular kid, and that’s how it was for me. My life was set -- I was going to go to college, I was going to try and do something great, whether it was a doctor...
EI: Were you a good high school student?
ZE: Absolutely. That’s one thing I am proud to look back and say I had a 4.3 when I left high school.
EI: Are you planning to go to university?
ZE: Well, right now I don’t necessarily have the time. It didn’t really work out. I decided, towards the end, after I had done HSM and a couple of films, that I wanted to go to college to study films at USC. I had friends in the programme and they just raved about it. I was so jealous that they were there. After I was accepted to go, I was deferred for one year, and since then, I hadn’t really had time to go back. I’m also studying films on a daily basis now, but in a very different way.
EI: As you’re an A-grade student, don’t you feel it would be a waste not to continue your education?
ZE: Yeah, but I can devote those efforts into other things, such as in movies.
EI: Did you ever experience bullying at school?
ZE: I wasn’t necessarily the subject of bullying, but I’ve witnessed it a whole lot. I still do at times, in life. It doesn’t stop happening at school; it can happen with adults.
EI: You have a younger brother. Are you protective over him?
ZE: Yeah, there have been a couple of times where I’ve been out with my younger brother and someone said a couple of words to him that were not nice, and I’ve had words back. Bullying is one thing I hate in human nature.
EI: Were you popular at school? Did you use humor a lot, or were you shy?
ZE: I was somewhere in between. I was not in any particular clique. I didn’t hang out with the coolest kids.
EI: Did girls want to date you or anything like that?
ZE: I wished! The first HSM, I was 17 years old. That’s what I looked like my junior year of high school. There were kids with beards that are 6'1" -- burly guys who were on the football team at my high school. They looked like my dad. Then there was me. I looked like a kid –- kind of awkward, lanky little kid -- a late bloomer.
EI: Have your good looks ever been a hindrance?
ZE: I’m looking forward to when it’s going to be a blessing. I think at this point, I haven’t had to deal with too much. It’s almost been an advantage.
EI: How was it to put yourself in a 37-year-old character? Were you thinking differently?
ZE: It was funny because there was so little experience that I could draw from. It must have been frustrating for the director. It would be so easy for him to see where a father would come from in a situation, and he would try to communicate that to me. Inevitably, he would realize there were so few ways I could relate to a 37-year-old guy! [Laughs] That was interesting. It was fun for me because it was a challenge, it was different. I wasn’t playing a high school kid. A lot of stuff I had done until now I’ve lived. First love -- been there, done that. High school. Putting on plays. In Hairspray...well, that’s a little different! Well, still the same kind of thing. I’ve done that, I’ve experienced it. Whereas in this movie, I’m doing things that someone twice my age has barely done yet.
EI: Did you know who Matthew Perry was?
ZE: Yeah, I definitely watched Friends. I had personally seen so much of that show before. I definitely knew who Matthew was. It wasn’t like I had to discover this guy. He’s a comedic icon and I was very excited when he signed on to do the movie, because I could imagine what he could have been like as a teenager, and that was very funny. He was probably even more quick-witted and he probably had a really sharp tongue, and he was smart and sarcastic. Just younger! [Laughs] So it was fun to try and imagine that and figure him out.
EI: How difficult was it for you to find chemistry with an actress who was 20 years older? How did you try to seduce her and be charming at the same time?
ZE: I didn’t know what it would be like. I had no idea how it would turn out, but after five minutes of talking with Leslie [Mann], I had a crush on her, so that made it very easy to do. She is so natural and funny and sweet. She’s very interesting. That was one thing about working with her. Leslie is unlike any actress I’ve worked with before. She’s very honest and real and in the moment. You have to be ready for what she’s going to throw at you, and that’s very intriguing.
EI: Did you ever feel uncomfortable?
ZE: No, I don’t think so. [Laughs] I’m sure if I would screw up a line or something, sure it was a little awkward, and now I’m blushing as I’m telling you this! [Laughs]
EI: How about the courtroom scene where you tear up? That was a really amazing scene. Were they real tears?
ZE: Yes! I imagine what it was like. I had an advantage of filming that scene toward the end of the movie, and I had developed a relationship with Leslie (she plays his 37-year-old wife). We were pretty close at that point. Some of it was real. I felt that. I had never done a scene like that before.
EI: Where are you at your happiest?
ZE: A million places -- traveling abroad...LA is kind of a weird place for me because there are a lot of people. I have a lot to deal with.
EI: Do you mean you get more attention?
ZE: Yeah, but when I’m traveling abroad, I love finding interesting things in culture. I love traveling to new places. If I’m on a beach, I’m really happy. Anywhere, really, that I’m active. Anywhere where I’m not sitting down and I feel like I’m growing or learning or improving myself, then I’m pretty happy.
EI: Are you okay with having mothers as fans now?
ZE: Yes. From the very beginning, there have always been young fans, but there have also been the mums who have been there from the very beginning, and those are the more interesting fan encounters. They tend to get over-excited, even more than the kids. Sometimes the kids won’t even know who I am, and the parents want them to care! They’re like: “Look, see who this is?! You want an autograph and pictures.” And the kids are not remotely interested in any way and the mums will start crying. [Puts on a weepy voice] “You know how much this means to me?” And the kids really don’t care.
EI: What has been your craziest movie premiere?
ZE: It’s usually pretty crazy at all of the premieres, but the fans in Mexico are pretty crazy. It was just chaos. In Mexico, it was the only premiere. We couldn’t enter from the front of the theatre. I remember security was going nuts, and everyone was freaking out and running around. We actually had to sneak in to our own premiere through a back entrance and walk all the way through the theatre to the front. There were so many people out in the streets that we couldn't go. It was pandemonium.
EI: Do you feel like you’re living in a bit of a bubble? Can you enjoy any normal existence?
ZE: Yeah, what I figured is right now, I’ve had some great opportunities. I’m pretty busy with work. I would be just as busy if I was in college, if not busier. I’m sure I would be devoting my entire life to studying, taking finals, and going to lectures. This is just the same amount of work and the same bubble, but slightly more interesting.
EI: Are you driven? Are you ambitious?
ZE: I think so. Since I was young, I’ve always believed in challenging myself. My parents always made sure that was going on. I’ve been very proactive from a very young age. I don’t like to be stagnant. The hardest time for me is in between filming, because I sometimes feel I’m not doing anything.
EI: What is your level of ambition?
ZE: It’s not ambition to be famous. I want to be the best actor I can possibly be.
EI: Have you ever used your fame to your advantage, like getting a good table in a restaurant?
ZE: No, because every time you would slightly hint at it, it somehow backfires! It's subtle things like finding a parking space at your own premiere or your own event. I was pulling into a parking garage to do press for an HSM movie. I didn’t have any cash on me whatsoever. Like, none. It was, like, three dollars to park. I told the parking guy: “Can I come in? I’m Zac. I’m a part of this movie. I’m in the film, I promise. I’m not lying.” He was like: “Absolutely not. No. I’ve already heard that too much today. No one is paying.” So I’m like: “People are saying they are me? I literally have a picture of me in the film right here.” He was like: “Yeah, I’m not buying it.” I had to go to a cash point machine!
EI: What did you buy with your first big paycheck?
ZE: A lot of video game systems.
EI: Do you play all the Wii games?
ZE: Yeah, definitely. At this stage in my life, it’s pretty exciting, actually, I just bought a house, so that’s pretty great.
EI: Here in LA?
ZE: It’s in Los Angeles. It’s pretty cool. A lot of my friends were like: “Dude, I want to own a house when I’m 30.” It’s a very modest house.
EI: So are you ready to settle?
ZE: No, it’s a small place. It’s not a big house.
EI: What’s happening with the film Ohio? On the Internet, it says it’s with Justin Timberlake and Robert Pattinson.
ZE: I just found out a little earlier in the previous interview. That would be very cool. I admire their work. They are both very talented. Making a comment would just fuel the fire, but I love both of them. I think they’re great.
EI: What about Footloose?
ZE: Footloose is still in development.
EI: Do you ever Google yourself for fun?
ZE: Sometimes, when I hear about stuff. Like in today’s world, there can be a hundred tabloid articles written about me and I would never hear about them. I don’t want to hear them. Nobody comes and tells me. But if Perez Hilton puts up one post, there is just a flood of incoming phone calls from friends and family to see if it’s true and to see what the deal is. The world is changing. I definitely don’t read comments about me.
EI: Why did you decide to do this movie?
ZE: This was filmed before HSM 3. I did this over a year ago now. It was an opportunity to play a character with heart that goes through ups and downs. It’s kind of a heroic tale about this guy who learns a very valuable lesson -- it’s never too late. And also it was a chance to play a 37-year-old guy, which took me out of high school...although I was in high school, but it didn’t feel like a high school film.
EI: Your basketball skills are amazing. Who taught you how to spin a ball on your little finger?
ZE: I could not spin a ball on my finger for years when I was growing up. I always thought it was cool. Corbin [Bleu] could do it on HSM and then I couldn’t, so I just got pissed. I had to do it. So now Corbin and I do it all day and we just pass balls back and forth to each other.
EI: How was Las Vegas?
ZE: It was great. I feel like a high-roller. I was in Vegas for two hours and then left -- it was great.
EI: So you just took the awards and didn’t gamble or anything?
ZE: No, and I couldn’t wait. That was my first time to Vegas as a 21-year-old, so I was ready to paint the town red, but I found out, at the last minute, actually, I had to fly back that night.
EI: Did you have a good time in Europe during the tour?
ZE: This trip was very busy and it was actually very brief, so I didn’t have that much time to hang out. Normally, I do get more time to see my favorite spots.
EI: What was the advice that you got that was really helpful for you? Do you have any motto kind of thing?
ZE: Yeah, absolutely. When I was doing theatre a long time ago, at one point, I didn’t want to go in for this audition. I didn’t think it would be fun and I was just young. It was musical theatre -- it wasn’t that big of a deal. I told the casting guy that and I said I was going to leave, and he said, "You should do one thing every day that scares you. What’s going to be your thing today?" And I was like, "All right, I’ll do it," and I ended up doing it and I booked the show, and that was it.
EI: Is this the scary thing today?
ZE: Yeah, well today -- not that you guys are scary in any way -- that’s not what I’m saying [laughs], but I definitely do get nervous before... I don’t know why, but yeah. It’s kind of a weird thing. I was introduced to it slowly. I feel like the way that I came into fame was in the nicest possible way. I came in through High School Musical, and that was a very pleasant introduction, I have to say. It was all positive, it was fun, I was promoting something that I do truly love, and it’s been crazy but it’s also been very exciting.
EI: Do the paparazzi or crazy fans bother you in your personal life?
ZE: Yeah, I think if I had more to hide, it would be more bothersome. At this point, I don’t do too many things that I need ultra privacy for. It’s unnerving at times and it’s a little bit scary at moments, and it can start to feel invasive, but I just remember every day that this is a small price to pay…
EI: I saw a wonderful movie with you about Orson Welles [Me and Orson Welles].
ZE: Oh, you saw the movie? Oh wow, you're like the first one.
EI: Yeah, and I really love it.
ZE: Good, thank you! I think it’s going to be released in October.
EI: That’s wonderful. And what are you doing next?
ZE: Next is a movie I’m working on with Burr [Steers]. It’s still very early in development, but it’s called The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud.
EI: There was a rumor of a remake from a movie with Kevin Bacon.
ZE: ...Of Footloose. Yes...I’m not doing Footloose. It was a fantastic idea, but this is a big moment for me and I’d like to use it to try new things. I have that opportunity, and who knows -- I don’t want that to disappear.
EI: You said sometimes it could be scary with the paparazzi. Do you have a scary paparazzi moment that you can share with us?
ZE: I feel like talking about it just validates it, like the law of attraction, so I don’t really want to go into that specifically, but sometimes you’re unprepared, or sometimes you don’t know that you’re being surveyed. Those are probably the scariest.
EI: Law of attraction -- do you believe in The Secret?
ZE: I believe in the law of attraction.
EI: I was sitting at the screening last night amongst many teenagers, and the moment when you almost kissed, they were so excited -- it was like "AW, is he doing it? No, he’s not." [Laughs] Have you ever been attracted to a woman that could be your mother? [Laughs]
ZE: Absolutely. I think, once you hit a certain age, age is irrelevant at some point. I most definitely have a crush on Leslie [Mann]. She’s a sweetheart, and that was probably one of the more intimidating aspects, on paper at least, of doing this movie, was the romantic scenes with my slightly older wife. But as soon as Leslie signed onto the movie, that became the most exciting part. That’s what I was looking forward to, so it was fun.
EI: When things are not going well with you, how do you motivate yourself? What is the source of your energy?
ZE: Sometimes it’s coffee, sometimes it’s a good meal...a good night's sleep does it. Sometimes I’ll call my family or a close friend and just talk for a half-hour, and that levels you out. It kind of takes you home, so to speak, and I remember who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing.
EI: Was it tough to train for the basketball part of the movie?
ZE: Yeah, like cardio-wise, it was.
EI: You looked pretty good playing everything.
ZE: That’s an important thing for me -- for any movie, if there’s a skill set that’s required, whether it’s riding horses, basketball, golf, sports, athletics, anything like that, I take pride in the fact that I can learn those things for a role. Basketball, lately, has been in a lot of films that I’ve been doing, so I’ve gotten pretty good.
EI: Do you have any rituals before you go on set and shoot a scene? Is there anything you do, like if you have a trailer and maybe listen to some music?
ZE: Yeah, it depends. A good song, depending on the type of scene, can get you in the right mood. During 17, I was listening to a lot of fast-paced kind of upbeat music before I would walk out. And then, if you're going to do something emotional, it’s nice to just have peace and quiet for a minute and get ready.
EI: How many hours a day do you have to practice dancing?
ZE: Virtually none. I don't practice at all unless it’s like in the shower or something, but that’s not really dancing because it’s not safe. [Laughs]
EI: Did you ever imagine, a few years ago, that your life was going to turn out this way? Was that your dream, or were you thinking of doing something else?
ZE: I wouldn’t say this was my dream. I didn’t have any plans or aspirations to be an actor. It was always my hobby -- it was always my extracurricular and what I did for fun outside of school. Then it started to pay for college and it became slightly more serious, and then I discovered that this would probably be a fun direction to head in life.
EI: What was Plan A?
ZE: I had no idea, I was like everyone else in high school; I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do. I’m sure that if I was in college right now, I would be switching majors. I had no idea. This just happened to work out.
EI: What else would you be good at?
ZE: I don’t know. I always got good grades. I wanted to keep my options open. I was afraid of being limited at an early age, so I tried to excel at everything I tried at everything I attempted in life.
EI: Was it something creative maybe?
ZE: Yeah, creative. My favorite subject was probably English in high school. I enjoyed writing and reading.
EI: Do you write?
ZE: Yeah. Actually, if I’m doing anything on my free time, it would probably be drawing -- I enjoy that. Drawing and painting, that kind of stuff.
EI: Are you romantic? Do you think it is really possible to love the first love for all your life?
ZE: I think that’s a positive thing to believe in, yeah. I’m optimistic.
EI: Would you like to sometimes like to turn the clock back and be 17 again? Would you do something differently?
ZE: Honestly, in terms of a theme of the movie, I feel like I should. I wish I had a great answer for things that I could go back and change or things that I would redo if I could be 17 again, but there’s not a whole lot I would go back and change. I’m sure I made big mistakes in life, but they’ve all got me to where I’m at right now, and I’m enjoying that. So I think even if I could go back, I don’t know that I would.
EI: What’s the largest thing you regret the most?
ZE: There are things or those memories that you can’t get out of the back of your mind -- embarrassing moments, times when you were mean to a friend or got mad about something in life that, in retrospect, was just unimportant.
EI: Do you feel older than the people you grew up with because of your life experience, or out of contact with the friends of your generation now?
ZE: I had a little bit of that feeling growing up, but I wouldn’t say that anymore. But when I was growing up, I think doing community theater outside of school was an environment in which I worked with adults, and I took pride in that. After school, I wasn’t a part of a drama class with kids my own age. I was doing it with college students and people who wanted to do this with their life who took it very seriously, and that’s the way I wanted to take it. There was a sense of pride in that, I think.
EI: But now, there are not many 23-year-olds with a career like yours, financial opportunity, cultural opportunities like this... Is it difficult to stay in touch with the people you were close to when you were growing up?
ZE: No, because they’re on the ride with me. I never take it too seriously. It’s an adventure, it’s fun, I enjoy the work, and I take that very seriously. The famous side of things is hard to take too seriously, and if you do, I think you’ll go crazy.
EI: Who is a director that you want to work with in the future?
ZE: Zac Schneider.
EI: Which kind of movie did you go to see when you were 17?
ZE: I saw tons of movies when I was 17. That was when I really started having appreciation for films, because I had seen how they work and how long they take, how many people’s cumulative efforts go into making a great movie...so I started getting into the classics and I watched like all of Scorsese’s films. I watched all of James Dean's films in a day.
EI: All of them? [Laughs]
ZE: Yeah, but that was a day at home. At about 17 is when I started devoting about a day a week to just watching movies -- not leaving the house, but like Sunday, I would wake up and just watch movies.
EI: What did you learn from playing older, because of course, outside you're you, and inside you're 17 years old. Did you learn something from doing that?
ZE: Most definitely. Getting into the movie, I had no idea if I could pull it off. I had no idea how I would get into that head space, so I think what I learned from the movie, after working with Burr, is that anything is possible. He opened my eyes, in a lot of ways, and I learned a lot about myself and about acting, and about film-making.
EI: Did Matthew [Perry] help you to get to the space of the 37-year-old?
ZE: Yeah, he did. During rehearsals and stuff like that, Matthew would sit and we’d bounce ideas back and forth. That was very positive. He helped a lot, and I would call him during filming. If there was a certain scene that had to be Matthew-heavy, with his sense of humor, I would call and ask him what he thought and he would always come back with ideas, whether it was just a text or whatever -- he would help out.
EI: I heard he recommended a couple of new video games. Which ones were those?
ZE: He did. He was like, "You have to play Fallout 3" -- that’s what he kept saying during filming. I tried it, and man, it was a heavy game. There was a lot in it. It was hard for me to figure out. I've gotta be honest -- he’s actually better than me.
EI: What other actors do you want to work with?
ZE: There’s a lot. I think Jack Nicholson would be a great person to work with and at least meet. I’ve been to so many Laker games, and I still haven’t been able to talk to the guy. [Laughs] I’m going again tonight, and if he’s there, I’m literally going to walk across the court in the middle of the game...