By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Zac Efron is brutally honest about himself. He admits when he first read the script for “The Lucky One,” a romantic drama based on another weepy Nicholas Sparks novel, he felt he wasn’t right for the lead.
“You couldn’t pick two more different people—Logan (the character) and myself,” the 24-year-old blue-eyed heartthrob says.
“I was scared when I read the script because I really liked the character but at the same time I knew I was completely wrong for it,” he says.
But Efron, star of the popular “High School Musical” films, was game to transform himself—mentally and physically. He put on nearly 20 pounds for the role and built up his muscles to play a Marine returning home after a brutal tour of duty in Iraq. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he leaves his sister’s Colorado residence to walk (yes, walk!) to Louisiana to locate a young woman, whose photo he found during a firefight. He thinks of the beautiful mystery woman as something of a guardian angel since he found the photo just seconds before a bomb went off behind him, leaving him physically unscathed but emotionally wrecked, but he decides to keep the picture a secret.
Efron stars alongside Taylor Schilling, a blond beauty who previously co-starred in the Meryl Streep drama “Dark Matter.”
The photogenic co-stars turned up for a recent interview to talk about their new movie, directed by Scott Hicks (“Shine”) from an adapted screenplay by Will Fetters (who is penning the updated Clint Eastwood remake of “A Star is Born.”)
Front Row Features: You’ve lost weight since you made this movie.
Zac Efron: I can’t train like that all the time. It was the hardest thing ever.
Front Row Features: This role is a bit different for you. Are you stepping away from the teen idol thing to let people know you’re a serious actor?
Efron: In a way. It was kind of a progression that I have been working on for a long time, and this (film) seemed to fit perfectly.
Front Row Features: How was the film in terms of training and diet for you?
Efron: It was an intense training program. I was guided every step of the way by this guy named Logan who is a Navy Seal. I had a very strict diet. Everything was pre-planned. I’ve never eaten that much food in my entire life. It was a lot of chicken, a lot of vegetables. It was so much. You would get sick if I told you what I ate every day. (He laughs.)
Front Row Features: How was shooting the combat scenes?
Efron: They were fun to film. It was amazing standing in front for that first moment with all these Marines behind you, real Marines. I was in front looking back going “Guys, turn back!” (He laughs.) They were incredibly nice and helpful. I tried to use these guys as much as I could and be aware of what was going on; the way they spoke to each other, their mannerisms, and the way they moved. They were so unbelievably helpful in our making it look authentic.
Front Row Features: Did you have any hesitation about playing a vet?
Efron: Yes. I didn’t know the first thing about what it was like to be a Marine. When Scott (Hicks) and I met with the Marines, they were of a different breed. I can’t believe we’re the same species.
Front Row Features: What’s the most important thing you learned from them or what affected you most about meeting them?
Efron: We just started asking questions. They weren’t emotional but you could tell there was an undercurrent of emotion.
Front Row Features: How did you work in the post-traumatic disorder into your character?
Efron: For the amount of time I was able to hang out with the Marines, I tried to put myself in their shoes. The silly stuff we do (as actors), I feel I get post-traumatic stress sometimes.
Front Row Features: Taylor, did you have any preconceptions about Zac before you met him? We’re you expecting to meet Troy from “High School Musical?”
Taylor Schilling: I had actually never seen any of the “High School Musical” movies. I met Zac for the first time when we tested for the film together. I just knew him as a really capable scene-partner and as an actor who was showing up for me who made me feel very safe to do my work. (She laughs.) As we were shooting it, my friends would send me clips of (Zac) singing. But I only knew him as this beefed up actor.
Front Row Features: Can you talk a little bit about the shower scene? It’s pretty sexy for a PG-13 rated movie.
Schilling: Well, the water was actually pretty warm. It was actually kind of nice.
Efron: Yeah. I think the first time we did it we didn’t know it was going to be cold and just shot it. Then it warmed up. At that point, we knew each other really well. It was shot later (during production) so there was no awkward moment.
Front Row Features: Was it weird shooting take after take, and getting all wet?
Schilling: It really was quite easy and fun. It wasn’t a bad day at work.
Front Row Features: How did you feel about watching yourself do love scenes on the big screen?
Efron: When we were in the theater, by the end of watching that scene, I was practically under the seat. I don’t know what you call that feeling.
Schilling: I can’t watch it.
Front Row Features: Was there an instant chemistry between you guys or did you kind of have to develop it?
Efron: There was. The first time we met for the part, and in between when we were doing readings and stuff like that, we were talking and hanging out. She’s very down to earth. She’s a real person, very sweet and we got along in that sense, which is so important.
Schilling: It just takes a lot more work if you don’t get along.
Front Row Features: Logan considers the photo of your character a lucky charm. Do either of you carry a lucky charm or a picture or someone with you?
Schilling: I have a few pictures that I travel with to feel grounded in hotel rooms.
Efron: I can barely remember the things I actually need like my wallet and keys. Taylor gave me something that I actually still have. I don’t know what it is, though.
Schilling: I gave him a little thing and he keeps it. I don’t know how to describe it.
Efron: It’s a little woven thing made from some sort of grass, I guess. It’s a neat little grass token. It’s lucky and it’s awesome.
Front Row Features: Were you in character throughout filming?
Efron: Oh yeah. I’m very Method. Not really. I try to never take anything too seriously. Maybe on set I would do that, but as soon as we finished, I was straight back to being me.
Front Row Features: Did you guys have fun filming in New Orleans?
Efron: New Orleans is the most fun city in the world.
Schilling: He took me to Bourbon Street for the first time.
Efron: Yeah. I used to go to New Orleans with my family because they live in Mississippi. So, we always would drive down to New Orleans.
Front Row Features: Do you guys believe in soul mates and fate, which are two of the themes in the movie?
Schilling: Yeah. I really believe there’s a God or a guiding principal, and we’re certainly involved with it.
Efron: Me too. There is someone guiding me in presenting great opportunities but, ultimately, it’s up to me to walk through them.
Front Row Features: Taylor, can you talk about working with Blythe Danner, who plays your grandmother?
Schilling: Amazing. When I learned that she was going to be a part of the movie, I jumped up and down. She’s a real hero of mine in a lot of ways. It was thrilling to be able to work with her. She’s such an amazing lady and a lot of fun.
Front Row Features: Zac, your character has a dog and you work at a kennel in this movie. How did you like working with the dogs? Do you have an affinity for animals?
Efron: I’ve always loved dogs. I grew up with them and I love working with them. They’re really fun. The ones we worked with on this film are the most highly trained dogs you’ve ever seen in the world. They’ve got really cool trainers that we became best friends with.
Front Row Features: Did you gain confidence as an actor from making the film?
Efron: Without a doubt. Every time you make a movie you have to confront your fears. I look back at all we accomplished and the film we made and I’m very pleased with it. I’ll never forget all the things I learned playing this character. It was a big growing experience for me.