By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Zac Efron is best known for his starring role as Troy Bolton in the song-filled “High School Musical” movies. He now lends his voice to Universal Pictures’ “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.” In it, he plays a love-struck teenager named Ted, who tries to win the heart of a pretty classmate by tracking down a Truffula tree for her.
“The Lorax,” a 3-D adventure based on Theodore Geisel’s classic children’s book, marks Efron’s debut into the world of animated features. The 24-year-old admits he was a little nervous going in to record, but he felt it was an important story with a timely message about saving the environment.
Front Row Features: Your character will do almost anything to impress the girl he has a crush on. Who was your first crush?
Zac Efron: I had a babysitter named Brook. I guess she was in high school. So, what was I? I guess 12 or younger, but whatever, I had a really big crush on her. She was really spontaneous and fun and loved to make us sing and dance and paint. It was like, “Gosh. You’re the coolest person in the world.” I guess I did have my young love.
Front Row Features: What did you do to impress her?
Efron: I think I did everything to impress her, everything possible, which was ridiculous.
Front Row Features: The theme of this movie is about saving our environment from destruction. How green are you and what ways do you practice a green lifestyle?
Efron: I try to be green, as much as I can. It’s hard, though. I feel like I’m never doing enough. I’ve always been searching for a way to get more involved and to help, and I felt like this movie, with the message that it has, it just finally felt like a really organic way to be able to help and get involved for me as an actor. There are only so many things you can do. This film is a way to teach and hopefully get the message out to young kids—and as they say in the movie “it only takes one seed”—so I think we’re planting those seeds.
Front Row Features: What did you think when you saw your character for the first time?
Efron: Early on, I saw just a rough sketch of the character. It wasn’t even computer-animated yet. It was a hand-drawn version, and I really liked him. He looked cool. He seemed like your regular, spontaneous, too-smart-for-his-own-good young guy, which was good.
Front Row Features: Though it’s not technically a musical, what did you think of the songs in this movie?
Efron: I wasn’t involved in the songs that much, but I thought they brought a lot of charm to the movie. I love the musical numbers. My favorite shot is when they pan back and it’s just on that little girl swishing her hips back and forth in the last song. I thought that was so clever.
Front Row Features: This was your first animated feature. How did you like acting strictly through your voice?
Efron: I was nervous the first time I went into the recording booth. I was a bit self-conscious because there’s a camera on me and the microphone was so close. As with anything, you just have to let go, and don’t be afraid to be crazy. I actually looked up a clip of (co-star) Danny (DeVito) working on a previous project and saw how he was doing it. He’s a wild man in (the recording booth). The second time I went in I went as crazy as possible, and took it to the next level.
Front Row Features: What do you think of the final cut?
Efron: It was like taking me to a whole other world. It looked incredible in 3-D. I thought, “This should totally be a (theme park) ride, or something” because it was so neat. The only bad part about doing voiceover was one session where I’d just go, “Ah, oh, whoa, hey, look out,” for hours. They would just leave it on record, and I would just do every single, like, guttural sound that you could imagine.
Front Row Features: Were you a Dr. Seuss fan before this? Do you remember when you started reading Dr. Seuss books?
Efron: Yeah, I started reading them in high school. (He laughs.) Actually, I have a lot of vivid memories of my parents reading these books to me. It’s frozen in my mind. I can see them all. I still have the books in what used to be my room, which has been turned into the spare room at my parents’ house.
Front Row Features: Was “The Lorax” among the books they read to you?
Efron: It was. My parents read it to me a bunch of times when I was younger.
Front Row Features: Do you have anything in common with your character, Ted?
Efron: Yeah. He’s sort of a hopeless romantic. He’s adventurous. He’s persistent. He’s stubborn, kind of annoying (and) pretty funny. He’s got a big imagination. I like to think I’m all those things. He learned that all from me. I taught him everything he knows.
Front Row Features: Did you always want to do an animated feature film?
Efron: I always wondered if the opportunity would arise. I hoped it would. A lot of my friends do only voice-over work. But I didn’t know if I had a voice for voice-over.
Front Row Features: How did you approach your character?
Efron: I wasn’t trying to make a voice as much as just bringing my enthusiastic voice. I don’t really have that many character voices that some people have.
Front Row Features: What was it like getting together with the other cast members for the first time?
Efron: It was great. Everyone was very cool. I’m a huge fan of Ed (Helms), and the first time we all got together was to do a little bit of press. When we all finally came together, it was so neat to see them not animated, but in real life.
Front Row Features: How did you like the relationship between your character and his?
Efron: It was great. He’s very persistent. His character (the Once-ler) is stubborn and I thought it was fun. Like he says, “I’m the guy that still cares,” and I liked that relationship.
Front Row Features: Did you meet Betty White, who plays your grandmother in the film?
Efron: Yes. We had fun. I’ve seen her a few times now.
Front Row Features: What did you think of Taylor Swift?
Efron: Taylor is amazing and super sweet.
Front Row Features: How often do you get to see your “High School Musical” co-stars?
Efron: Not often, unfortunately. We’re all super busy, but when we’re in town we always see each other. I see Corbin (Bleu) a lot and Ashley (Tisdale) all the time. We’re practically neighbors. The rest of crew—we try and get together as much as we can.
Front Row Features: Do you think “High School Musical” has influenced your generation?
Efron: Gosh, that’s a great way to think of it. I hope so. “High School Musical” introduced the musical genre to a lot of people, and if they can appreciate it then that’s the best thing in the world. That’s what got me started. That’s what got me here.
Front Row Features: You don’t sing in “The Lorax,” though.
Efron: No, my character is not in any of the numbers.
Front Row Features: You’ve got another film coming out in April called “The Paperboy,” in which you play a journalist.
Efron: That’s right. He’s an amateur journalist.
Front Row Features: How would you describe the film?
Efron: I don’t know how to explain it. I have to be honest. I have not seen it yet. It’s going to be wild. There are some great performers in there like Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack. They’re outstanding, but the movie is too weird to even try and explain.