Anyone with a little girl, and indeed many with boys, will be well aware of High School Musical, a Disney film (originally made for TV) that started a merchandising phenomenon. During the summer it even came to Dubai as a stage show, making stars out of the city’s many wannabe residents.
The all singing, all dancing extravaganza was lead star Zac Efron’s big break, transforming him into an instant heartthrob. Two years after the release of the original, he’s just finished making the third instalment, High School Musical 3: Senior Year.
The plot follows teenagers Troy Bolton (Efron) and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens), BFFs who are facing the galling prospect of separation upon graduation. Singing about our traumas isn’t a remedy Time Out has tried (we fear pot plants may be thrown across the office), but it seems to do the trick for Troy and co.
Now aged 20, we caught up with Zac Efron to find a handsome yet modest actor wearing a green T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘green T-shirt’. Our goal? To find out whether fame had changed him – and we were professionally disappointed but secretly relieved to find someone at pains to stress how very ordinary he is.
Did you have any idea how big High School Musical would be?
No. Absolutely not. We flew to Utah and made a TV movie. It was a musical and I admire Disney for taking that risk. They hadn’t done that for a very long time.
Were you a ladies’ man in high school?
I was the short kid in high school. I didn’t get much attention from girls. I wasn’t really the cool guy. I had a group of friends; I didn’t have a clique. I wasn’t the skater dude or anything. I tried really hard in school – I got good grades, I was in advanced classes, so if anything you’d probably call me a nerd. But as soon as I left and started working, then I started to grow up a little bit.
So you’re making up for it now?
[Laughs] I’m trying!
Wasn’t the acting cool to your friends?
Acting isn’t a hobby that’s tangible to your friends or even your family, especially if you’re not from LA. It’s not something they can understand – when you say you’re going for an audition, I guess they think you’re a little conceited.
How do you deal with your heartthrob image?
It’s cool, what can I say? It’s not something I really have to deal with. If anything, I feel I would be an OK role model. I don’t really do much wrong. I’ve never been into the Hollywood party scene; I’m not drawn to it. If you go and you know you’re going to be photographed and you’re putting that kind of image out to the world… Acting is a tradition that far predates celebrity and today they’re just meshing. You won’t find me out partying.
So what do you do when everyone else is having a night out?
If I get two consecutive days off I go home to San Luis Obispo [in the north of the US]. I go to my room, play video games, hang out with my family, go surfing and see my friends… We do stupid stuff. I like to read everything, from novels to comic books. I’m just a regular dude. I don’t go skydiving on the weekends or anything like that.
Are you aware of the constant attention?
Maybe. It’s not the kids – it’s the parents. The girls are too shy, which is really sweet. The parents will run up and take pictures, and the kids are like, ‘Mum, let’s go,’ and she’s like, ‘No, we’re taking a picture!’ I once met a group of mums who used to have this bowling league, and they told me they switched from bowling to doing the dances from High School Musical for exercise.
Are there places you try to avoid, like shopping malls?
No, you can go anywhere – you just have to make sure you have good sunglasses [laughs]. People underestimate the value of good sunglasses.
You and costar Vanessa Hudgens were photographed in Hawaii together. How do you deal with that side of fame?
For the first time in Hawaii I could understand why people get frustrated. There are certain things you just like to keep private, like a vacation. Other than that, it’s a small price to pay for the benefits we receive.
How did you get into the business?
I was in school and I was bad at sports because I was so small. One place where size didn’t matter was on stage. I could go out there and be as good as the next kid. Later I met with an agency and they signed me. And then I’m in High School Musical. Believe me, I never planned on it in a million years.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year is released in cinemas across the UAE on October 23.