Hollywood heart-throb Zac Efron talks about his moving new drama Charlie St. Cloud, setting up his own production company and why he grew his "ugly" beard.
Charlie St. Cloud obviously started life as words on a page in Ben Sherwood's novel - how did you come to inhabit him as a living character on the film?
Zac Efron: I read the script first and found so many similarities between Charlie's and my own philosophy. Early on, when he was about to go to school - which is where I found myself a couple of years ago - he had that sort of mentality that if he put his mind to it he could accomplish anything. That's the sort of mantra that is responsible for me being here today.The relationship between the brothers was very well written, but also something I had some personal insight into and some perspective on. I could see myself going in the same direction he did after the accident. I could just relate to Charlie in a lot of ways.
In the film you've got a very intense relationship with Sam, your brother. What's your relationship like with your own brother?
Zac Efron: We go way past punching! We get really serious at times. We would watch 3 Ninjas or The Matrix. He's not a little brother anymore, he's 18 and he's going to college. We're starting to become even better friends.
Did your young co-star Charlie Tahan remind you a bit of yourself when you were starting out?
Zac Efron: He's way further along than I was! Within minutes of meeting him I knew he was right for the role. He's got this really intelligent, funny sensibility about him. He's super-smart and I had more fun conversations with him than anyone else.
What was it like having your life saved on screen by Ray Liotta, as opposed to being sent in the other direction as he has done in so many of his other films?
Zac Efron: I'll never forget being involved in that [resuscitation] scene. I just remember Ray saying: "Come on, fight me, man!" And I'm like: "I don't want to." It was really cool to be willed to do more by him. I realised that at the level that Ray's at there's no inhibition, he's totally not afraid. It was unreal, a very cool experience.
As you mature as an actor, what kind of roles would you like to take on?
Zac Efron: I'd say this turned out to be an ideal role - working with Burr [Steers, director] and figuring out his character, I wouldn't trade this experience for the world. But did I know before I read the script that this was an ideal role? Not at all. So I can't necessarily pinpoint my ideal role. There's nothing that's not given to me right now [scriptwise], it's just a matter of wrapping my head around it.
You've set up your own production company and bought the rights to a Swedish film. Can you tell us any more about this project?
Zac Efron: Yeah, it's a remake of a film called Snabba Cash. We were looking at all sorts of things but trying to find something in the crime world. I really like the story because it was about a guy who for very different reasons finds himself in over his head. Which just about explains everything in my life up until this point! The movie was incredibly well done, so we're having a great time right now adapting it and making it more American.
Talking about finding yourself in over your head, how does it feel to be such hot property in Hollywood right now?
Zac Efron: It's exciting, the stakes were high, I've got a lot to learn, but at the same time feel hungry and ambitious. At no way does the task at hand appear daunting. I'm just trying to navigate all the twists and turns right now. There's never been a more exciting time [for me].
Do you think your good looks have held you back in your career?
Zac Efron: It's a big part of why I'm here and why my fans come to the movies, but at the same time it makes me more driven to change people's preconceptions. I used to have these conversations all the time, but now I've grown this ugly beard it's slowing down!
Are you growing it for any particular role?
Zac Efron: It could be for something, I don't know, I'm sort of testing it out, how do you know what it's going to look like unless you grow one?
Interview: Darren Lee
Photos: Universal Pictures UK