The career trajectory of Zac Efron is a weird one. After reaching teen super-stardom aged just 18 with the briefly world-dominating High School Musical franchise, some questionable role choices and several strokes of bad luck have prevented this obviously talented actor/singer/dancer from going on to reach the career heights his early successes suggested he was more than capable of. A proper old-fashioned throwback to the Hollywood stars of the golden age, Efron’s absurdly charismatic screen presence, sharp comedic skills and quietly strong serious acting chops have earned him some high profile admirers – but he is yet to evolve into the award-winning megastar his personality, all-round talent and ridiculous good looks (not to mention his pizza-eating skills) tell us he can be. We believe he is among the most overlooked and underrated film stars working today, and is just one perfectly-chosen role in a “proper” film away from becoming a globally-recognised leading man.
Aside from his successful early career as an old-school musical triple threat with 2007’s excellent Hairspray remake, his leading of Glee precursor and cultural juggernaut High School Musical, and the well-chosen and wickedly self-aware turn as Seth Rogen’s frat nemesis in the comedy Bad Neighbours, it’s not really worked out for Zac Efron. His dabbles with esteemed indie directors have been middling at best: on paper, working with Richard Linklater or Lee Daniels should provide a boon for any young actor – however, in practice Me and Orson Welles turned out to be one of the former’s more forgettable efforts whilst The Paperboy baffled critics and audiences alike despite its talented writer-director and all-star cast. The less said about Efron’s po-faced romances (e.g. Charlie St. Cloud, The Lucky One, etc.) the better. What is worth noting, however, is that Efron himself is never at fault for how dodgy a lot of these films are; in most cases he is hamstrung by poor writing, bland co-stars or, as in the case of New Year’s Eve, just all-pervading, irreparable awfulness. Sure, his role-picking needs a lot of work (just look at the critical reception of his roles to date, there’s barely a looker among them) but it can’t be said that Efron doesn’t deliver a solid performance every time regardless of the quality of the film.
For all his suspect films, it’s not been a complete disaster for Efron – if it had, this could easily be a Second Chance article begging for the reappraisal of a fallen actor. Efron’s natural charisma and charm make him come across wonderfully on talk shows, and his well-known likability means he will never have any difficulty securing acting work – it’s merely a question of picking better roles, in the right sort of films. One thing that may be contributing to his lack of success in this area is his perceived target market, made up of teenagers (generally speaking not the most discerning of filmgoers) and those who will have grown up with and consequently out of the HSM films. It seems that casting directors (or perhaps his agent) are unable to look beyond Efron’s appeal to this audience, causing him to get stuck in a loop of being cast in younger-leaning films, with limited success outside of their box-office pull in this demographic.
What he needs is for someone to take the calculated risk of casting him as the lead (or a meaty supporting role) in a worthy, ‘proper’ adult film – and you feel the industry will sit up and take notice. Or perhaps the great comedic abilities he displayed in 17 Again or the sending-up of his charming screen persona in Bad Neighbours could signal a route into comedy – based on these he would excel as part of a Judd Apatow cast, perhaps as someone similar to Jon Hamm in Bridesmaids, or Adam Driver in Girls. As Daniel Radcliffe has demonstrated, the possibilities coming out of teen stardom are endless, with almost no role off-limits no matter how different to previous work.
One of our editors has a running bet that at some point in his career Zac Efron will win an Oscar for his efforts, and based on the guy’s natural talents it’s not hard to see that happening. All he needs is the right role in the right film with the right director and the stars will have aligned to finally launch Zac Efron into the stratosphere. Stars rise and fall in Hollywood all the time (just look at Matthew McConaughey or Cuba Gooding Jr.), and just one good role in a worthy film is all Zac Efron needs to undergo his own McConaissance (Zacconaissance? Sincere apologies) and finally enter the upper echelons of Hollywood actors. Will the upcoming DJ drama We Are Your Friends provide Efron with such an opportunity? The bro-ish ethos and younger-leaning nature of the trailer suggests probably not (though who knows – at points it gives off a Social Network vibe), but for someone of his many and varied talents it can surely only be a matter of time.