Based on a novel by Ben Sherwood and directed by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, 17 Again), Charlie St. Cloud is a romantic drama starring Zac Efron.
Fanbolt met up with Efron himself and onscreen little brother Charlie Tahan at The Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey. This charming LA town is known for its postcard-esque harbor and vast array of boats, serving as the perfect backdrop to Charlie St. Cloud‘s visually alluring Marblehead, Mass. setting.
Read on as Efron candidly discusses his latest flick, life after Disney and why Charlie St. Cloud was his most challenging role to date.
You two had great chemistry together. Did you have a lot of time to get to know each other?
Zac Efron: Yeah, when you can get him out of his trailer! Such a diva…
[Laughs.] No, we had a blast!
Charlie Tahan: Lots of hockey games.
Zac Efron: We tried to have fun and do stuff. We went to hockey games, saw a lot of sports, we played catch everyday. It was fun.
There are a lot of movies about “man-children,” grown-up men who act like boys. But Burr tends to make movies about boys who have the weight of the world of an adult man on their shoulders. What is he like as a director? How does he get that mature performance out of you because you’re still so young?
Zac Efron: He’s very generous with the actors. It’s funny because Burr is rare to give a camera note or anything like that, but guaranteed with every take, he’s running over and talking to us. He’s got so much to say–opinions, new point of view, some thing to think about, which is great because I enjoy that much attention from a director. He’s performance-oriented, definitely.
How do you define the character interactions throughout the movie? The two most important relationships are essentially imaginary. Did you have to make adjustments?
Charlie Tahan: I’m not trying to act like I’m dead, I’m normal—us playing baseball in the field like normal brothers.
Zac Efron: When he comes back that’s when Charlie really is living. That’s what he looks most forward to and is having the most fun.
Do you think of it in terms of it’s a ghost you’re interacting with or a person?
Zac Efron: I think it’s real to Charlie, like a real person. But he’s aware that it’s too good.
What is your reaction to seeing yourself onscreen?
Charlie Tahan: I don’t really know what to expect because I haven’t seen myself that much. I was nervous at first, but as we got into it, I thought, “I’m doing okay!”
Zac Efron: My head is huge!
Zac Efron: Enrique [Chediak] was a really cool, fascinating D.P. (Director of Photography). He was really good at making everything look beautiful. That was what struck me the first time. I noticed that first and foremost, the way the ocean looked and was depicted, I loved that.
As far as looking at myself on screen, I tend to pick out every single flaw that I could have or should have done better. I’m more of a cringer at first and when it is years down the road and out of my way, I can actually appreciate it somehow.
You illicit a reaction from people, and Burr said that you have this innate “it” factor. Do you realize you get that kind of response from people?
Zac Efron: It’s not tangible to me. I don’t really notice it, but I know that my mom gets pissed off when she hangs with me. She walks behind me, and she says nobody says anything until after I leave. So I never see it.
You’ve only done three movies where you’ve been the star. Do you think that’s because of stardom or is it something you innately have and people respond to it?
Zac Efron: I don’t know. I don’t think it’s something I innately have. I don’t want to think that, you know? It’s too good to be true. It’s got to come from the work, and I hope it comes from the work. I would hate to attribute this to something I can’t control. It’s a bit scary. It’s too good to be true. That’s why I wanted to slow down and do a movie where it was all about character and real people—grounded.
Do you feel you now have the opportunity to choose the projects you take on? Is a role like this something you have to deliberately go after in order to prove you can play different characters or has the success you’ve already enjoyed opened up to where you have the freedom to pick whatever you want?
Zac Efron: It’s somewhere in between right now. It’s not like I have total freedom to do whatever I want to do. When I look at movies now, there are a million factors that go into it. First and foremost, I look at the type of movie and the messages.
I really do care about the audience that has been so loyal to me. I would hate to leave them behind or betray them in any way. So rather than leaving the responsibility up to them to follow me through these different films, the best way to think about is I need to stay relevant and to do that, I want to grow up, live my life, experience things, make movies about those experiences and by the time the audience catches up, hopefully they’ll have a movie there that helps them get through that next phase when the discover life isn’t always like High School Musical.
It’s been difficult, minus Shia LaBeouf, for a lot of Disney actors to make the transition to a more mainstream role. Was it hard to turn down scripts that might categorize you in a certain way–the Disney stud you’re trying to break out of?
Zac Efron: There was definitely a style that I knew I didn’t want to stick with forever. High School Musical was incredibly fun and very addicting; you’re in your element. I’m constantly chasing that dragon, so to speak. But you know, trying to bring that energy into other things I do.
But me and my manager Jason Barrett, we wanted to make movies with substance, rather than doing more stuff like High School Musical until it gets tiring and old. I rather move on and try new things to see how deep that rabbit hole goes.
I knew this early on, even when I was doing High School Musical. I knew the actors and the movies I were seeing were not anything like High School Musical. I recognized in the actors I appreciated, in the movies I was willing to see, that it was about diversity and innovation, not being afraid to take risks and try new characters with interesting perspectives and messages.
Are you thinking of a particular actor?
Zac Efron: Well, the person that comes to mind right now, with Inception out, is Leo.
I think Leo is the guy who has been through all this. I’m sure he felt it at one point, and he just continued to persevere, stuck to his guns, and went through the best and the worst of times— the coolest movies and some that didn’t work so well. Regardless, he’s doing it. He’s survived and is just now starting to make the coolest movies of this career.
What was it like working with [onscreen love interest] Amanda Crew, developing a relationship with her and establishing that trust? You have some really vulnerable scenes together.
Zac Efron: Amanda was really fun to work with and is really easy-going. For romantic scenes I’ve never found them intensely or incredibly awkward. So I think we found common ground. We held each other’s hand through this whole experience. We just got along really well. There was nothing to be nervous about.
The only weird part was, well, in the movie I guess it made sense, but being in the graveyard for that love scene. [Laughs.] It was a little bit weird!
You described an effort to make that migration so that your audience if not follows you than at least they’re growing up in the same way your career is maturing. Do you think strategically about the best way to do that or is it a matter of serendipity? Like, “This role is more mature enough for me to explore, and it happens to suit the art I’m developing…”
Zac Efron: You can’t help but think of it on the back of your mind. It’s sort of instinctual. I’d say it’s somewhere in between both of those. I definitely look at it for myself as well. What am I going to do with this character? Is it something I can see myself doing? Can I pull this off?
With Charlie St. Cloud, I had my doubts, thinking, “Dammit, this would be a real, emotional role.” And then Burr signed on [as director] and I thought Burr can probably get it out of me.
What was the most physical exhausting scene? You looked great sailing, like you were doing it all your life.
Charlie Tahan: The sailing was pretty hard.
Zac Efron: He was the tiller for those scenes. I’m actually crewing, which is technically the easier part. He’s at the tiller where you control the speed of the boat and wind direction.
So you both had lessons?
Zac Efron: We both did. Remember that time we crashed, Charlie?
Charlie Tahan: Oh yeah, we were on separate boats and collided! [Laughs]
Zac Efron: It’s our second day of sailing so neither of us really knew what we’re doing.
Were you afraid?
Zac Efron: Well, I was afraid, but he’s just laughing! [Laughs.] I was scared for my life!
Interview By: Jeanette Nguyen