MEN’S HEALTH – WELL, THERE THEY ARE. After Zac Efron removes his jacket and drapes it over the chair beside him, my eyes immediately zoop to his biceps peeking out from beneath his T-shirt. I spot a vein so protuberant that it looks like it’s about to exit his skin.
I had seen Efron’s biceps earlier, while on set for his photo shoot. When I got to the ranch in the hills north of Malibu, he was zooming about on an ATV, doing wild circles around the photographer and creating a cloud of dust. The sharp lines of his arms were apparent even through a dust tornado and even from a safe distance away.
When he arrives at the steakhouse in Thousand Oaks, where the staff has squirreled us away in a back room behind the kitchen, Efron positions himself as though to background the biceps—leaning forward, with his hands loosely intertwined on the table—and I feel louche for peeking.
I feel even loucher for writing about them, but the thing is, Efron’s arms have become part of his whole deal, appendages to his identity as well as to his torso—to say nothing of the torso itself. In 2017’s Baywatch, his onscreen abs looked almost painted on. That film was a fit-guy debutant waltz for Efron. People started looking very closely at his body after that.
Efron has been under scrutiny since 2006, when, at age 17, he played a wholesome, peppy, Bieber-haired Disney jock in High School Musical. Next, he starred in a slew of romances, rom-coms, and com-coms: Neighbors, The Lucky One, We Are Your Friends, That Awkward Moment, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, et cetera ad infinitum. His list of titles is stunningly long, and wildly varied, for someone so young; after Baywatch, he began veering toward dramas and shot a Netflix travel show about sustainability called Down to Earth with Zac Efron. (Season 2 drops in late fall.)
Then the pandemic hit, and the guy who could do it all—and who, since he was a teenager, had been doing it all, all the time—did very little. He sequestered himself in Byron Bay, a beachy haven in Australia. He slept on a hammock in the trees. He dated a civilian. He took moonlit swims with phosphorescent plankton that glowed around him with every motion.
Meanwhile, everyone else was still talking about his body. In July 2020, as Netflix viewers began watching Down to Earth, some commented on his “dad bod”—which, to be clear, was a dad bod only relative to his lifeguard bod. The New York Post called it “a far cry from his ripped physique in Baywatch”; Twitter called him Daddy.
A world away, Efron, too, was rethinking the body he’d become known for. He was reconsidering how he ate (vegan), how he trained (really hard), and how he slept (poorly). Efron, like many of us, has newly emerged from his own pandemic cocoon, blinking in the sunlight, ready to unfurl a revamped personality with back-to-school optimism. Besides a new health and fitness philosophy, Efron has a new movie—The Greatest Beer Run Ever (premiering September 30 on Apple TV+), in which he acts opposite Russell Crowe and Bill Murray—and new career cravings.