Zac is featured on the cover of Variety with a great photoshoot and interview!
When Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” came out in 2008, Zac Efron was two movies deep into the Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” franchise, in which he played singing, dancing basketball phenom Troy Bolton. He’d been the swoony romantic lead in the movie musical “Hairspray,” opposite John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer, was shortly to play opposite Matthew Perry in “17 Again,” and had pulled his T-shirt up on the cover of Rolling Stone under the headline “The New American Heartthrob.” At 21, Efron might have seemed like the kind of actor who was as likely to watch footage of the moon landing and decide to become an astronaut as he was to take inspiration from Mickey Rourke’s grizzled, broken-down performance.
And yet. “That film impacted me in a really specific way,” he recalls over lunch in Los Angeles. “I was watching it with my dad, and I remember looking at him in that moment, saying, ‘That’s what I want to do. That’s where my heart is.
It was easier for Efron to imagine himself there than for his parents — an electrical engineer and an administrative assistant comfortably raising the new American heartthrob — to understand his passion. “It’s got to be weird,” Efron goes on, “watching your child go through the more challenging route. I know that at times they had to be thinking, ‘He shouldn’t even do this stuff.’”
Efron had, to that point, made it through the maelstrom of Disney stardom, maintaining an image of squeaky-clean ambition even as his peers, from Shia LaBeouf to Lindsay Lohan, stumbled in the glare of a hot spotlight. Lanky and laconic, Efron was, above all, low-key — so much so that the tabloid coverage, inevitable for a star of his magnitude, focused primarily on his relationship with “High School Musical” co-star Vanessa Hudgens. (The pair confirmed their breakup in 2010.) The pressures of Hollywood took their toll eventually — Efron entered rehab for substance abuse in 2013, at age 25 — but his early days are remembered first for Troy Bolton, a tweenage dream of the ultimate nice guy.
The challenging journey Efron has taken to escape that character and image has lasted 15 years. That time has held a fair amount of movies, and a fair amount of living — but he got there. In “The Iron Claw,” the new film by Sean Durkin, Efron delivers a performance whose ambition will surprise you. It’s a movie-star turn as a character whose tragedy is that he can’t use charisma to bypass his problems. Durkin compares Efron to Robert De Niro in “The Deer Hunter,” calling him a “quiet leader”; and to Burt Lancaster in “The Swimmer,” “because he’s in a Speedo the whole time.”
He’s kidding, kind of — but Efron’s physicality is central to this work. With his hair cut into a Prince Valiant bowl cut, Efron has transformed himself into a Marvel-esque specimen. He’s playing Kevin Von Erich, a pro wrestler living through the deaths of each of his brothers in sequence. The real-life Von Erich was one of a family of grapplers on the 1980s circuit who were stalked by a series of fatal mishaps; on-screen, their father, played by Holt McCallany, forces them forward with a grim refusal to acknowledge their feelings, even as they mourn brother after brother. Men, they’re told, don’t cry — and so all of those feelings are converted into athleticism, or bottled away until they burst. Through it all, Efron battles with ever-increasing savagery in the ring, trying desperately to keep a lid on his feelings. His body is equipped to fight and to win; it also is visual evidence of the kind of choking masculinity Kevin forces himself to inhabit.