Who Is Zac Efron?
Zac Efron made his first television appearance on the series Firefly. In 2005, Efron landed the lead role in the Disney Channel film High School Musical, which proved a massive hit and spawned two sequels. He went on to star in a remake of Hairspray and voice the main character in The Lorax, before dropping his Disney image and taking on more mature roles in films such as The Lucky One and Parkland. Efron later starred in Neighbors, Dirty Grandpa, the P.T. Barnum biopic The Greatest Showman and as serial killer Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
Actor and singer Zachary David Alexander Efron was born on October 18, 1987, in San Luis Obispo, California. A bona fide teen idol, double-threat Efron has drawn comparisons to a young Cary Grant for his charm and sex appeal. His father David, an electrical engineer, and mother Starla, an administrative assistant, met while working at the same nuclear power plant. The couple relocated to Arroyo Grande, California, a town roughly 200 miles north of Los Angeles, to raise Zac and his younger brother, Dylan.
At 11, a piano teacher recognized Efron's burgeoning talent and persuaded him to pursue theatrical roles at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. He auditioned for—and was subsequently cast in—a small part in a long-running production of Gypsy. The role ignited his passion for acting, and his continued performances in other local productions earned him a contract with a talent agent. Soon, Efron was making regular trips to Los Angeles for auditions while attending Arroyo Grande High School.
TV and Movies
Early Career: 'Firefly' to 'The Derby Stallion'
In 2002, Efron made his first television appearance on the short-lived series Firefly. In 2003, he landed guest roles on ER and the pilot for The Big Wide World of Carl Laemke. The following year, he could be seen in the film The Guardian, as well as the pilot for Triple Play and the made-for-television movie Miracle Run.
Efron also starred as Cameron Bale, a series regular, on The WB's Summerland. Although the series was cancelled in July 2005, Efron was still a regular media presence, with guest roles on NCIS, Disney's The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and CSI: Miami. He also landed a leading role in his first feature film, The Derby Stallion (2005).
'High School Musical'
In 2005, Efron landed another lead role in a small, low-budget film for the Disney Channel called High School Musical. While on the set of the film, he met co-star Vanessa Hudgens, and the two began dating off set. The movie debuted in January 2006, and although it was intended to be the usual Disney fare, it unexpectedly struck a chord with adoring audiences.
Eventually recognized as one of the most successful made-for-television movies ever, the movie produced unprecedented ratings, a best-selling soundtrack and loyal fans. Offers for acting roles and record deals followed, but Efron declined. He chose instead to take time off to focus and graduate from high school.
Controversy later erupted when sources disclosed that Efron wasn't actually responsible for voicing his High School Musical songs, and that Canadian singer-songwriter Drew Seeley was the actual voice behind the role. As a result, Efron made it a contractual point to ensure that his voice appeared unaided on songs for High School Musical 2, which became the most-watched event in cable television history in 2007.
'Hairspray,' 'Me and Orson Welles'
In addition to High School Musical 2, Efron also appeared in the big-screen remake of John Waters' Hairspray (1988) in 2007. Director Adam Shankman nearly passed on Efron for the role of golden boy Link Larkin—reportedly, Shankman initially felt Efron was "too Disney"—but he later reconsidered. Appearing alongside John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken and Queen Latifah, Efron once again thrilled fans and helped the film earn nearly $119 million domestically. Additionally, he was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, which dubbed him "The New American Heartthrob."
In an effort to avoid typecasting, Efron decided to make a departure from musicals. However, to honor his fans, he agreed to appear in High School Musical 3 (2008), the final installment of the trilogy. Afterward, he took on the lead role in Richard Linklater's drama Me and Orson Welles (2008) and hosted Saturday Night Live in 2009, to positive reviews.
'17 Again,' 'Charlie St. Cloud,' 'The Lorax'
While filming the role-reversal comedy 17 Again (2009), with Matthew Perry and Leslie Mann, Efron had a near-fatal experience on the set: He was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy, but he returned to the set a mere two days after surgery to resume shooting. Efron followed with consistent roles that were geared towards a younger audience, including Charlie St. Cloud (2010) and an adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (2012).
'The Lucky One,' 'Neighbors,' 'Dirty Grandpa,' 'Mike and Dave'
In 2012, Efron began to play more mature roles, finally shedding his Disney image. That year, he took on a lead role yet again in The Lucky One, opposite Taylor Schilling, as a soldier stationed in Iraq who searches for a mysterious woman from a photo. He then played an infuriating frat boy opposite new suburban dad Seth Rogen in 2014's Neighbors, later reprising the role for its 2016 sequel. That year, he also continued his string of crude comedies with featured roles in Dirty Grandpa and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.
'Baywatch,' 'The Greatest Showman'
In 2017, Efron flexed his pecs for a tongue-in-cheek big screen reboot of the 1990s lifeguard show Baywatch, with Dwayne Johnson. Late that year he did another about-face, reviving his singing and dancing skills for the Oscar-contending P.T. Barnum biopic The Greatest Showman, alongside Hugh Jackman.
Playing Ted Bundy in 'Extremely Wicked'
Also in 2017, it was announced that Efron would play notorious serial killer Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. The former Disney heartthrob revealed how far he had come with a January 2018 Instagram photo, showing him as a scowling Bundy posing for a mug shot. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile premiered at the Sundance Film Festival the following January, before earning its release on Netflix in May 2019.
In late 2019, the actor began work on a new adventure reality series, Killing Zac Efron. The show nearly lived up to its title, as Efron contracted a serious bacterial infection while filming in Papua New Guinea and had to be flown to Australia for treatment. Another health issue — the coronavirus pandemic — pushed back the release of his next project, Scoob!, though the Scooby-Doo reboot surfaced on video on demand in May 2020.
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