Zac Efron first came to stardom with his role as Troy Bolton in High School Musical in 2006 on the Disney Channel. The film was a success with 7.7 million viewers on its premiere and a rating of 4/5 on Common Sense Media. Efron began to accumulate a huge fan base of people who fell in love with him and his co-star, Vanessa Hudgens. As time went on, he would reprise his role again for High School Musical 2 again on the Disney Channel with the final and third, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, premiering in theaters. The second received, even more, viewership with 17.2 million viewers, breaking records at the time. The third, too, made $252,909,177 in theaters, which showed that the movie was quite a hit, especially with only an $11 million production budget.
Once 2009 rolled around, Efron was done playing Bolton. He was left without his signature role. Suffice it to say, Efron was not crying over leaving the role. “The second we finished the first one,” he started to say telling Men’s Fitness he did not want to continue playing the high school basketball player for the rest of his life. “I was, like, 17. And I said, ‘Guys, you know this is not at all what I want to do?’ And they were like, ‘Really’” He got his chance to move on eventually.
Efron has indeed changed quite a bit from his days at Disney. In fact, you could argue he’s been the most successful actor out of the old group. Does anyone remember Corbin Bleu or Lucas Grabeel as much as Zac Efron? Vanessa Hudgens has also faired pretty well too. However, Efron has had the most consistent track record year after year of new films coming out. He’s become an important piece of pop culture.
The next year, in 2009, Efron had two roles: Mike O’Donnell in 17 Again and Richard Samuels in Me and Orson Welles. These roles gave Efron the chance to play opposite established Hollywood players like Matthew Perry and Claire Danes. Both were more light-hearted ventures but he stretched his dramatic acting chops with Charlie St. Cloud. Here, Efron plays the titular character who struggles with moving on after the death of his brother in a boating accident. The chance to move forward is represented by a girl who wants to share her life with him. While Efron would continue to return to his comedic origins with roles in New Year’s Eve as Paul during 2011 and as Ted Wiggins in The Lorax during 2012, he would show that he was more than just a pretty face once again in The Lucky One in 2012.
In this film, based off of the book by Nicholas Sparks, Efron plays Logan Thibault, a US Marine who searches for a woman whose picture he found around the time he sees his friend, Drake Green, die trying to aid one of the soldiers during an ambush. Logan struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) throughout the film and he eventually finds she was the sister of Drake. Eventually, Logan finds a new home and life with Beth. To play a soldier struggling with PTSD showed that Efron had acting abilities beyond that of playing an adolescent teenager.
Efron got to play opposite Matthew McConaughey as his brother in The Paperboy during 2012, alongside John Cusack and Nicole Kidman. He also had the opportunity to play Dr. Charles James Carrico, the first doctor to look at the body of the now deceased President John. F. Kennedy. The 2013 film, Parkland, centers on the assassination of the president. In this case, Efron was with other established Hollywood actors such as Billy Bob Thornton, Ron Livingston, Colin Hanks, Marcia Gay Harden and Paul Giamatti.
However, Efron faced struggles during that time. It provides an interesting contrast to perhaps the pressures of being a Hollywood star. “I was drinking a lot, way too much,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s never one specific thing. I mean, you’re in your 20s, single, going through life in Hollywood, you know?” He seemed to need an inpatient alcohol detox in order to get his mind away from alcohol. He admitted eventually to following that exact path in 2013. This followed some romantic hurdles the actor faced after breaking up with Hudgens, his High School Musical co-star who he started a romance with mirroring the relationship of their characters in the film. What followed was the actor moving in with his brother in Los Feliz after selling his house in the Hollywood Hills. He found the privacy helpful in continuing his work.
And he did not stop there. Despite some personal struggles and need for an inpatient alcohol detox, his career did not suffer. After portraying a guy much like himself, Jason Flynn, opposite rising stars Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan, he got the role of a lifetime: Teddy Sanders in Neighbors. This was a big role for the actor because he was able to not only play an almost college version of Troy Bolton, his High School Musical character, but he was able to wow audiences with adult humor for the second time.
Who knew Efron could be funny as an adult as he was a teenager? Efron did a little more dramatic work in 2015 as a California DJ in We Are Your Friends before returning to comedy with his hilarious role of Jason Kelly opposite Robert De Niro in Dirty Grandpa and reprising his role of Teddy Sanders in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. For many of his films since he’s left his High School Musical days, he has hovered between comedy and drama.
With his next movie, The Greatest Showman, about the story of P.T. Barnum and the Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus, he is set to return to his musical roots, opposite Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams. Efron continues to amaze audiences and wow us with his interesting portrayals of not only likable and funny characters but human ones as well. He has overcome many human struggles himself and for that reason remains someone to watch in Hollywood as he continues to make amazing movies.
About the author: Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, addiction and recovery and the entertainment industry.